Thursday, June 13, 2013

Theory 5: Play a sport, even if you suck at it.

I tape important info inside my kitchen cabinets. Say you are searching for Cheez-Its. When you open the cabinet door, you’ll spot wine labels, an impromptu love note from Tall Child, phone numbers to my favorite restaurants, and, thanks to Delicious’s old 35mm camera, a perfectly captured specimen of supreme athleticism: me, at age nine, hurdling a broom stick balanced between two lawn chairs in my Grandmama’s back yard. The hurdling photo is crucial: it proves that I can be athletic, or least that I was once, well, one day, well, in that moment anyway.
I told Tall Child, who was a great high school and junior college basketball player, about this week’s theory, and asked him, “Did you ever play a sport and fail?”
He said, “No. Why, are you going to write about me in your post?”
I replied, “Well, the post is about NOT being good.”
He said, “Not being good in sports is something I know nothing about.”
True. Tall Child is a natural athlete. He has a fierce tennis serve, he’s an adequate golfer (with practice), he can throw, hit, catch, all that stuff that I can’t do. I have only seen him trip one time. He was playing softball and, as he walked through the grass to take his centerfield spot, he stumbled. He turned angrily and stared down a specific spot on the ground, as if to say, “Who do you think you are, tripping me, dirt clod?”
I am the oldest of ten first cousins, most of whom are above-average, if not collegiate-level athletes. Our grandfather played baseball, golf, and basketball for The University of Georgia. His two sons (my uncles) played basketball for Auburn and The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Cousin Roscoe played basketball at Virginia Tech. Cousin A-Boo conquered Vanderbilt University with her golf scholarship.  So, sports and competitiveness are part of our family culture. We all played. It was expected. My Grandmama once remarked, “If you drive through Sevier County with your window rolled down, someone will throw a trophy in your car!”
Yes, we all played. And I sucked.
When my cousins and I were little, the “grown-ups” would set up competitions—for our growth and their entertainment. My aunt Big Booty J (a Phys Ed teacher) typically announced the rules and instructions.  Games included: one-on-one basketball, horse, hurdles, hula-hooping, the long jump, the standing broad jump, and foot races. Well, I stunk it up in everything. I also kicked myself in the rear-end as I ran, on purpose, as a self-esteem-defense tactic. Instead of talking about how I was 20 yards behind my cousins, the grown-ups talked about how I ran. In bad weather, we had dance contests. I’m not a good dancer, but, I watched Soul Train back then. I picked up the hip-swiveling Dirty Dog move, and at least gained applause at a couple of dance contests. The usual winner, G.T., actually had a special outfit for the dance contests: leopard print leotards.
Unfortunately, the forced athleticism didn’t end in our dandelion riddled yards. Delicious signed me up to take gymnastics. My question was this: what is the point of doing a handstand? If you fall, you hit your head. Won’t that hurt? Also, what is the point of a cartwheel? To cover more ground? Maybe. Once, at Dollywood, my cousin P said, “Let’s hold hands and skip all the way to the Flooded Mine Ride so we’ll get there faster.” Maybe he was onto something.
Delicious signed me up for basketball in fourth grade. I had to change clothes in front of other girls, and I was already sprouting the space heaters. I hated sweating and got really annoyed when another girl bumped into me on the basketball court. Once, the coach had me throw the ball inbounds. This was a big moment for me: a moment of responsibility and leadership. I threw the ball to my Pigeon Forge Tiger teammate, and an opposing player batted it back to me. Three times in a row. That year (my only season), I scored one free throw and one regular shot. All time career high: 3 points (game and season).  Does that mean my average was three-tenths of a point per game, if we had ten games? Yay fractions!
Delicious signed me up for the swim team in middle school. I continued swimming a couple of years in high school. I sucked at swimming. The Boobs were an issue, so, like many “blessed” girls, I wore two swimsuits at the same time. I hated that my make-up washed off in the pool and I had to reapply after every event. But, swim team is fun when you have a tent, buddies, a cooler full of Cokes and Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls, and know how to play spades. My love of tailgating was born.
Delicious put me on the Gatlinburg-Pittman track team. I “ran” the 880 and the mile. We practiced by running the craft loop through Glades and Buckhorn Roads in Gatlinburg. My best friends and I paced through the rhododendron lined asphalt path banked by Smoky Mountain potters and painters.  I sucked at track. My coach, also my geography teacher, a.k.a., the King of Kodak, TN, did some quick research and diagnosed me with a medical condition called “slow-twitch muscle fibers.” There had to be a reason I was so sluggish. He nick-named me “Slo-Jo,” playing off the then famous Olympian Flo-Jo.
In individual races, I never, NEVER, beat anyone. In track or in swimming. That’s right: I came in last place in every individual race I ever swam or ran. But, I loved the settings. I loved riding the bus to meets. I loved laughing with my friends and flirting with other girls’ boyfriends. Most of all, I loved what swimming and running did for my appearance. 34-24-34. Good times. Which reminds me, Delicious and Sharky decided to measure themselves recently. Sharky’s measurements: 22-22-22. Delicious’s measurements: 52-52-52. Let’s just say that mine are in proportion to what they were in high school, yet proportionately larger.
Years later, between my banking and teaching careers, I felt compelled to do the expected. Play tennis. Slo-Jo has as much business on the tennis court as she does in the pool or on the track. The tennis skirt is an interesting get-up. What does it say to you? The skirt said to me, “You’d better slim up haus' because I’ve got two layers and big pockets for balls, right at your widest point.” Nothing motivates you to exercise and eat well like a toned, tanned, group of ladies with Levolor blind eyelids checking you out as you and your parts bounce around a tennis court. I told Tall Child, “I think I could be a tennis player if I had a good racquet.”
He responded, “Bug, your level of athleticism is not worthy of that level of investment.” I conceded and wrapped up my tennis season and career with a Wal-Mart racquet and somewhat slimmer physique.
By sucking at sports, I actually grew as a person. First, I am not self-conscious. Look at me all you like. As long as I’m wearing lipstick and a strong bra, I am confident! Second, I can watch basketball, tennis, swimming, and track competitions and be entertained. I am educated in the wide world of sports. Third, I don’t mind working with people who are better than I am in some capacity. I admire success and talent and don’t mind pulling up the rear. Every team has a Flo-Jo and a Slo-Jo. Finally, I am not afraid to step outside the barn and try something abstract or seemingly out of reach. I had the guts to quit a high-paying banking job. I tried to overcome several obstacles to have a baby. Tall Child and I committed to and succeeded in adopting the Roaming Gnome.  In my late-thirties, I made an abrupt career change. This year, I wrote and published a novel.
I asked Tall Child, who now coaches youth basketball and baseball, “As a coach, what’s your attitude toward your worst player, someone like me?”
He said, “I try to give him more attention than the other ones to make him feel like an important part of the team.”
I asked, “What is your advice to that player who is on a team and not one bit of good?”
He said, “Play hard and enjoy the game. Sports keep you from playing video games. They make you interact with other kids. You learn how to work with others. That’s about it.”
In middle school, high school, and college, I did in fact learn how to interact with others and be part of a team—yes, as a terrible athlete, but more so as someone who could say, “I’m with the band.” Which brings me to Theory 6: If you want the ultimate college experience, join the band.
See you next post. Until then, think outside the barn!

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...