on athleticism

I spent most of my life completely convinced that I am absolutely unathletic, pathetic in my klutziness, a fragile, uncoordinated mess who is to be pitied for her inability to walk across a room without sustaining some kind of grievous bodily injury or expensive property damage. I am not all wrong; I am often clumsy, find it difficult to move all the parts of my body at once in particular ways, or to think about the parts of my body and how they ought to be moving and then actually try to move them. My Pilates instructor once asked me if I had sustained some kind of serious injury over the course of my life, or if I had an inner-ear problem, either of which would explain how someone could be so ridiculously, egregiously terrible at a relatively basic Pilates exercise. No, I told her. That’s just how I am. She shook her head, and I think she gave up on me.

I skipped gym class in elementary school, running off and hiding on the roof in the warm months, exploring the boiler room and the basement in the winter until I got caught by a custodian and hauled into the principal’s office. In high school I just hid in the bathroom for the entire period and read Stephen King novels and scribbled in my little marble notebook about how bourgeois forced physical education was. I did not know what “bourgeois” meant. I did know that I would not be forced to humiliate myself, club-footedly and all-thumbs-handedly, and I was taking myself right out of the game. So to speak.



There wasn’t any particular incident that made me hate gym–I don’t
recall a particular humiliation that burns to this day. It was just a
non-specific, blood-curdling fear of physical activity and hurting
myself or making a fool of myself that kept me out of those shorts. I
identified as a non-physical, non-athletic person to a pathological
degree, and I think you can probably trace so many of my issues with my
body directly from there.

Psychoanalyzing aside, I spent my whole life avoiding sports, and team
sports, and anything that involved teams, or sports. I have tried
individually athletic things, like running and the aforementioned
Pilates, yoga and bike-riding, and at all of these things there is
always the sense that danger and physical harm is imminent. If I
confessed to anyone who was worried about my well-being how often I
have come thisclose to being creamed by a car, flipping over my
handlebars because of a smooth move involving a curb or a sharp turn,
how frequently I have made a poor decision while on top of my bike and
faced with oncoming traffic or a pedestrian, I’d have my bike
confiscated and be locked in my house for all time, not just for my own
safety, but for public safety.

That’s how I think of myself: as a danger to myself and others. So when
Jayrad said hey, I’m going to go hit a bucket of balls at the golf
course, you want to go? I waffled, and demurred and said oh, no, I have
work to do, and the subtext was, I am far too busy to brain people with
my club or an ill-timed popup. If that’s what you call a golf ball that
goes flying in wild directions. Whatever, he said. Come hit some balls.
Oh, fine, I said, in a surly way. I guess. I’ll go, and fail and be
miserable and it will be your fault and I hate golf because it is
stupid and I will fail and I hate to be stupid and failing and I really
don’t want a golf-related concussion, okay?

I did not end up with a golf-related concussion. I ended up with a
blister, and a reasonable grasp on the mechanics of the various clubs,
and a killer swing. You guys, I hit the ball. Over and over, I swung at
the sucker perched on a tee with an iron, and I did not want to stop.
Jayrad had to drag me away. But the ball, it got some air! Then I
smacked the ball with a driver, and you should have seen it go. I
putted with the putter and that did not go as well as it should,
despite my years of miniature golf championship, but I figured out how
to hold the club, how to stand, how to keep my eye on the ball and
swing and connect and with a sense of awe and satisfaction and
deep-down pleasure, I watched that ball fly across the grass and
disappear against the backdrop of the mountains, and I was purely happy
and pleased in a way I don’t think I ever have been in the face of
fully-clothed physical activity.

I felt athletic. I mean, I know hitting a bucket of balls is not precisely on par with running a marathon, but it involves coordination, bringing disparate parts of your body together in one smooth swing, precision and clarity. And I felt good, and capable, and coordinated, and I
wasn’t perfect–I have a hell of a slice, and not much power–but it was
amazing to me, to be successful at such a purely physical act. I can’t
tell you how glad I am I went ahead to the course, bought a bucket of
balls, borrowed a club and smacked the hell out of that bucket. What a
pleasure it was to succeed. In typical enthusiastic Anne fashion, I
have been investigating the price of my own bag of clubs, a pair of
gloves, a bucket of balls. I want to rent a little cart and play a
bunch of holes, and it is possible that as soon as I fail at actually
getting the ball anywhere near the green I will throw my club at
someone’s head and sulk, but I don’t know. I might stick with it. I
might love it. I might be an athlete just like Tiger Woods! I’ll hold
off on purchasing expensive equipment, though. For now.

  3 comments for “on athleticism

  1. August 8, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I could have so written that whole post – right up to the golf part. I play a pretty mean game of Wii tennis though. Against the computer, I even suck at that against an acutal live opponent :-)

  2. Mare
    August 8, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    That’s how I felt the first time I took a dance lesson. “I’m clumsy,” I said. “I’m clumsy, I’m clumsy, I’ve got two left feet I’m clu… oh, holy crap, I just did a kickass cha-cha! I can da-yance!”
    It was AWESOME.

  3. Punchy
    August 18, 2008 at 12:22 am

    I don’t know if you have Big5 where you are but I got a set of clubs and a bag for $45 there a few years ago and they were good enough for an amateur.
    If I ever got to be any good at it I would fully go for the pretty pink clubs at the golf shop. I will argue that the pink makes them more aerodynamic or something and then ruin my coolness when I put on the fuzzy piggy club cozies.

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