The Spirit of Competition
During my run this morning (OMG, I’M STILL RUNNING! NOT DEAD YET!) I began to think about WHY am I running? Why now? I’ve never been a runner. I was on track for a few days during 8th grade, but then switched to the girls’ soccer team. I wish I had stayed with track, to be honest. But hey, that’s all in the past.
My thoughts made me reflect on my history of competition and sports. (Long, so I’m adding a cut!)
I’ve always been competitive, and preferred team competition, but also enjoyed personal challenges. My first taste of competition was dance when I was little. I have all my ribbons in a box somewhere, as well as my 3rd place trophy from nationals. I loved it. I preferred competition over just the boring recitals, although I enjoyed those performances as well. Thinking about it, though, I don’t think I was ever really aware of the groups we were competing against, and it was all about doing a better performance than the last one. So winning those ribbons was just icing on the cake. I knew when we did well and how my performance was.
Later, I was jealous of my brother taking Tae Kwon Do, and my parents deemed me “too young” or something. I don’t know. He was competitive too, and took it really personal when I was involved in the same activity he was. Thing was, I thought of him as my teammate. I didn’t want to compete against him, but be able to talk about how we did or ways we could improve together. I don’t think he ever understood that. Oh well.
When I was 9 I started swimming competitively in the summer. I enjoyed it. We had a big team, so we often won meets from sheer numbers, although we also had a pretty decent talent pool. I was never one of the fastest swimmers until I was about 13, and even then I usually only placed in butterfly (sometimes backstroke) because fewer people swam that stroke. They opted for breast stroke which, for some reason, I just couldn’t do. Still can’t. My legs just don’t want to kick right. But I grew to love swimming fly, so it was okay. Swimming for me was about improving my own time. I knew I would rarely place, so instead I focused on beating my clock and if that resulted in a place ribbon, great! At the point I was on swim team, there was really only one other team that was serious competition for us, so I worked extra hard for those meets, but otherwise didn’t worry about it so much. It was hard to get into the “team” aspect of the sport at that age. (I DID get the Coaches’ Award one year for doing other things like jumping in the water at 8 am to pull the lane ropes across and other things that I guess they found motivating to the team. And to think I just did that for fun!)
That fall I also started playing soccer. I LOVED it. Our coach was from Germany, and mind you, this was before the Berlin Wall fell. He instilled in us the desire to win. We learned how to play, all about what you DO AND DO NOT DO in your position, and the rules of the game. Strangely enough, we didn’t drill all that much compared to the other teams. We scrimmaged a lot. But we also severely beat the other teams. I loved playing with them. There were a lot of talented players on our team, and that was my first taste of playing coed sports. I loved being encouraged to slide tackle the other guys, and cheered on when I did well. I wasn’t “The Girl holding the team back” or some other stereotype. We won as a team.
I tried maintaining that feeling through middle school, but let me just say that middle school sucks. In 6th grade we had various sports tournaments where we competed against the other homeroom classes. My homeroom kicked ass to the point where other homerooms began to complain. Out of six sports, we won 1st place in three and 2nd place in one. Once again, these were coed teams. I loved it.
I actually liked gym class too. I believe I got the President’s Physical Fitness Award in 7th and 8th grade. I know I have my certificate and patch somewhere.
But it wasn’t all bliss. See, I was a geek before being a geek was cool. I was a band geek, and honor roll geek, and teacher’s pet kind of geek. On top of that, my family didn’t have a lot of money, so I wore a LOT of ill-fitting hand-me-downs. I got a lot of shit from the other girls. I was on the bottom of the totem pole. Looking back, I think my involvement in activities and my naiveté to the bullying is probably what kept me from committing suicide. I considered it a few times, but usually put it off because I had a band concert coming up or something else that I wanted to do.
In 7th grade I tried joining girls’ volleyball. Got cut. My nerves kicked in on my serves and I just couldn’t do it. Of course, I never had a problem in gym class or intramurals. Go fig. In 8th grade, I wanted to play a sport in the spring and had to choose between track or soccer. I had more friends on the track team and the soccer team was full of the popular girls who made my life hell, but I LOVED soccer. However, because I was severely intimidated by the other girls I went from being an in-your-face player to rather meek and was always on the bench. Seriously, during practice one time the day before a big game we were taking shots at the goal, and our goalie happened to hurt her thumb when she blocked MY shot, and everyone blamed me for it. We still beat the other team the next day, but the overall feeling was that if we didn’t, the loss would have been my fault.
