Chronicle of a Long and Exceptionally Unsuccessful Athletic Career

My mom signed me up for ballet when I was in kindergarten. I was one of those pink-loving, frilly dress-wearing, Barbie-playing girly-girls. I honestly believed that “Disney princess” was an acceptable and noble career aspiration (Snow White seemed like the most reasonable choice because of her dark hair). As you can imagine, ballet lessons were inevitable for a girl such as myself. I had grandiose visions (delusions) of myself pirouetting and prancing across the stage for an adoring and mesmerized crowd. I would be a pretty, pretty ballet princess for the ages. It was the early ‘90s and I embraced — no, personified — gender stereotypes with unabashed enthusiasm.

I've got to say, I loved the tutu and the slippers. I wore these around the house long after I quit ballet.

I’ve got to say, I loved the tutu and the slippers. I wore these around the house long after I quit ballet.

But my delusions of grandeur didn’t last long. I was,  even at six, already a somewhat neurotic and precociously self-conscious future English major. I blame these traits for getting in the way of my Disney Princess aspirations. If I was Snow White, I was emo Snow White in Winnie-the-Pooh’s body.  It soon became apparent that my dreams of ballet glory were just that — dreams. Looking around at my more talented, balanced and limber classmates, I began to doubt that I had the makings of a prima ballerina. You see, I was a 60-pound pigeon-toed kindergartner with cherub-like thighs, an utter lack of grace and coordination and far too angsty an attitude to believe that these unfortunate characteristics could be overcome through hard work. Becoming a prima ballerina had seemed doable in theory, but things are always different in practice.  My feet turned inward instead of outward in first and second positions and my plié was so unstable that I teetered to and fro, threatening to topple over while the other girls gracefully assumed position. I was an easily discouraged kid and I quit after one season.

Sensing I wasn’t cut out for the more delicate arts, my mom signed me up for soccer. Not exactly a princess sport, but My mom figured I had to get some kind of exercise. Soccer wasn’t so bad except that I hated running and was scared of the ball. During my five year soccer career (yes, I played for five years!), I scored a total of one goal. It was an accident. I’d meant to pass the ball to my teammate, but it somehow got off course and I scored. No one seriously expected I’d ever score, so the goal post was unguarded. It was a complete surprise to everyone, myself included.

Around fifth or sixth grade, the girls on my team started getting more competitive, and I knew I couldn’t keep ducking and running away every time the ball was kicked in my direction. After all, the whole premise of soccer is for players to run towards the ball, and I was taking the opposite approach.  I liked being part of the team, but I knew I had a choice to make: Get over my fear of the ball or quit. I chose quitting. I’m disappointed in myself looking back, but if I learned one thing in ninth grade English it’s that everyone has a fatal flaw. Mine is an aversion to anything that requires serious effort on my part. I just want things to come easily to me.

***A quick aside: My current skill set consists of remembering celebrity gossip, drawing sunflowers, asking lots of questions, memorizing demographic statistics, getting sucked into netflix binges, speed reading and taking pictures of my dog. These are the things that come easily to me.

Around this time it occurred to me that perhaps I’d find more success in water than on land, so I joined my local swim team. I actually liked swimming. I still do, actually. There’s something very soothing and almost meditative about being underwater. For several summers in a row, I happily woke up at 6am June through August to swim lap after lap with several dozen neighborhood kids. How I miss those summer days. I mean, what’s more nostalgic than summer days at the pool with all the neighborhood kids?

One day, the star 11-12 girls’ breaststroker was out and the coach, having no other 11-12 girls to choose from, put me in the lineup. I was so nervous. I was an OK freestyler, butterflier and backstroker (if my OK we mean not terrible) but breaststroke was a different story.

The preteen years are tough on everyone.

The preteen years are tough on everyone.

