The pursuit of sportiness

As a child, I had the misfortune of being labelled the brainy one. My younger brother scored the accolade of being sporty.

Don’t get me wrong, I saw my smartitude as a wonderful thing. When I grew up, I wanted to become a doctor and get a PhD and end world poverty. But I was less thrilled that braininess seemed to rule out the possibility of having any sporting prowess whatsoever.
Drawing of a little girl in school uniform getting hit in the head by a soccer ball.

When I was four, I dislocated my hip on a trampoline at a birthday party, and my mum had to take me home early, my leg dangling uselessly – and probably somewhat sickeningly as far as spectators were concerned – to one side.Drawing of a little girl jumping on a trampoline, with one leg flopping beside her.I regularly sprained my ankle.
Drawing of a girl in school uniform, holding he bent ankle after falling down some stairs.And to this day, my greatest sporting achievement remains the time that I crossed the line first in the egg-and-spoon race in kindergarten.Drawing of a little girl in sports uniform throwing her hands in the air in celebration.Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the rules properly, and I was disqualified because I didn’t have my egg on the spoon at the time I crossed the finishing line. It had fallen off some metres earlier, and thinking I wasn’t allowed to use my hands to put it back on, I valiantly completed the race stooped over and belting the egg along the ground with the spoon.Drawing of a little girl in sports uniform bending over to thwack an egg with a spoon as she runs.Still, the knowledge of my utter uncoordination never stopped me from giving it a crack.

In primary school, I tried out for every sporting team imaginable. Summer and winter. Every year.Drawing of a girl in sports uniform being hit in the head by a soccer ball.Drawing of a girl in sports uniform being hit in the head by a basketball.Drawing of a girl in sports uniform being hit in the head by a softball.I never even made it onto a shortlist.

Undeterred, I also competed in every event I could at the school athletics and swimming carnivals. As soon as I was old enough, I swam in the 800 metre freestyle.

I can swim a really long way and never get tired. But I can’t swim very fast.

Minutes after all the other competitors had left the pool, I was still cruising along.Drawing of a girl swimming with a big smile on her face.Fortunately, it had been drilled into me early in life that it was important to try your best at everything and never give up. So I felt no shame that everyone was standing around watching me thrash about in the water, alone. I was not humiliated by the fact that they were waiting with gritted teeth for me to finish up and get out of the damn pool so they could start the next event.

I was accomplishing a laudable feat of perseverance.Drawing of a little girl in a swimming costume, standing in a puddle of water, smiling and throwing her hands in the air, while a teacher looks at her, unimpressed.Even though I went on to a selective high school – where sporting aptitude was not in abundant supply – I never made it onto a competitive team until Year 11. By which time everyone else was too busy studying to try out anymore.

Our basketball team won the interschool competition that year.

Although I can’t say I actually contributed to that victory, it gives me some pride to know that I wasn’t so very bad that I got in the way of our more talented team members doing their thang.Drawing of a teenager in sports uniform ducking and covering her head as a basketball flies over. Drawing of a teenager in sports uniform pumping her fist in the air and thinking, 'Missed me! Yes!!'Strangely enough, the only place I really felt disgraced by my lack of coordination was at home.

My mother used to reassure me that although I lacked gross motor skills, I had phenomenal fine motor skills, and could put a coin into a moneybox at nine months of age.

This was mildly encouraging. Such skills would certainly come in handy in later life when I was performing surgery on maimed children in the third world.Drawing of a little girl in hospital scrubs and a mask, holding a leg in one hand and a scalpel in the other. She is saying, "Don't worry. I can re-attach it so well, you won't even remember it came off!"And teachers always appreciated my tidy bookwork, which was clearly a result of my abundant fine motor skills.

Unfortunately, calligraphy never did take off as a competitive sport, so these skills didn’t carry quite the weight that my brother’s soccer and cricketing achievements did.

The main source of my chagrin was dinnertime. My brother and I ate our dinner sitting on stools at the other side of the kitchen bench. It was a long way from our high perch to the carpeted floor, and whenever I dropped my food or spilled my drink, the plunge seemed to take an eternity.

I would watch the offending item falling in slow motion, my heart following its trajectory as it tumbled to the floor, where it would splatter on the prized woollen carpet.Drawing of a boy and a man cheering, "You hit the target!"My brother and father would shout in simulated exaltation at my achievement.

It got to the point where they would already be speculating before the meal began: “Do you think she’ll hit the target tonight?”

I dreaded dinner.

Reflecting on this as an adult, I developed a theory: perhaps my uncoordination is a mental rather than a physical challenge – an idea that was reinforced in me so often as a child, that it became part of my identity. And it’s self-fulfilling, because every time I undertake a physical task in public, I am convinced I will stuff up somehow, before I’ve even begun.Drawing of a woman looking down at some stairs and thinking, ' Uh-oh. Steps.'For a long time, I nurtured this idea in secret. I fantasised about the possibility of clawing back some self-belief and conquering the physical world.Drawing of a woman sproinging up a set of stairs and thinking, 'Hahaa. Steps. We meet again. Who has the upper hand this time?'Then one day, as I was getting to know my boyfriend, I expounded the theory to him.

He’s a fantastic sportsman who mentors other players on his team with great care and skill. Plus, he’s my boyfriend. It’s his job to think I’m great, even in my unfinest moments. If anyone could help me reclaim confidence in my physical capabilities, surely he was the person.

So I shared my hypothesis, and held my breath, waiting for his helpful and philosophical reply.

Instead he burst into laughter. There was no derision in it whatsoever, but his response jolted me irrevocably back to reality.Drawing of a man smiling and saying, "You just fell off the lounge! How is that even possible?! You are the most uncoordinated person I've ever known!"So I was forced to add ‘delusional’ alongside ‘unco’ in the inventory of my self-concept. Still, I went right back to trying out everything. Drawing of a woman grinning with excitement and saying, "Wheelchair Quidditch? Count me in!"And I came up with an ambitious new approach – a plan to bide my time till the attrition of ageing delivers the physical supremacy I long for.

You see, we live a really long time in my family. If I can cling on till my nineties, I figure I’ll be the only old woman left in the pool. And that will be one hell of a sporting achievement!Drawing of an old lady swimming freestyle and smiling.

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10 thoughts on “The pursuit of sportiness

    • Lols. Thanks. That’s exactly what I thought at the time. I was miles ahead of anyone else. Miiiiles. And those tufty school paddocks are difficult terrain to shepherd an egg through 😉

  1. I laughed (sorry about that) at all the times you were hit in the head by a ball. That also used to happen to me, in fact so much so that I stopped attending any event in which a ball was in play. Even when I was just a spectator the ball at some point found my head or face.

    Do you wobble into walls? Or think you’re at the bottom step when you’re not? I do. My theory is that my brain is juggling such an array of different thoughts my coordination gets the short end of things.

    Nice blog!

    • Thanks, Mary! I’m glad you laughed – it was meant to be funny.

      I do sometimes stagger off course – into a wall or doorframe or corner I’m in the process of turning – for no apparent reason. Or misjudge the bottom step. It’s nice to hear someone else can relate to that!

      And I really like your theory that it’s because you have a too-full brain. I agree. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and assume your body will autopilot its way through things while you ponder…then it doesn’t quite work out because you’re not paying attention to the information your senses are feeding you.

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