gold



I am an Olympic junkie.
Every two years I catch myself watching hours of sporting events I could care less about (curling, is just really cold bowling and you would never catch me watching that on TV) and cheering on athletes I have never heard of. Sometimes they aren’t even from my own country. For example, my favorite this year is the 44 year old brick layer from Nepal that took off 4 months to train in cross country skiing. The guy predicts he will come in last place.  The guy doesn't even care because he is there. He makes me want to pull a Tonya Harding and take out all the other cross country skiers without day jobs so he can at least come in 16th or something.  Regardless, I will be right there on my couch cheering for him.  The Olympics with their heartache and story pull me in. And I just can’t help but watch….even ice dancing. Before last night I didn’t even know that “twizzle” was a thing.  Now I’m pretty sure I’ll be dropping that word next time I see someone make a spin move in the hall. I’m even rooting for Bob Costas’s eye to get better.
For the last few nights I have sat on my couch, eaten carrot cake, poured myself a single glass of wine, graded a few papers and watched the best athletes in the world fly down mountains, skate a million times around a track (this event put me to sleep a little…if you want me to watch speed skating…Apollo Ono and his hot little soul patch is going to have to get back in that spandex suit), and about a million twizzles too many. I’ve learned what a “holy crail” is and that Andorra is actually a country and not a sweater. There is something magical about the world’s most elite athletes all in one tiny little place sharing bathrooms without stall doors and giving all they have got for things they have trained for since they were tiny. Even the commercials seem to inspire me to be more than I am.
Yet. I. still. Just. Sit. There. On. My. Couch.
Watching other people do amazing things, and I consider having another piece of cake. Or pouring another glass of wine. and grading those papers tomorrow. Or never.
Thinking to myself that I could win a gold medal in procrastination.

When I was young I remember just wanting to be really good at one thing. Something to make me stand out. Something that was just mine. My brother was an impressive trumpet player. My sister was graduating early on her way to her doctorate in things I can barely pronounce. They were just a few years behind each other in high school and mostly did the same things. Had the same teachers and a few of the same friends and went to the same college. I was many years down the road. A “surprise” my mom called it. I have always been a black sheep. But mostly it was that I didn’t want to compete with them. I wanted to be different.
I remember very early on, trying to find my thing.
When I was little my mom put me in dance.  I quit because it was too hard. (read –even at five I knew I danced like Eleine from Seinfeld and to this day HATE wearing anything that resembles pantyhose.)  I insisted that gymnastics was my thing. But. I am not all that flexible and the floor routines seemed an awful lot like the dance classes I pulled out of. My brother could draw pretty well, but my pictures required captions.  So I read, and went to tennis lessons and practiced my violin and did my homework. Feeling horribly ordinary.

I was a smart kid. But not the smartest kid.
I was a good musician. But not the best.
I was a below average athlete that had somehow been let on the team.

Looking back, I was near the very top of my very large high school class.
Musically, I sat at the front and made regionals every year even when I quit trying.
I was actually a below average athlete, but I worked hard, and not only made the team but started. (this had more to do with the fact that we stunk and that I tried really hard than possessed any actual skill. Occasionally hustle wins out to actual talent or will make do when you are short an outside midfielder or need a tennis player that isn’t afraid to rip her windsuit digging for a ball that should be out of her reach).
I have a box in my parent’s attic full of trophies, medals, Varsity letters, award certificates, straight A report cards, SAT scores to be jealous of and handfuls of scholarship offers to disprove this lie of ordinary. I believed it anyways.
Somehow. I let myself think that I was average simply because I wasn’t the best.
It is a lie that doesn’t die easily.

When I went off to college, as far away as I possibly could with my parents permission. I continued to try a million different things. I guess still hoping to find my talent.
I bought a guitar.
I tried out for the club soccer team.
I joined a sorority.
I changed majors.
I joined clubs and organizations and made friends with as many different kinds of people that I could.
And occasionally I even went to class.
Sometimes a little work ethic would kick in and I’d practice hard. Getting calluses on my fingers, higher test scores and make it through a game without getting winded.
But. then I’d get distracted.
My bag cell phone would ring and that was the end of my devotion to being the best at anything. Or getting a 4.0.
At 20 I’d always drop what I was doing to meet someone for coffee, or a beer, or get a new tattoo. And I can say pretty much the exact same thing today.

