As a kid I always played sports, but I was never good at them. To clarify, I don't mean that I was not great or even that I was okay. I was really bad at sports. I played soccer for six years and basketball for four and during that time, I never scored a single goal. Not one. I played volleyball and never mastered overhand serving. I played tennis and whiffed and missed hitting the ball with my racquet more often than I connected. If I was ever passed the ball in any sport, I would immediately pass it to someone else because I hated the pressure of being in charge of it. I had a fear of being smacked in the face by incoming overhead balls and ducked and covered accordingly. I was passive. I did not enjoy being competitive. I was overwhelmed by the yelling in the crowds. I hated the attention when people watched me. Sports were just never my thing.
My sister, on the other hand, was a star athlete. She was MVP of every sport she played -- whether it was soccer, volleyball, basketball or tennis. Basketball was where she thrived the most, breaking all our high school's records for scoring and rebounding. She even earned herself a full-ride college scholarship to play basketball, though a shoulder injury ultimately sidelined her. My sister and I would have made a great case study for a nature versus nurture experiment. Two kids from the same house go out and play the same sports; one is great -- beyond great -- and one is terrible -- like, really, really bad. It amuses me to think of this now.
So why did I play sports if I was so terrible at them? For one, it's what kids do. They play sports. They take painting classes. They take ballet lessons. They join the Girl Scouts. They try new things. I did all of the above. Secondly, there were certain components of sports I really enjoyed. Although the hated the competitive pressure of games, I loved running around in practices. I liked doing controlled drills where there was very little chance I'd end up getting smacked in the face with a ball. I liked when practices included fun and games. I also liked to push myself physically. I never really got the hang out how to shoot a basket, but I liked to run up and down the court and try to get a little faster each time.
All this brings me to where I am now, at 33, thinking of myself as an athlete for the first time in my life. I had to tap into the things that I loved: running, competing against myself instead of others, having fun, etc. To this day, there is no part of joining a recreational sports team that sounds fun to me. It's simply not my thing. Those fears and frustrations I had as a child are still with me now. But my love of going outside, being by myself, and running is still with me too.
Toward the end of 2014, I made a goal to run one race every month in 2015. I'm 75% of the way to my goal and I can honestly say this has been the most fun year of my life. People ask me all the time if I'd like to go running with them and the answer is no. I like to go at my own pace. I like to choose my own course. I like to use my running time to work through all my issues of the day. I think about my work and my life and the problems that need to be solved. I think about the plans I need to make and things I need to do. Out running is where I find myself dreaming and scheming. Running is where I came up with the idea to write a blog that focuses on my healthy lifestyle. Running is where I came up with solutions to problems we encountered when planning our wedding. Running is where I've come to recognize my inner strength. As time has passed, I've become a faster, stronger, better runner. I can cover greater distances is less time and I have the stamina to do runs now that I didn't a year ago. I've learned to pay attention to my pacing and I've learned that I'm capable of pushing myself. I did my first half marathon last year and this year, when I did my second, I shaved 20 minutes off last year's time.
That I was able to do that astounds me. I continually astound myself as a runner. Last year I was running an 11-12 minute mile and this year I'm running an 8-9 minute mile. Last year I was running about 30 miles a month and this year I'm running 100. I keep getting better because I keep doing it. Day after day, week after week, I keep lacing up my shoes and hitting the pavement. I like the burn I feel in my legs. I like the sweat that drips down my face. I like blocking out an hour of my day when I don't have to respond to anyone or anything but the feet below me. I like pushing myself. I like improving myself. I like being in the fresh air. I like being away from everything else.
You have to fall in love with what you do. If you love to dance, you're going to keep dancing. If you love field hockey or beach volleyball or rock climbing or kickball, you won't notice you're exercising when you do them. For me it's running. For you it's whatever it is for you. I can't tell you what it is, but I can tell you what it isn't. If it feels like a chore or a punishment, it's not your love. If you dread doing it, it's not your love. If you're doing it for someone else, it's not your love. If you do it because you think you should, it's not your love. Find your love. You deserve to spend your precious time doing the things that make you feel happy to be alive.
It's okay to find the thing that makes you and you alone tick. I know so many people who absolutely thrive in gym environments. I hate the gym. I think there's nothing more depressing that the very idea of a treadmill. To me, there's no point in running if you're not actually going somewhere. There's no point in running if you're hooked to a machine instead of out experiencing nature. But to someone else? That's where she pushes herself. That's her escape. There's no way in hell I'm going to lift weights in a gym -- there's too many eyeballs on me and I hate the feeling of being watched. Lifting weights in my living room? I love it. Setting out for a run on my own? I love it. And that's what I keep doing them. I would have given up long ago if it wasn't worth it to me.
Whether you were terrible, amazing, or somewhere in between when you did sports as a child, it's never too late to find or reclaim your inner athlete. Sometimes I look back and I wish I'd participated in cross-country or a more running-centric sport instead of trying to to fit in with all the other kids playing ball sports. But in the end, I'm glad I didn't. Maybe the pressure of competition would have felt too much for me there, too. Maybe I really don't like team sports. Maybe I like to stay in my lane, push myself, and not worry about what everyone else is doing.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what everyone else is doing. It matters what you're doing and it matters if you're happy. Find your own happy place and go there as often as possible. You'll feel like a badass athlete in the process -- because, after all these years, that's just what you are.
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