I started my life as an (almost) athlete dancing. And crying. One stemming out of the other, a chain reaction caused by hating the awkward reflection in the mirror, tapping shiny shoes asynchronously to a Nickelodeon TV show theme song montage. My mom always wanted a girly-girl. She got me instead. She got over it.
After dance, I gave basketball the old pre-K try. My parents were less than enthused as they watched the money they invested in the Parks and Rec program waste away with every cartwheel I turned on the court during practice and games. I got in trouble a couple times for trash-talking the other team. I was compensating for a lack of skill–I’ll admit that now.
Searching for a sport with a potential to improve my hand-eye coordination, my parents signed me up for tennis. I missed numerous practices because the supposedly sports proof sunscreen burned my eyes. Around the same time, I got a beta fish. I named it after my tennis instructor. After the fish died, I got another one and named it after her, too. Crappy sunscreen and two fish named Nikki are all that I remember from that time in my life.
Then there was swimming. At first, we were hopeful. I aced levels 1 and 2 with flying colors. I got 9/10 of the way through level 3 with no problems whatsoever. I could do the backstroke. I could sort of do the crawl. My butterfly was coming along nicely. But then, diving happened. To pass level 3, I would have to get down on one knee, as if proposing to the banners that hung high above the glassy water, and, with arms outstretched, catapult face-first into the freezing deep end. I wasn’t afraid during my first attempt. I sent up a prayer to Poseidon (as felt appropriate) and secured my goggles, not knowing that the next few moments would ruin water for me forever.
As my toes pressed off the edge, my arms led the rest of myself down, deep into the water. Then, they kept leading me in an underwater circle, peeling off right before they crashed back into the concrete side of the pool. My head did that instead. I failed level 3 three times because of that traumatic moment. I still can’t dive, and I’m not interested in trying again.
After I outgrew all of my swimming classmates by at least six inches and two grade levels, I threw my swimsuit in a dark corner of my closet and laced up some soccer cleats. After a few games, I figured out something fantastic: goalies don’t have to run. Upon having this realization, I became a full-time goalie, much to my parents’ dismay. For some reason, they were not fans of sitting in the 103 degree summer sun to watch their daughter stand motionless on the far end of a soccer field clad in gloves and a yellow penny for two hours every Saturday. My soccer career ended soon after.
Next, after a short stint as a competitive cheerleader, I took some time off. Kim Possible was on Disney Channel everyday from 3:30-4 p.m., and sports practices really cut into that special time. Eventually, however, I decided to turn off my TV and embark on another athletic endeavor. My lack of coordination and strength somehow made gymnastics a prime candidate.
“Well, you outwork everybody. That’s good.”
“Work ethic is more important than results sometimes, right?”
“Hard work beats talent when talent hardly works, I think.”
Despite the encouragement, I knew pretty quickly that gymnastics was not my calling. I got to Level 4, which is the level right before back flips and balance beam cartwheels. When the team would split up to work on events, the girl with Down’s Syndrome and I would go to one part of the gym, and the rest of the group would go elsewhere. A fractured shoulder from a tragic dive roll accident gave me a gracious out, and I decided to try basketball again and leave the coach-assisted back-handsprings behind.
My second attempt at basketball was about as successful as my first, initially. I started playing year round at the beginning of fourth grade, and I didn’t win a game until second semester of sixth. I would say I learned what it meant to be a good sport, but really, I just learned to completely ignore the scoreboard at all times to avoid the possibility of crying in public.
In sixth grade, I also tried volleyball, track and cheerleading (again). Two of the three were humbling experiences. I annoyed the older cheerleaders at practice by using it as a daily hour-and-a-half basketball shoot around. As a result, my during game cheering was incredibly sub par. In track, I was a distance runner/shot putter. Not because I was good at either of those things. I just wasn’t good at anything else.
I continued to play basketball until tryouts of my junior year of high school. I still remember, with painful clarity, scrolling through the online posting of the Junior Varsity team roster the night after the last day of tryouts. I checked and rechecked the list, searching for the name that wasn’t there. Its absence ended my attempt at athleticism.
I wish writing were a sport.