These days I run. And like everything in life it goes in phases. Right now is too cold, but when the weather warms up I’ll log a lot more miles and hopefully fit back into my pants again.  I like to sign up for races because clearly, I have made the point that I am not intrinsically motivated. I need a goal. A push. A hefty half marathon fee to keep me training. If I have someone to beat or keep up with I do even better. Some of the longer races give out medals to finishers at the end. I bring these home and my kids always ask me if I won. I tell them I finished…and that plenty of people don’t do that. It isn’t winning but it is still an accomplishment. I do not race to win. I race to finish. And to eat whatever I want afterwards.
But still sometimes I think it would be nice to win.
To be really good at something.
To have my 15 minutes or turn on the podium.
I may not be all that driven, but I am at least competitive.
Usually in a race I pick out someone I want to try and keep up with or beat. Like an 80 year old man, or an 8 month pregnant woman or anyone with a good 60 lbs on me.  What can I say, I like to push myself.
But last fall, I picked out a girl that was super in shape and decided to see if I could keep up with her. She was a cross fit junkie and I’m sure could do burpies around me but at the beginning of the race I wasn’t too far behind her. So despite the heat, and despite the fact that she was going way faster than my normal 9-10 minute mile I kept up. (well, if by keeping up you mean I could see her somewhere along the horizon).  Somewhere after the first mile I wished that I had eaten more than a bowl of special K for breakfast and had hydrated better than a cup of coffee. But I kept going because it was only a few miles. And this cross fit girl was going down. (and by going down I mean I would only finish a few minutes behind her). I rarely have the drive and commitment of a real athlete and am certainly not enough in tune with my body to know its limits.  Despite the fact that I ran 4X that far the weekend before, I could not have been happier to see the finish line.  I should mention that this race was at the school I teach at and sponsored by the cross country team (kids and coaches I see EVERY. SINGLE. DAY). Cross fit girl won out, but for the heat I clocked a pretty decent time.  Kids and coaches were high fiving me and I tried desperately to not act like I felt like I might die right then if I didn’t get some water in me stat.  Without any kind of warning I felt the flood gates open.  Hot warm pee was running down my leg as my students congratulated me for what they pretty much consider a warm up run.  I have heard real racers say that it isn’t a good race if you don’t wet your pants but I have never understood that. There is no time I need to beat that would stop me from peeing in a proper bathroom or at least a port a potty. But it turns out that there is no choice. When you push your body to the point of overheating and exertion there are not enough kegals in the world to stop the puddle from pooling in my ankle socks.
A real athlete would have been proud.
This girl, who was exhausted and was afraid she could not move one more step, did an all out sprint to the car.
Confirming in my heart of hearts that some of us were made to push ourselves to the point of gold.
Others watching on the couch.

My husband has tried to teach me a few of “his” things.
How to ski, how to play golf, and how to fly fish.
I imagined these would be bonding moments and things we could do together as we grew old.
Instead they mostly turned into big crazy fights.
I don’t give a crap about keeping my knees together or going around moguls. I just wanted to make it down the mountain in one piece without blowing out my other knee. I love to ski, but I don’t care how clean my lines are.  Golf is ok. I really like driving the carts and there is something incredibly satisfying about smacking the crap out of a tiny ball, but our golf lessons never went well. Apparently teachers do not like to be taught.  And even though I am a city girl, I know how to bait my own hook and my brother at least tried to teach me how to properly filet a fish with an electric knife. But I’ll take a worm, a book and a nice folding chair any day over all those complicated flies. And whipping back and forth.
My husband likes to do things well. The right way. Part of the fun for him is getting better at it. Getting it right.
The fun for me is in the doing. And I don’t mind doing them wrong as long as I get to play. I don’t need to come in first place. I just really don’t like coming in last. And I’d rather not wet my pants in public ever again. Not even for a gold medal.
And I’m pretty sure that no Olympian has ever said that.
Except maybe the brick layer from Nepal who doesn't mind coming in last place.



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