Middle school girls are mean.
Now, I fully admit that I’ve never been a top athlete. The Olympics were NEVER my destiny, but I played because I enjoyed the activity. Freshman year of high school was my last gym class. That was probably for the best as I had a difficult time with some of the girls in that class. I was still a geek and a reject, and didn’t yet have the security of the band (safety in numbers) to back me up when I was picked on. I also tried out for the swim team. We had three chances to swim any stroke we wanted within a certain time. The first two attempts I made were the 100 backstroke, and I don’t know what it was that day but I just wasn’t feeling it. By the time I got to my third attempt, I was exhausted, discouraged, and frustrated. I decided to switch it up and just try a 50 freestyle. Missed making the team by 1.4 seconds. I KNOW that if I did the 50 free as my first attempt I would have made it. Argh! That summer was also my last year on the summer swim team. I knew I wouldn’t have time for it after that year.
The rest of high school was filled with marching band. TEAM COMPETITION! We even had concert band competitions. I LOVED it! And marching is an INCREDIBLE workout. In several of our shows I would fly across the field while blowing my lungs out on my piccolo. And when we won (which we did often starting my sophomore year) we won as a TEAM.
Band defined the rest of my high school years, and it was because of that I was disappointed that we didn’t have a marching band when I got to college. (LOL DIVISION III SCHOOL!) But I joined the crew team.
I LOVED crew. I started as a rower (2 Seat, FTW!), but since it made me LOSE weight instead of gain the “Freshman 15” I became one of the smaller girls on the team. One morning Sophomore year (a morning I didn’t have time to put my contacts in, mind you) we were short a coxswain. I got thrown into the stern of the boat. And there I stayed.
I usually coxed for the men’s team, but once in a while switched in when a cox was needed for the women. I preferred the guys. The 4 I coxed for was FUN. It was just a good mix of personalities. There were races where we weren’t going to win (we were a club team, and sometimes competed against colleges that gave out more crew scholarships than we had total members), but we still passed boats and were focused and were still able to laugh. “Power 10 for ‘SEEYALATERBYE!’” was one of my favorite moments. I still have all my medals in a box somewhere.
I finished college, and when I came home I joined with a Women’s Masters team here. I remember we debated practicing on Sept. 11, 2001 because our minds were all elsewhere. (My dad was supposed to be in New York at the time, and I heard from him just before I left for our afternoon practice. It was a harrowing day.) In the end, we decided to row anyway. We definitely needed it.
I was working retail at the time, though, and that put a damper on being able to cox for the team. So I had to quit and haven’t gone back. I really miss it. I love being on the water, and someday I hope to be able to afford a single-person scull and live close enough to a lake that I can go out regularly.
Life happened, and after all the trials of 2008-2010, I finally got sick of my state of mind in 2011. That’s when I started this blog. I found I felt better when I worked out. I liked the direction my body was going. I liked how I could clear my mind or focus on the workout I was doing as a way to “get away” from the stresses going on. I was beginning to change myself on both the outside and the inside. As my body grew stronger, I grew stronger mentally, too. I remember that point when I said “Enough is enough!” I was no longer going to allow myself to be a doormat. In fitness, I found that I had the strength of character to overcome those obstacles that had been blocking me for so long.
I started up again this year in March after the break-up and move. I began by walking. Then I added in strength training again. Slowly, those walks are turning into runs.
I’m still competing, but only against myself. If I’m feeling good on a run, I’ll push myself to go faster to try to beat my best pace. If I’m feeling a little slow, tired, sore, or in pain (blisters, mild shin splints, etc.) then I might slow it down, walk more, but walk a little extra distance.
I love the feeling that I’m improving each day. I’m better than the day before, and will be even better tomorrow. Even better is the feeling of going to bed at night happy, knowing that I set a goal and accomplished it.