Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I wasn't born an athlete, but I decided to be one anyway.

I'm number 20. Look at those tiny arms. 
I tried out for the field hockey team in ninth grade because I wanted to make friends, I wanted to be a part of a team and I wanted to have a cool Under Armor jacket to wear around school on game days. Fortunately, everybody made at least junior varsity. Unfortunately, all the girls were very competitive and none of them really wanted to be my friend. Also, the printers screwed up our jacket order and we never even got them.

I was the slowest person on the team. By a football field's length. Literally, when we would run ladders (25 yards and back to the end zone, 50 yards and back, 75 yards and back, 100 yards and faint), I would glance back from the opposite side of the field to the rest of the team staring at me and questioning if maybe I had just walked the whole thing or something. We were suppose to complete this in under two minutes. I never made it quicker than 2:30. People don't ever believe me when I talk about how slow I was, but I have a team of witnesses to explain how it worked: I made the face like I was trying to sprint, my legs and arms were pumping like I was trying to sprint, but the ground below me just didn't get covered. It was like that cliche dream where you're running and not getting anywhere, except I wasn't in my underwear and nobody was chasing me.

What I lacked in speed, I made up in the ability to run forever like a madwoman. I got put at midfield, where my job was to run and run and run and run around the field the whole game and occasionally pass the ball to somebody and more occasionally just get in the way of the other team so somebody else on my team could do something athletic.

We went to field hockey camp at Penn State for a short week and I was the only girl on the team without a roommate. I spent my first night at a college campus alone in my room crying to my mom on my pay-as-you-go cell phone until it ran out of its loaded minutes.  (I should mention, however, that I spent my second night exploring State College by myself and meeting some really cool strangers which made up for my horrible first night.) I worked my ass off in field hockey, and I ended up just falling on it. I don't know if people didn't like me because I was unbelievably slow, irrationally positive, or awkward and said things nobody understood through my mouth guard all the time.

In the long run, I thank field hockey for introducing me to the incredible feeling of pushing my body to do things my tiny thighs and lack of fast-twitch muscle fibers never thought they could do. I loved the feeling after a circuit run. I loved the idea that I couldn't run a football field in August and by October I was pushing five miles a game. I loved that different feeling that lingered in my lungs hours after a tough practice. I fell in love with exercise. (Eventually people realized I wasn't competition for any starting spots and I was really good at making up funny names for everybody, so I became an important asset to the team's morale and they kept me around for a couple more years.)

When I turned sixteen my sophomore year, I got a job at a new fitness club that was opening down the street. This club boasted healthy living and it was contagious. I saw people of all shapes and sizes doing things that made them feel good. It was about the inside, that awesome feeling of accomplishment and noticeable improvement in ones own abilities. (Don't get me wrong, there are some BABES at this place, but a tight booty is just an external perk to the magnificent joy that partners it.) I was learning something new everyday and I was learning that it didn't take that much coordination to do some of these things. I took what I knew I was good at, endurance sports, and I used it to help me in what I was really (really really) bad at.

Seven years later, I'm kind of more coordinated and a little bit faster. But I'm stronger and I'm healthy and I'm not afraid to test my limits. This summer, I ran my first two triathlons, backpacked on the Appalachian Trail, swam across a whole lake, got lost in the middle of the woods and practically pooped myself as I sprinted out six fear-miles, I squatted the most I've ever squatted in my life, climbed the hardest route at my local climbing gym and I've gotten to do it all with my boyfriend and friends.

I'm still a clutz. I stubbed my toe and broke it (then ran a triathlon on it and hiked on the Appalachian Trail). I slammed my hand jumping up onto a plyo box bruising my right wrist beyond usability and gashing my palm open (then finished the rest of my box jumps and leg workout). While doing pullups, I let go of a resistance band that had been on my feet to slap me in the crotch (then kept doing pullups with the resistance band in my crotch). But I still did it, right?

My arms are still pretty tiny. But whatever.
I like to think that the gym could use a few more people like me, who lack athleticism but don't use it as an excuse. The gym needs somebody who isn't afraid to turn to the body builder next to her and joke about the resistance band that just smacked her in the between-legs. I've met amazing people in my fitness journey, which to be honest, just like field hockey, is why I started in the first place. Everybody should know the feeling after a good workout, "good workout" being a completely relative term to the exerciser him/herself.

I love motivating others to get healthy. And I have gotten to meet some amazing motivators in my own fitness journey: the moms at my gym with bomb booties and gorgeous smiles; my former co-worker, Stephanie, who continues to push herself (including biking across the country, completing a half-iron man, and being one of the sweetest women I've ever met); my friends Kelly and Rachel who have the most contagious love for the outdoors I've ever seen; my friend Maeve who taught me that swimming can be great, because you're out of this world; my SCUBA instructors who taught me that the only way to succeed is to stop being such a damn spaz; and my super hero boyfriend whose idea of an "off day" is hot yoga and rock climbing.

