Gym class was my worst enemy. I was always picked last for teams. I despised wearing the ripped mesh, stretched out overshirt thingy that smelled like stale sweat. I wanted nothing more than to dodge dodgeball. And, somehow, for some strange reason, I was always constipated, had cramps or sprained my ankle on days when we had gym. I think everyone was fine with my excuses, including the gym teacher. Having me sit on the bleachers was safer for everyone.
Dance was my passion, no doubt about it, but one year I decided to try softball. Why? Because the cool kids played sports. I felt like one of the popular kids, rockin’ my purple & green sting rays uniform. My friend Leanne’s Dad was the coach, so I would hitch rides with them to practices and games. Before heading to the field, I would do my hair and makeup and douse myself in cotton candy scented body splash. No wonder her Dad nicknamed me “stinky”. My memories of softball involve getting attacked by bees in the outfield while rehearsing choreography for dance routines and dreading any cute boys showing up to watch me embarrass myself. Whenever a ball would come my way I would either duck and cover or run the other way, screaming in fear. When it was my turn to bat, I was told to never swing, but to bunt. So I let the ball come to my bat and I would run for my life. Literally, for my life, out of fear of being totally humiliated because my outfield skills were less than satisfactory. I had to make up for it with my non-swinging, running skills. The coach nicely encouraged my parents to have me stick to dance.
My only other experience playing sports was dribbling a basketball in my driveway growing up. I remember watching Space Jam and thinking I could be a pretty sweet basketball player because I got super fired up whenever I heard “Whoomp, there it is.” I didn’t think that being in the 10th percentile for height would ever work against me. Or the fact that I had zero coordination when it came to sports.
My son is a huge fan of sports; thank goodness his Dad was a star athlete and can help him in that department. I do try: I bought one of those ball-pitching machines on amazon. I throw the football with him but it’s always him teaching (or laughing at) me. And, tossing a lacrosse ball to each other has turned into kick-ball-change lacrosse. It’s a new jazz dance-lacrosse hybrid sport that I invented.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had the game of football explained to me, yet I still pretend to watch and understand it. I’m 35 years old and am pretty good at understanding things that are explained to me. For some reason, my brain rejects the understanding of sports. When I was in middle school I was a cheerleader, for football. That’s how I thought I learned to spell the word rowdy with confidence. “R-O-W-D-I-E, that’s the way you spell rowdie!” No, no it’s not. That’s a lie. I would yell “first in 10, let’s do it again” like a bad-ass. Like I know what that meant. I still have no idea. Or “Hey, hey you, get out of our way because today is the day we will put you away.” Where are we putting you? What does that mean? I actually have no idea what is happening. At all. What are downs? Yard lines? And quarter, running, full…so. many. backs. I own a few Patriots shirts. I think Edelman is hot. Tom Brady is the GOAT, apparently. I love going to football watching parties. For the taco dip.
As much as I joke about how sports and me just never got along, I never realized how distressing it was until my kids started playing basketball.
From 5th-8th grade, I was bullied. I was called names, made fun of if I still had makeup on my eyes from the dance competition I was in the weekend before, laughed at for the way I dressed. I confided in “friends” about a traumatic situation that had happened to me, and they shared my secret with the entire school and spread rumors about me. I cried everyday, begging my mom to let me stay home. Our school guidance counselor, Mr. Freeman, became my best friend. I would eat lunch with him everyday in his office. Everyone was afraid of him, but to me, he was my go-to for encouragement and support. It was during this time that I realized I didn’t fit in there. The gymnasium, where everyone loved to go to play sports, have gym class and went for pep rallies, was my most despised place to be. Eventually, I transferred to Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School and found my people.
Fast forward 20 years, I brought my kids to basketball practice; into the same gym in the same school where I grew up. I had a physical reaction, hearing the balls bouncing on the echoing gym floor made me stop dead in my tracks. I couldn’t bring myself to enter the gym. I noticed my eyes were filling with tears. It triggered all of the memories of middle school; days I didn’t want to remember. It was the first time I realized just how much I negatively associate sports with such a difficult period in my life.
Interestingly, life has a way of showing us signs when we need them most. Just today, I had a video from 2 years ago pop up on my newsfeed from my Facebook memories. It was from when I was filling in as co-host on Mass Appeal with Danny New, and was all about the fun things you can buy to celebrate the Super Bowl. I shared it, tagged Danny and proceeded to scroll his page to see what he has been up to since transferring to his new TV job in Tampa, FL. My heart fell heavy when I read that he had recently been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He wrote about how it was discovered:
“A not-so-fun life update: I have thyroid cancer. It was discovered on an MRI after I threw out my back golfing. The bad news: I suck at golf. The good news: Sucking at golf possibly saved my life.” – Danny New
This response from Danny is no surprise, as he’s always a “glass half full” person. But, the irony: I sat early this morning to finish writing this blog post, took a short break, find a video memory with Danny, share it with him, do a little Facebook stalk, only to discover such difficult news about my friend and to learn a valuable lesson that relates to exactly what I was writing about. I read his words: “sucking at golf possibly saved my life.”
Interesting that I never thought about how I can turn my disdain for all things sports into a positive; appreciating the ways it helped me to grow, learn & chase my true passions. As Gabby Bernstein says, “Obstacles are detours in the right direction.” Perhaps my brain will give understanding football another chance and I’ll actually take a break from the snack table to learn what 1st in 10 means. The biggest lesson learned: your life can change drastically in a single moment; a single diagnosis. So live for now and embrace all that makes you who you are.
Sending all my love & good vibes to you, Danny! You can conquer anything with your positive mindset & optimistic view on life! You’ve got this! <3