Greater strength, improved agility, more endurance, a lower resting pulse rate. These rank among the more celebrated benefits of being engaged in the sporting life.
Another payoff is more often overlooked but almost as good for you as fitness itself, and it is this: a collection of ready-made Halloween costumes from which to choose.
That jersey? The snorkeling gear you wore once on vacation before stashing it away? Full of possibilities. A friend of mine started with nothing more than her tennis racket one Halloween 14 years ago. She added a skirt and T-shirt and tennis shoes, bought a rubber toy knife, stuck it in the back of the T-shirt and sprinkled some red coloring around it. Back in 1993, people recognized her costume straight away: Monica Seles after the stabbing. Gasps and nervous laughter followed.
Digging apparel and gear out of your sports closet tends to inspire the edgy sort of mischief that flirts with the bounds of bad taste. Such is the extent of the shenanigans going on in contemporary sports that it's hard to miss the wealth of inspiration out there.
Take cycling. In recent years, the sport's elite has been so riddled with allegations of doping and other cheating controversies that it provides fertile ground for comment by Halloween costume. Last Halloween, local bike racer Stephen Balsley saw someone dressed as disgraced Tour de France champion Floyd Landis "hanging out with three people dressed as judges."
Balsley himself has dressed up as seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, accompanied by his wife, Emily, in the guise of Sheryl Crow - who was then dating Armstrong. "We ran into about a dozen couples in similar outfits," Balsley laments, in retrospect judging the idea "kind of lame."
Duplication is one of the hazards of drawing on the tabloid nature of sports headlines when rifling through the apparel and gear in your closet. Local cycling enthusiast and advocate Michael Barrett notes that he once donned a yellow jersey for Halloween and accessorized it "with dope-filled syringes dangling from it."
Likewise, David Supple, who rides for Cronometro's Brazen Dropouts bike-racing team, says one of his teammates dressed as a suspected cheater in the pro ranks, "and had syringes and blood bags taped to his forearms like he was receiving transfusions. That was pretty good."
A few years ago, Madison native Shana Martin, a veteran of national fitness competitions and lumberjack sports, brought the two disciplines together at a Fitness America contest, incorporating a lumberjack routine into her appearance. For Halloween, she elaborated on the ensemble she wore in the contest, adding a cut-off flannel shirt over the flannel-pattern bikini top, and larger cut-off shorts, but retaining the noise-making Home Depot toy chainsaw for full Fitness Chainsaw Massacre effect.
Martin notes that she has not yet decided on a costume for this Halloween, but "I'm leaning toward going out as Super Girl." Given a background that includes pole vaulting, karate, triathlons, gymnastics and other sports, this would be a logical choice.
Madison School & Community Recreation sports supervisor John Probst, who disavows any tendency toward being a wild and crazy guy, allows that he has seen some amusing variations on referee costumes for Halloween, with the zebra shirt and assorted props such as eye charts, white cane and dark glasses.
But he has to think all the way back to the mid-1980s for the best Halloween costume he ever wore. Recalling that this was around the time the Chicago Bears were doing well and trouble-making quarterback Jim McMahon was bucking the NFL establishment by wearing his Rozelle headband, "I showed up at work with a Bears outfit, hair all spiked up, sunglasses and the name of my supervisor on my headband."
Noting that iceboaters are always kidding around about skippers who wear tight spandex suits, Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club secretary and web master Deb Whitehorse suggests that if she were to don an iceboat-related costume for Halloween, "I would wear a spandex suit and stuff it to the gills so that I looked like a sausage ready to burst. A Joffa helmet, ice picks and open galoshes would complete the outfit."
You might have to be a veteran iceboater to understand how this costume pokes fun at members of a rival iceboating club, but not to be amused by it.
In some sports, such as running and in-line skating, every race is Halloween. Take the antics of the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers, which turns out in force every year for its Red Dress Run and the Running of the Brides.
Doug DeRosa, Honor Among Thieves bassist and avid distance runner, says the best running costume he has seen "is someone in a Batman outfit in the Chicago Marathon - cape flying in the breeze as he ran through the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago just seemed very appropriate." And my auld acquaintance Jim Stevens sends over a photo of his daughter Amy finishing the North Shore Inline Marathon dressed as a zombie on skates. The sight of a zombie speeding past spectators rather than lurching is a frightening one indeed.
But the most frightening recreation-related Halloween costume of all may be the one Madison Nordic Ski Club co-president Walter Meanwell calls the best he has seen. It involved "a ski hat and gloves, boots and poles," he relates. "Nothing else. Very festive."
And the best costume he himself has worn on Halloween? It included "my formal Scottish kilt accompanied by my racing boots, which happen to match. It's very stylish and quite unencumbered from the waist down."
Be afraid. Be very afraid.