Wednesday, July 15, 2009
What does it mean to be an athlete?
Some people seem to be born athletes. My husband is this type of person-- he played and excelled at just about every sport. All-star baseball, varsity basketball, soccer, (no football because his mom wouldn't allow it). In law school he once ran a 5K without training in old shoes with a friend who was in the midst of training for a marathon. Marc's feet were a bloody mess but he completed the 5K in a respectable time. He seems to have a base level of fitness that returns to him quickly when he ramps up his exercise. Even when I'm in great shape he seems to be able to out run, out hike and out endure me every time.
Other people, like me, lack that atheleticism gene. I did try-- first soccer for one season when I was seven. Most of the other kids started playing when they were five and I just naturally lack coordination (so much so if my parents could have afforded it my mom would have sent me to an occupational therapist as a small child to help improve my spacial awareness-- it is one of my mom's biggest regrets that she never did). My mom was big on following through on commitments, so I was not allowed to quit soccer until after the season was over but I hated it. Thank goodness I did some ballet as a little girl-- that probably saved me from being a complete klutz. I did basketball for a year around fifth grade. Again, all of the other kids had been playing for several years and again my lack of coordination got the best of me. On top of that, I went through a major growth spurt that year and suffered aching joints. I remember after one game my dad giving me a lecture on being more assertive after I got my ass kicked by some very aggressive 11 year-olds on the court and being upset because I really didn't want to do it. The next year I tried softball-- the first year was fun. My friend's dad was the coach and it was very laid back. We were pretty good but more importantly my friends were on the team and it was fun. My second and last year, my friend's dad wasn't coaching anymore and I ended up on a team of girls that were all star champions and dead set on winning. It was not fun for me-- I wasn't at their skill level and we weren't friends. (I did once make my coach's day by accidentally catching a pop fly in left field that literally landed in my mitt!) I did better with individual sports-- for two years in high school I was on the swim team, which I loved. My friends were on the team, we only really competed against ourselves (I still hated competing in meets, but practice was fun). I would have continued all four years, except I had to choose between doing theater and swimming and chose the former. Sophomore year I ran track to try and stay in shape for swimming. I think I have mentioned that I am not a good runner. Track was brutal-- I hated every practice. I signed up for field events-- long jump and triple jump because there was less running involved. I'm not sure if I even made it the whole season. I also tried club swim team briefly. When the coach assigned me additional strength workouts on top of the three hour a day swims and told me I needed to lose weight (when I was at a perfectly healthy weight-- a good 12 pounds less than I am right now) I quit the team.
A lot of my inability to do these sports revolved around my asthma which seemed to come and go at random. I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma and given an inhaler, which never really helped that much. I wonder now how much better at these endeavors I might have been if I had known about my food allergies 15 years ago. I know now that dairy and gluten cause serious tightening of my airways, and gluten and dairy were all I really ate as a teenager.
I received a lot of concerned comments and emails from my friends about my last post, saying I was being too hard on myself about not keeping up with the hike. It was interesting to me that my chagrin at being unable to keep up was all people read. What I was discovering about myself in that post is that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for-- I couldn't keep up with my endurance trained friends, but I did complete the hike, something I didn't think I could do. I am finding that exercise really is cumulative. At a recent party I was talking with these same girlfriends about push-ups. None of them thought they could do more than one or two full push-ups (without their knees down). Even before cross fit I could do at least 12 or 15 of those. I attribute this strength to weight training since my swim team days-- it hasn't been consistent all of this time, but I think muscle memory is retained longer than we are led to believe.
I have lived my whole life with this self-imposed label as someone who is not athletic that I think ultimately I hold myself back from reaching my potential. I am interested to see how far I can go without the mental constraints that have kept me down my whole life.