The girls in my heat took off like the skinny little grasshoppers that they were, but I barely budged. No matter how hard I tried to swim, I moved slower than a porch slug on a summer evening. It took me a full three minutes and 44 seconds to complete the 50-meter race. I believe I still hold the record for the slowest breaststroke in the history of the Sequoia Farms Stingrays Swim Team. And the worst part? When I finally did finish the race, a round of boisterous applause broke out. I knew what kind of applause these were. These were pity applause, reserved for the sorriest of cases; the kind of applause that would only be merited if I’d swum the race with two broken legs. Thank goodness she finished! Poor thing! I could imagine the moms telling each other. Let me tell you…there is nothing more humiliating than being the world’s slowest  12 and under girls’  breaststroker and having all eyes on you as you struggle to get your jiggly, fluorescently pale self out of the pool in all your goggle-speedo-swim cap glory…all while the 14 and under boys are lining up for their event.

P.E was a nightmare, an ever-present reminder of my unfortunate but completely predictable place in the elementary and middle school social hierarchies. When you are an overweight, glasses-wearing book nerd with a giant unibrow, poor social skills and zero athletic ability, P.E becomes your cathedral of doom, the kind of place you spend the entire time praying, first that you won’t be the last one picked for the kickball team and then that you are able to make yourself invisible enough to avoid actually having to participate in aforementioned kickball game.

***Another quick aside:  I was always sheepishly thankful for the kid who picked his nose, wore the same clothes everyday and showered sparingly.  Whenever it came down to the two of us, I was grudgingly chosen. Now that I’m older, I’m kind of horrified that I took relief in this kid’s misfortune, but elementary school is such a cutthroat place that I occasionally had to take an “every woman for herself attitude.” I sincerely hope that life worked out for this kid.

I have so many P.E horror stories that there just isn’t time to share them all. Once, I ran into a cement wall trying to avoid a ball flying in my direction. I got a giant bump on my forehead and had to go to the clinic. This might not seem so bad, but when you are in first grade, this is the humiliation equivalent of tripping on a first date. Or farting in front of your coworkers. Another time, a boy threw a football at me and I broke my pinky trying to catch it. See what happened? I didn’t run away from the ball for once and I BROKE MY PINKY! All my fears came true! Actually, to be honest, the whole broken finger thing wasn’t so bad because it gave me a bit of elementary school street cred. I got to wear a cast and I briefly moved up the fourth grade social hierarchy because I had officially experienced hardship. Kids were jealous of me and I basked in the attention. There is nothing like a cast to buy you 15 minutes of fame in elementary school.

One of the most embarrassing moments of my young life came in sixth grade. My gym teacher turned the gymnasium into a “haunted obstacle course” for Halloween and the kids were all excited and hyper. Not me. I was never a school-spirit-festive sort. One particular obstacle consisted of swinging on a rope across a large blue mat dotted with empty milk jugs. We were supposed to pretend these were gravestones.

I should start out my saying that by this time, I had developed what can only be described as a ginormous booty. Before there was J-Lo, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, there was me. My booty was neither age nor decade appropriate. I mean, I was only 12 and this was the ‘90s,  a time when the flat butt reigned supreme. In those days, I’d stand in front of the mirror flattening my butt with my hands at least once a day. You have no idea how much hand strength this took. Once I’d achieved the desired effect, I’d stare longingly at my newly flattened profile. If only I could cut my butt off, I’d think to myself. Then I’d look so thin.

Anyway, this is a story for another day. We’re talking about the sixth grade Halloween obstacle course right now.  When it was my turn to swing, I clutched the rope with sweating, trembling hands and prayed for the best. I had no upper body strength, so I knew there was a distinct possibility that this wouldn’t end well, but I had two choices: I could draw undue attention to myself by refusing to do the rope swing, or I could risk it and hope I made it to the other side.

As you may have guessed, I did not make it. Halfway through the swing my muscles gave out and I face-planted on the blue mat,  my enormous butt protruding alongside the milk jug gravestones. It was awful. Just awful. I still cringe at the memory.

Actually, everyone did.

Actually, everyone did.

By the way, my sister was born with supernatural physical ability and held numerous fitness records at Cub Run Elementary. She could do 36 pull-ups in a row in second grade. She was basically a Marine at age 8. How many pull-ups could I do? Zero.

The day P.E became an elective remains one of the happiest of my life. I signed up for newspaper and art class and avoided all exercise for the next six or seven years. I quietly expanded under sweatpants and t-shirts but I could deal with that, as long as I never had to step into a school gymnasium again.

