I was always the girl who finished last.
I don’t remember when I first started to believe I couldn’t participate in sports. I know that I refused to run the required mile each semester in middle and high school because I felt I couldn’t. I would try to run, get embarrassed about my body, and walk. I’d convinced myself that my body wasn’t worthy of play. It couldn’t do the things that other bodies did.
However, for an entire year I was on a sports team for my church in sixth grade. Me. The girl who didn’t run. The girl who hated physical activity. I played basketball in the fall and volleyball in the spring. I probably wasn’t great, but I stuck with it the entire year. I went to practices. I tried. I pushed my body in ways I didn’t know I could. And, I enjoyed it. Maybe not all the time, but there was a part of me that wanted to keep playing.
I never did, though. Sometimes, now, I think back and ask myself “Why didn’t you keep playing?” Once I’d reached high school, I had aspirations to try and join the basketball team. I thought about how could it would be to actually participate in something. To join a team. To move and jump and shoot hoops and not give a shit what anyone thought about me.
I never tried out. I joined the theatre and convinced myself that I just wasn’t the sporty type. I barely tried in PE, even though I had a teacher who tried so hard to get me to care. I was so unnecessarily harsh on myself. I believed that because my body looked a certain way, because I felt a certain way, it could never change. I was sixteen, seventeen years old, and I never thought it could change.
I’m currently reading a book called Eat Sweat Play by Anna Kessel, which looks at the relationship women have with sport and with play. Sport is so often seen as a masculine, and the exercise that women are told is acceptable falls under the category of ‘fitspiration.’ Instead of being about the game, about play, it becomes about losing weight. About having that perfect beach bod in just six easy steps! Obviously, this is a flawed system, and Kessel goes into how important it is to teach girls and women how important sport is in our everyday lives. It’s made me reflect on my own relationship with sport, and even though I’m an active individual now, I’ve realized how desperately I desire that play. There’s something different about playing basketball or volleyball, something you don’t get just by hopping on an elliptical or spending two hours in the weight room.
I think of it now as a sort of grounded weightlessness. You’re present, in the moment, paying attention to the game, but you’re also free to act without thinking. If someone’s coming at you, you guard the ball. Shoulders down, elbow back, knee loose and ready to move. It takes your mind off of whatever the day thus far has thrown your way. And, it’s just fun. It’s fun to sweat, breathlessly moving back and forth on the court, without having to worry about those pages you need to write or that book you need to read or how you really need to start grading. And, it forms a sense of companionship with the people you play with.
This is all to say that after ten years of wanting to play basketball and volleyball, I’ve made plans to actually do just that. Because my body deserves to move, and is worthy of everything that sport can give it.
I may always be the girl who finishes last, but at least I’ve have fun on the way.