As a kid, I hated recess. I hated PE. In both cases we would line up for team sports or games and captains were chosen and they would pick their teams. Being a diminutive, painfully shy, and scrawny girl I could pretty well count on being either the last one picked or second to last. In the eyes of my peers, I had no redeeming qualities on the play field. The reverse was true when it came to games like Red Rover. My name was always one of the first to be called as they were sure I didn’t have the strength to break through the “armed forces,” or the union of my arm with someone else’s was always the target of the other team’s infiltration tactics. I never suffered the broken arms that finally banned the game from the allowable recess activities, because I was smart enough to let go before serious damage was done. Yes, I’ve always been one to let my head lead especially when pure muscle and might threatened my survivability.
But what my classmates didn’t know, and perhaps I didn’t either, was I did have talent. I was fast, speedy in fact. In second grade, I won the school heel-toe contest even though the more athletically endowed accused me of cheating. They couldn’t conceive how a wisp of a girl could beat out the field in the simple task of walking. To this day, I’m a fast walker. When we played tag, I rarely became “it” because I could allude and avert the chase down. During the summers, I used to play baseball with the neighborhood boys in the empty lot behind my house, until they decided that girls weren’t allowed. They never did find someone who could steal from first to second or from third to home as stealthily and speedily as I could. They had to settle for the pitch and hit game from thereon out. Still, I went through elementary and middle school feeling inept and without any recognized physical talent.
In junior high, I was cajoled in joining the track team. Perhaps a PE teacher saw a glimmer of promise. I was part of the 4-person relay team both for the 200 and 400 yard distance. I was fast and I was accurate with the baton. I was also talked into running the hurdles, amazing to me as I was barely five feet tall, but I guess I had that element of being fearless and my short legs had good spring. At this stage the goal was clearing the hurdles, not necessarily speed. So with my bunny rabbit technique I was christened a designated hurdler. For a short time I felt that I had skill, expertise, and even acceptance. In practice leading up to our first meet, I jogged down a dusty trail and I felt a pop in my left groin. That put an end to my track career. Back in those days, you were sidelined, told not to do anything physical for a year, and given a series of exercises involving surgical tubing and leg lifts. Physical therapy was still an emerging field. I was not completely healed until high school and by then the track stars had already established themselves and I had moved on to something new: attempting new tricks on the balance beam. Did I mention that I’m afraid of heights? It must have been that fearless gene kicking in again.
Now that I’m a middle-aged woman, I’ve recently discovered that I can still run. I can run both far and fast. Locally it is not uncommon for me to place in the top ten and often in the top three of an organized race. I like to think that I’m making up for all that recess time where I waited to be picked, waited to be accepted in a team sport, without ever realizing that my true strength is in the individual endeavor. Maybe it is all those years of going it alone, not really being a member of the team but training my mind to overcome the rejection. Individual sports like running, swimming, or even golf rely on being willing to compete with yourself, better your latest accomplishment, and being able to manage the mental game that requires that you believe in your success and block out the negative taunting that is inevitable when you push yourself to the limit. I’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering why it took nearly fifty years for me to discover and embrace my physicality, and here is what I’ve concluded. It comes down to two things: belief and determination. I spent too much of my life listening to what my peers and the “captains” believed I was capable of (in my case – not much). I truly believed their assessment was the truth. I thought they knew something I didn’t. Once I realized that they had no insight to the truth or to my potential, it took determination for me to explore the possibilities all these many years later. What I found was much more than I (or my peers) ever imagined.
Sometimes I imagine that I am given the opportunity to go back and be on the play field once again, this time in the all-powerful role of team captain. I look for the scrawniest, most unlikely kid in the group and I call that person’s name first. I smile and laugh at the shock in the crowd. I then pass on my captain’s hat to that individual, passing the baton for him/her to grasp an inner power that may otherwise take a lifetime to discover. In that moment, my first-choice kid would learn that he/she has the opportunity to make a choice for not only the team and but for each individual, and that choice says a lot more about the game than winning or coming in first. It says that winning is much more about choice than talent and determination out paces brawn in the home stretch of any race.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012