Where was my inner athlete when Janis Ian sang: To those of us who knew the pain , Of valentines that never came, And those whose names were never called, When choosing sides for basketball?
I was driving my car down some highway with my one-year-old in a car seat. But Ian’s words, especially that one line, touched me deeply. I had the Valentines from my boyfriend who is still my one true love, but I was not picked at basketball and truly hated all aspects of high school gym class. But because I always showed up for class on time, I passed. And one summer I actually water-skied at Lake Delavan, Wisconsin, even went outside the wake. It was an awesome experience—but I only did it once.
In college I had to face my non-existent athlete again and prove that I did not need swimming lessons, the curse of all college girls who don’t like having wet hair mid-day. Again, I passed, by backstroking (well kind of, I probably zigged and zagged) across the length of the pool. Okay.
I also vaguely remember walking the mile at Loyola field to pass some other test. Or did I run and walk it? Whatever I did, I passed, proving that I wouldn’t lie down and die in the middle of exercise. But there were still physical education requirements, so I signed up for Bowling and Golf. (Those who know me, please don’t laugh too hard.)
Golf came first. We had some sketchy instruction in the gym: how to hold a club primarily, how to keep score. Then we were dumped out at some golf course. How did I do? I’ll confess I started off using a tee on the greens—my metaphor for my success at playing golf. That’s the history that made miniature golf the only golf-speed I do. Bowling wasn’t much better, though I think I at least scored. I’ve had maybe two good bowling games in my life—oh well.
But hope springs eternal, and so after hearing Janis Ian’s song, I signed up for tennis lessons. My teacher was handsome, and I enjoyed the workout. But on the court to play doubles for the first time, the husband of the other couple and I got into a rules argument that in a way became a historical debate. He was angry, I was angrier. Enough said for tennis.
After my second child was born, I decided to take real swimming lessons. I signed up at the local high school for night lessons. (It wouldn’t matter what my hair looked like then.) But the pool water was like ice; I was tired after caring for a 6 and 2 year old all day and though I tried really hard, I just couldn’t get the breathing down. So bye-bye swimming lessons.
Soon after, I signed up for Jazzercize. That I could do! I loved it. I loved the music and the dance moves. I could close my eyes and pretend I was one of the Rockettes—well at least for a second or two. Jazzercize made me come alive on so many levels.
Then came the bad back. What had I been doing? Well carrying my daughter up and down stairs way past her necessary age—but I loved it. And hauling the vacuum up & down the stairs. My friend Jane needed back surgery after moving a cement birdbath. But we all do those things. Want to rearrange your furniture and you know your partner won’t agree? Well, you do it yourself. Bad back territory.
The result: I became best friends with my physical therapist. I saw him more than my girlfriends. And just plain old vanilla walking became my hobby. It was exercise, it was good for my back, I would walk to the tempo of the music on my Walkman, music I once danced to—but it allowed some athletic ability into my life.
ATHLETE: a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise. It’s a decent definition, fits part of the bill, but in my life I’ve expanded it, altered it. I think the inner athlete resides in our main skill that startles us—it’s so accomplishable, it gets others’ attention, and we just love doing it!
So I’ll swing right on back to high school and creative writing. That’s where I excelled, that’s the class I couldn’t wait for each day, the class that fit my journaling habit, my work on the school newspaper, the stories I was already making up in my head as I fell asleep each night. Writing was my prowess, my talent. It was the athlete in me and I just needed to give up on the other stuff and focus on that. It even had competition in Arlene H. who when we read her work in class I felt eclipsed. Well okay, she made me work harder.
Our children and grandchildren may not be great at baseball, sports in general, but their inner athlete soars in some discipline: computer technology, design, playing a musical instrument, photography, volunteering, or being a collector of stamps, coins, pottery. Even being a good driver qualifies. There are so many bad drivers on the roads and when driving a powerful vehicle you use your brain, memory, reflexes, sight, and decision making, not to mention the mechanics of the car.
And my Boomer friends, as you age, you can discover your inner athlete in the form of taking care of your health. It’s an activity that requires talent, skill, research, good habits, good workouts and there is competition all around you. You want to GO FOR THE GOLD in that challenging activity. And many of you can because you do swim, golf, play tennis, maybe ski, bike, whatever!!
But if you sometimes drive by a golf course or a pool and long to excel in that particular sport and don’t, or you see ads for skiing trips and wonder why that passed you by, and like me you know it’s kinda late—go for a good walk. And as you walk, find that inner athlete in something else you excel at. Pin it down. Celebrate it. And send me a comment telling me just what you’ve done to cross some finish line as you rediscover your inner athlete! Boomer Highway is always here to cheer you on.
Thanks to Google Images