One day this last summer, my boyfriend, Chris, and I went to my high school track to do an interval workout for our triathlon training. But before I could do that, I had an old score to settle with the football field: the ladder. With Chris timing me, I finished that sprint in 1:45, the fastest I've ever been. Maybe I would have rather made that time in high school because then maybe I would have maybe made Varsity Field Hockey (let's be honest, probably not). However, the amount of work I've been doing ever since high school ladders, the amount hours I'd spent with salty sweat down my face is really what made that time so damn sweet.

Looking over Maryland on the Appalachian Trail. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

College Principle #2: I did not let myself be a selfish student.

When I was little, I used to play a game we called The Never Ending Game. It sounds a lot more intense than it is. It was just a game of Make Believe where my friends and I always played the same characters and picked up where we left off playing the last time. We would play that we were in college or high school because we could never remember which one came first in an older person's life. (I blame Boy Meets World... sometimes they were in high school on reruns, sometimes they were in college and they always had the same principal/administrator/whoever Mr. Feeney was). We'd have lockers and always hung out at them. Because that's what you do at College High School. You hang out at the lockers. But like many young suburbanites, college was never not an option for a kid like me. Both my parents went. Their parents went. It's what you did.

College today is a lot different than when my parents went in 1904. It was cheaper, for one. It wasn't rare to NOT go to college, which meant that what you studied made you a smartiepants in that field, which meant you got a job more easily. I knew this going in. I realized I was going to be in a lot of debt, I was going to be one of millions with degrees in my field, and getting a job was going to be pretty hard. I went through a great program where the other students were super competitive and everything but humble about their internships and published works. 

It would not be fair to categorize college students into those who are selfish and those not. There are so many different kinds of people attending university every year, and thanks to hundreds of student organizations, they can be passionate about all different kinds of things. It's never quite accurate to classify people into two categories (cough, politics, cough), but I'm going to anyways.

 And to be fair, I think the act of going to college in itself, is partially selfish: I AM the one attending college in hopes to better MY life, to better MY opportunities, to become a more educated human being. I struggled with this for a while. 

My freshman and sophomore year, I spent a lot of time feeling bad. Feeling bad because there were people who didn't have the opportunities to attend college, and here I was having an amazing time, meeting amazing people, getting excited about discussions in my classes (I am that girl). I wanted to help others and college seemed like four years of putting that off. 

But the reason I did it was the idea that, without it, I could only do so much to help others. With an education, my opportunities would be greater to do something bigger for others down the line. And just because I wasn't starting a Non-profit-world-saving-hunger-fighting-disease-curing organization right after high school graduation didn't mean that I couldn't do things to help the people I was around. That's the beautifully brilliant thing about helping others: It can be done regardless of where you are or what you're doing or what your job description says. 

College was hard for me. When I was in high school, I never studied and I never did my homework, but I got good grades because I got grades on tests to make up for my laziness in other areas. Then I got to college and learned material more complex than memorizing a lecture on the first try and I actually had to study. But it quickly became apparent to me that I would be doing far more learning and living outside of the lecture hall. I met people from very different backgrounds than mine. And I fell in love with them. Being a good friend to them meant more to me than an A on a paper (although writing papers was my strong suit). I learned that Athens, Ohio was but an island in the middle of a rural area, struggling with things I hadn't experienced much as a kid. I became a mentor to high school students in the area through a thing called Young Life, which meant more to me than shmoozing a bunch of visiting news executives to hire me. I fell in love with exercise and adventure and learned that I could push myself to do things I'd never have even considered-- getting over my fear of heights rock climbing and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. Inspiring others to get healthy and active meant more to me than setting the curve on an exam. 

[sidenote: Don't think what I'm saying is that working hard in classes doesn't matter because you're learning more important things elsewhere. It isn't right to put off your studies and cheat yourself out of a good education because you're busy having fun. My parents worked their asses off to get me through college and I respected them enough to maintain a substantial grade point average. But it wasn't the only thing that mattered.]

When I was in the classroom, I made a point to know the people in my class. They mattered to me. They weren't competition. I'd give people my notes when I noticed they had been absent, I made conversation with them about their lives that consisted beyond what they did that weekend. 

Outside the classroom, I made a point to care about people. Because I did care about people. It wasn't very hard. 

My priorities were different than other students in my program, but I also know that I experienced a sort of whimsy they will never know. There are a lot of ways to be a student and not be a selfish student. You can go out of your way to help people and get involved in organizations, or you can just choose to not be a douche bag and hold the door for somebody every now and then. I chose the former.