I didn’t really make forays into fitness again until I graduated from college. That’s when I started joining gyms. I was always enticed by the potential of shiny machines and by the taut bodies of my fellow-gym goers. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by such promise of physical fitness. I would go from flabby to fit overnight and everyone would be so impressed by my transformation. Maybe I would even be featured in People Magazine and Oprah would invite me on her show. My spirits were high. My motivation was through the roof. Time and time again, I’d go to the gym exactly three days in a row and then quit, wishing that someone would invent fitness through osmosis. Why wasn’t it enough to just be in this moderately smelly place with the pounding club music and pumped up looking people? Why did I actually have to  use the machines and work hard? Again, I’ve always been more comfortable with theory than practice.

So after spending thousands of dollars signing up for gyms I never went to , I’ve finally quit joining them. Instead, I’m trying to get into  yoga. Again. I’ve tried it a few times before but I’m giving it another whirl because it promises so much.  Supposedly, if I take up a daily yoga practice, I will build flexibility, strength and, most importantly, inner peace. All of these things sound great.

SWF seeking inner peace.

SWF seeking inner peace.

I really want to like yoga. I know people who love yoga, and I want to be like these people. Yoga people, much like habitual joggers, just seem to have it together. They are wealthy and stylish in an understated, patrician way and they are excellent cooks of vegetarian meals with ingredients like quinoa and flax seed. Best of all, they are vessels of inner peace and serenity because yoga has that kind of magical power. These people are slender and limber and always seem well rested and content, and they look great in yoga pants. I want to be one of those people. Mostly, I want to look good in yoga pants.

Anyway, I started doing this program called “30 days of yoga with Adrienne” on YouTube. Adrienne lives in Austin and says things like “hey-o” when she’s feeling sassy and “try to find some integrity in the movement” (what does that mean???) when she’s feeling motivational. I like her even though she is slim and beautiful and could be Alyssa Milano and Natalie Portman’s love child. I’m trying to make it through the 30 day program because I’m a grownup now and grownups follow through with things. Do I like yoga? No. So far, I’ve found  little to no  inner peace, I haven’t made anything with quinoa, and I still don’t look good in yoga pants. However, I  can touch my toes now, and that counts for something.

I live in a city where super-sculpted, rock-climbing, mega-hiking, yoga-doing, gym-going, crossfit crazed marathon-running super humans are the norm. And not only are these people in amazing shape, but they also work as lawyers or consultants or researchers and get Master’s degrees and have all these lofty career ambitions. They travel to places like Machu Picchu and play Ultimate Frisbee on the weekends and have hobbies like micro-brewing, carpentry and marathon-training.  How can anyone possibly have enough time to be so successful and well-balanced?  I feel like the only way I could EVER run a marathon would be if I  quit my job, cut off all my friends, gave up all my hobbies and played Eye of the Tiger all day every day.

Anyway, I feel like this whole Dave RamseyBen Franklin philosophy is helping me learn self-discipline. Maybe you’re supposed to do exercise even if you hate it. Maybe that’s just part of being grown up. Maybe this whole exercise thing will grow on me overtime. I keep thinking that if I just stick with something for long enough, I’ll hit this critical turning point where I’ll suddenly LOVE doing exercise and prefer fruit to cake.  I’ll let you know how I feel after Adrienne and I finish our 30 day challenge, which is actually looking more like a 60 day challenge. Adrienne forgot to factor in sore days.

Categories: Fitness, Me, Me, Me, Self-improvement, Trying New Things

Tags: , , ,

9 replies

  1. I laughed my way through it. Have to say, I admired you for your continuing effort and breathed a sigh of relief with you when PE became and elective. 🙂 –Curt

  2. I love reading your blogs jiji. I hope you stick with the yoga. I’m one of those who actually enjoys doing sports though I know that is not the case for everyone. I think it is best if you find one you actually enjoy doing but it takes awhile to get the point of enjoying it.

  3. “emo Snow White in Winnie-the-Pooh’s body” ❤ ❤ ❤

  4. Try everything! Keep what works and is enjoyable! After a proper amount of time if you still “hate” it then stop! Remember, there are many methods of getting your “fitness “! #Thetrainer

  5. Loved this blog! (I also really want to like yoga.)

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