Guess what? Turns out, I’m an athlete!
That’s what I would tell the teenage version of myself. Chances are, she’d laugh her ass off. But only if she could do it without putting down her book. The teenage me would never imagine she could be good at exercise
I remember the moment clearly. I was about nine, in maybe the third grade. We were playing something in P.E. Softball, I think, but it might have been kickball. It was one of those bases-loaded moments. I was in the hot seat. I buggered it. I humiliated myself (in my own eyes) and the team lost. I went home in tears. And that’s when it happened. My mom, trying to comfort me, said, “It’s okay, honey, Beierles just aren’t good at sports. We just aren’t very coordinated.” (Beierle is my maiden name.)
I internalized that phrase, “Beierles aren’t good at sports.” it became part of my identity. Not good at sports. Not an athlete. Not coordinated.
It was okay. I was smart. I loved reading. (And that’s a subject of another post, probably one I already wrote.) I didn’t mind not being good at sports. I mean, I minded every day in P.E. when I was picked last. When I always fumbled the ball. When I stood in the wrong spot on the volleyball court and got hit in the face with the ball. I totally cried that time, because, damn, that hurt. But I was okay with my identity of not being an athlete.
For most of my life–as that teenagers and as an adult–I really struggled with exercise. I know I need exercise to be healthy. I wanted to find something I could force myself to do, but I just never found it.
Until yoga. Which I love. But the Iyengar yoga I do is slow and methodical. I’m good at it, but it’s yoga. It’s not exactly the stuff of athletes.
And then, a year ago, my son said he wanted to take Tae Kwon Do. So I found a place to take him. And then my daughter started going. And I did.
It made sense. I write action, so it’s technically research. I could get help choreographing fight scenes. Plus, it turns out, it’s just fun. No. Really.
Yeah. That’s me saying that. It’s exercise and it’s fun. I look forward to it. And now here’s the really weird thing: I’m good at it. There are two other women in my class who are at the same level as me. I don’t carry them, but they don’t carry me either. We are equals. One of them jogs every morning. One of them was a star basketball player in high school. And I’m their equal.
That’s amazing to me!
And here’s the thing that I never understood about what it means to be athletic: I didn’t know that even lazy, uncoordinated people could be athletes.
Oh, any number of P.E. teachers and coaches said, “Well, you just need to practice. You’ll get better at softball/kickball/tennis/basketball/volleyball/etc.”
I had absolutely no faith that I would get better. I was a naturally uncoordinated person. How could practice help that? I couldn’t imagine that any amount of practice would make me not a clumsy lunk. I never understood that practice would build muscles. That having muscles would mean I’d have better control over my limbs. That using my muscles regularly would help me develop muscle memory. That I would totally feel like an athlete!
Yeah, I’m still uncoordinated. Yeah, I still cringe at the thought of playing a team sport. Yeah, I’d still probably be the last one picked to play kickball. And, yeah, I’d probably still get the volley ball to the face. But guess what? Now, I could totally drop kick the guy who did it. (Not that I would do that. That would be rude.)
(By the way, I had all kinds of cool pictures of my getting my red belt, but now I can’t find them. I don’t think I understand how my phone works with the new update. So instead, I included pictures of Master Um, my instructor, with his far more impressive student, WIllie Nelson!)