‘Hurdling’ toward victory
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.