‘Hur­dling’ to­ward vic­tory

Maryland Independent - - Classified - By Me­gan John­son Twit­ter: @right­meg

Ev­ery cou­ple years, I’m swept up in this phe­nom­e­non called “sports.” Swim­ming. Bas­ket­ball. Cy­cling. As the daugh­ter of a vet­eran sports­writer, I’m fa­mil­iar with the terms . . . and en­joy at­tend­ing events live. How­ever, my ath­letic knowl­edge ends at which con­ces­sion stand sells the best hot dogs (and which fun­nel cake maker is too stingy with the pow­dered sugar).

But when the Olympic Games be­gin, I hap­pily toss aside my books and get sucked in again. It’s the hu­man in­ter­est sto­ries I re­ally love: tri­umph­ing over tragedy; earn­ing a last-minute spot on the team; get­ting back in the pool just a year af­ter hav­ing a baby. Ath­letes push­ing to over­come im­pos­si­ble odds.

I also love watch­ing the Olympics be­cause, for once, my en­gage­ment means I’m not hope­lessly left out of water cooler con­ver­sa­tions. Un­like star quar­ter­backs, famed pitch­ers and soc­cer stars, I can eas­ily iden­tify Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and Gabby Dou­glas. I’m as riv­eted as the next per­son while the Amer­i­cans aim for gold on prime­time tele­vi­sion.

The drama! The ex­cite­ment! The pa­tri­o­tism! It’s all there. It’s true: I have Olympic fever. I’m many things, but ag­ile isn’t one of them. Per­haps that’s what com­pels me to watch, open-mouthed, as gym­nasts are pro­pelled like ex­plod­ing can­nons. I can­not swim, shoot or run; I’m a little wob­bly on a bi­cy­cle, though I can get the job done. So these phys­i­cal feats are mirac­u­lous to me: pow­er­ful and dar­ing.

Think­ing of my own lack­lus­ter ath­letic his­tory only em­pha­sizes how awe­some these women and men are. The kid prover­bially “picked last” in gym class, I couldn’t make a team be­cause I never had the guts to try out. I la­beled my­self early as a klutz — though I can’t say where that idea came from, ex­actly. Not from my par­ents. And not from teach­ers like Mrs. Haan, who couldn’t have been more sup­port­ive.

Re­gard­less, I lumped my­self into the “mis­un­der­stood artist” cat­e­gory and used that as my ex­cuse for why I could never get a vol­ley­ball over a net or swim into the deep end at the neigh­bor­hood pool. I was — and am, I’m sorry to say — just a little bit lazy, so any­thing that in­volved sweat­ing was typ­i­cally out.

Plus, you know, it’s not cool to ac­tu­ally try to be good at any­thing in mid­dle school. I re­mem­ber when what seemed like the en­tire eighth grade was brought out­side in match­ing T-shirts and shorts for field day ac­tiv­i­ties. We ran laps around a paved path near the base­ball field; we took turns do­ing the long jump and marked our best scores.

I was ter­ri­ble at that stuff, un­sur­pris­ingly, but ex­celled in an un­likely arena: hur­dling. In my me­mory, the ob­sta­cles set up on the track are in­tim­i­dat­ing, but I fly at them with record speed. In one smooth leap, I clear hur­dle af­ter hur­dle to the be­grudg­ing ap­plause of my class­mates. I’m No. 1. Vic­tor y!

In re­al­ity? I’m sure they were, like, a foot off the ground. And there was cer­tainly no ap­plause. Still, I did clear the hur­dles to place well in that sin­gle event — and fi­nally un­der­stood the heady rush of be­ing good at some­thing. Some­thing that wasn’t writ­ing a book report, doo­dling or recit­ing Han­son lyrics.

My suc­cess was short-lived. I took the re­quired num­ber of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes in high school, ex­pend­ing just enough en­ergy to pass. Half the school year was de­voted to nu­tri­tion and health, any­way — and I’m noth­ing if not a good note­taker. That “A” in the first se­mes­ter likely saved me in the sec­ond, where I just went ahead and benched my­self dur­ing daily ex­er­cises. I’m not sure how I got away with sit­ting in the bleach­ers gos­sip­ing with friends ev­ery day, but I guess all that jab­ber­ing could be con­sid­ered a work­out.

As an adult, my phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude walk­ing in cir­cles around my build­ing to in­crease my Fit­bit step count and crawl­ing on my knees af­ter a tod­dler who does not — re­peat: does not — want to be caught. I’ll oc­ca­sion­ally en­gage in a game of pool vol­ley­ball (in the shal­low end, of course) or corn­hole, but I still feel my ath­letic fate was sealed long ago.

With my luck, my son will grow up to be an all-star base­ball player.

I would to­tally be there, of course — cheer­ing Oliver on, clap­ping and . . . eat­ing.

Just fol­low the trail of pow­dered sugar. If you make fun­nel cake, she will come.

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