Monday, August 10, 2009


Working out is therapeutic, although it can sometimes seem to have the opposite effect, ie, causing guilt and panic when one doesn't follow through the schedule one has set for oneself.
But at the gym that is often where my best thinking occurs.
On Sunday ("storm day") I was thinking about my past, my years as a young girl, and what motivated me to do my best, all the time.
At the age of about 8, I was bitten by the track and field bug. I couldn't shake it as I moved through grade school, then on to junior high. It was the perfect sport for me, solitary, completely dependant on my own motivation, competitive to the second, very cutthroat.
By the time I'd reached about 13, somewhere in the neighbourhood of grade 7 or 8, I was very involved in the sport. My strongest events were short sprints, although I could be depended to on to give a very good showing in relay events and running long jump.
Then I discovered hurdles. What a metaphor for the rest of my life.
Hurdling is racing, at top speed, with obstacles placed at a measured distance at certain points apart, the same height throughout the race, designed to test the runner's coordination and pacing. I only knew one thing at the age of 13--I really wanted to compete in this sport on my school team.
I'm 5'-3" now. Then I was probably a couple of inches short of my final height. That's a bit short for the hurdles. Long legs are a real asset when you're flying over thin wooden beams. But I was too young to appreciate this fact. I wanted a new event, a new challenge, and I wanted to succeed at it.
The team was pretty much picked and I was left to last, one of the spares, to compete with the other girl who wanted a spot on the team. She was also 13. Unlike me, she had sprouted up to a height, un-reachable to me, of 5'-9". At 13. Was she faster? You better believe it. Was she better at getting over the jumps? Of course. I was discouraged. But determined.
Every morning at 7 am, leading up to the final team picks, I would be running out of the house through the schoolyard that led to my junior high school (the run there was my warm-up) to make it for practices. I did that every day for three weeks. 5'-9" took it a little easier. I guess she could afford to. She showed up for every second, sometimes every third, practice. It irritated me, beyond belief, but a talk with my dad helped me focus on just worrying about my own performance and attendance at practice, and I put the blinders on.
At one of the near-to-last practices, I suffered a brutal fall, flat on my face, that knocked the wind out of me. Despite this, I got up and finished the practice heat.
The last day of practice, after about 3 weeks, the coach, a wry, yet devestatingly honest female geography teached, announced that I had the last spot on the team, not 5'-9". I couldn't believe it. But then, I could. 5'-9" wasn't even there to hear the announcement.
I competed at the meet, came in third, the smallest, shortest girl there.
I was beaming when I finished that race, one of many I competed in that day.
But more than learning that hard work is its own reward, I also learned that, often, a seemingly insurmountable competitor will do away with themselves. The ones that talk a good game, with nothing to show for it. The ones that buzz around, touting their accomplishments, while seething with their own insecurities. That hare and tortoise thing can't be all wrong.