In elementary school, I was the last or second to last to be picked for teams in gym. I never had an interest in sports — I was the girl hanging out in the outfield picking dandelions and performing my own little talent show. I was more likely to be singing and pirouetting than watching what was going on at home plate.
I was fit because I danced. But the fact that I was not athletic was blamed on me being talentless and lazy rather than that I was plain not interested. Not that I didn’t wish I were better at sports. The popular kids in grade school were the athletes. But I never could drum up enough enthusiasm to actually do what it took to become better. Like practice. I assumed that I wasn’t good because in the moment I wasn’t a natural. I thought the kids who were sporty were born that way. I had no idea about technique. I thought it was all physical prowess. I was one of the tiniest kids in class and terribly shy and timid. I loathed dodgeball. It struck me as a horribly angry sport that reminded me too much of home.
Like many narcissists, my parents loved labels for their children to keep us safely in their controlled little box. Hence, I was the smart, non-athletic one who also was lazy. They may have had it in their heads that I was capable of doing everything in a superlative manner, so the areas I fell short was due to my slackitude. Accusations of not applying myself and “quitter” ensued. It got to where when I wanted to try something new, I’d hide away to test out my abilities and interest level outside of the sight of my parents. So maybe that they had little awareness of who I was was partly due to this secretiveness. But I don’t think that absolves the blame of them pushing me into that corner. I’m surprised I had the audacity to continue to seek out new things despite them. I still sometimes hear their voices saying, “You’re not this or that, so why are you even trying?”
When I was in middle school, our neighborhood sponsored a fun run. I think it was a 2k. I decided to sign up along with my parents. At that time, my mom was on an aerobics kick and my dad was in racing shape.
I’d never done more than sprint in gym class. So it should be no surprise I limped to the finish line. No one had ever clued me in that for distances longer than a sprint, you don’t run full out for the entire course. Maybe I ought to have known that on my own. But in my mind, I equated full effort to balls out, not understanding that part of a distance race effort is reserving energy.
I was pretty sure I was going to pass out at the end. I didn’t run much of the race. I don’t remember if I was last in, but I don’t think so.
My mother’s response to my overheated state was to tell me I was a wimp. “You have no stamina,” she said with a sniff while preening in such a way that told me how inferior I was in comparison. Both parents spent the remainder of the day making fun of me and my “whining.” They reminded me how I was just not athletic.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first time I tried running as a form of exercise was a year after I graduated college. I no longer lived at home. I could experiment and suck at running and not be told I wasn’t any good. I found I loved running.
Life and other excuses got in the way of running, but I never lost my desire to compete in a half-marathon.
About a year after I went no-contact with my parents, I am ready for my first race since that ill-fated one decades ago. I’m anxious. I’m afraid I won’t sleep much tonight. I’m worried that the colder-than-expected air will bother me. I’m really nervous about properly pacing myself.
I’m not afraid I won’t finish. I have a goal of a sub-30 minute time for a 5k, which is well within my ability. Earlier this week I ran the race course in 31:36 doing a moderate practice run where I was trying to stay close to a 10 minute mile. A few weeks back, on a harder course, I ran a 9 minute mile, but I was too spent to run the next mile and a half, so I had to run-walk it. I still averaged just over a 10-minute mile that way, so I can keep that in perspective if I find myself struggling tomorrow.
Both my personal trainer and the woman who taught the spin class I took yesterday often say “dig” during an especially grueling section of a workout. So, instead of letting the cruel digs my parents threw at my athletic attempts get to me, I will dig down into my guts and find what I need to achieve my goal.
I am an athlete.