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Give Us Your Tired Excuses

IF YOU thinkyou're tired at the end of the day, try getting a real job, such asinternational tennis star, touring golf professional or major leagueoutfielder; after that your job in roofing or road construction will seem likea day at the beach.

Not that a day atthe beach is a day at the beach. "Fatigue kills us," Brazilian beachvolleyball pro Jose Loiola once said—and indeed, by comparison, coal mining isa walk in the park.

You think a walkin the park is a walk in the park? It ain't. Baseball's alltime walks leadercomplained at various times this year that "I'm exhausted all the time"and "I'm tired, I'm always tired" and "I sleep all the time, allday" and "I just go home and sleep" and—driving the point home theway he does base runners—"I get tireder and tireder." Evidently, theonly thing more tired than the Barry Bonds story is ... Barry Bonds.

Professionalathletes everywhere have never been more exhausted—the most used f word inlocker rooms is fatigue. This month's Paris Masters was absent the world'stop-ranked tennis player, Roger Federer, who wearily withdrew at the 11th hour."Roger phoned this morning to say he is suffering from a generalfatigue," announced aptly named tournament codirector Alain Riou, whoruefully added, "This is devaluing our product."

The same day,top-seeded Nadia Petrova withdrew from the Gaz de France Stars tournament, alsosuffering from a general fatigue. And so General Fatigue replaces General deGaulle as France's most prominent figurehead. Colin Montgomerie withdrew fromthis year's French Open while suffering from fatigue, suggesting that twotime-honored remedies for exhaustion—playing four straight days of golf;spending a week in Paris—only work when taken separately.

Vince Lombardisaid, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all," but in fact, fatigue makesskeptics of us all, because you can't always tell when fatigue is merely anexcuse. Tennis officials, understandably, have a very bad case of"fatigue" fatigue, which is why the ATP is now threatening—like thedisclaimer in a bank commercial—substantial penalties for hastywithdrawals.

But fatigue is ariddle inside a mystery wrapped in a golf sweater. Citing fatigue, AnnikaSorenstam once withdrew from the Canadian Open after six holes, Gustavo Kuertenfrom a tennis match after 37 minutes and Vladimir Guerrero from a Los AngelesAngels game last summer after two at bats (two strikeouts).

When Chris Rileyof the U.S. asked out of the afternoon alternate-shot competition at the 2004Ryder Cup because he was tired from playing 18 that morning, he was pan-roastedin the world's media. But what is more American than fatigue? The word is agift from France, as is the Statue of Liberty, whose very pedestal implores,"Give me your tired...."

And the world hasobliged. Charlotte Bobcats center Primoz Brezec missed the team's first sixgames with exhaustion. (The Slovenian lost 15 pounds with a virus.) Irish actorColin Farrell checked into rehab last December, in part for treatment of"exhaustion," and only a cynic would question that affliction.

Apparently, theglamour of one's occupation is inversely proportional to the sleep it affords.When it comes to fatigue, athletes are rivaled only by rock and movie stars.Nickelback just canceled its South African tour because of fatigue, PamelaAnderson a promotional junket in Australia for the same reason.

Strangely, thatkind of ill-defined fatigue goes unchallenged. It is obvious exhaustion that'sunforgivable. With 600 meters remaining in the Olympic 2,000-meter women'seights rowing final in Athens, Australia's Sally Robbins slumped in her seatand let her oar drag in the water. "Fatigue set in, and I just couldn'tmove," she said. Still, her teammates threatened to throw heroverboard.

When you nod offon the job, it isn't broadcast to the world. But then mere weariness won't getyou out of work either. Fatigue might excuse you from the John Deere Classic.It won't excuse you from John Deere.

At his BaseballHall of Fame induction last summer, Bruce Sutter thanked his late father,Howard. "He would come home from work, and I'd always be waiting there witha glove and a ball," Sutter said of his childhood in Mount Joy, Pa. "Hewas never too tired to go outside and play catch. After a few throws he wouldalways take out his handkerchief and put it in his glove for padding. To thisday I think he did it to build up a young man's ego."

Our parentsweren't really tireless. They just didn't complain. Me, I frequently moan aboutfatigue, as if I were an athlete. I take comfort in the words of Willy Loman'swife, who said in Death of a Salesman, "A small man can be just asexhausted as a great man."

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Professional athletes everywhere have never been moreexhausted—the most used f word in locker rooms is fatigue.