Particpant or Racer?

Someone on the EN forum posted about his ineptitude at grade school sports. Here’s my reply:

I had a bipolar athletic experience in grade school. Due to an Unfortunate Series of Events, I first encountered the 4th grade mid-year as a transfer, one year younger than my classmates. In gym class, I was short and slow compared to my peers, and started developing an inferiority complex. Everyone was already talking about the spring Track Meet, which included representatives from all the elementary schools in the city. 50 yard dash, triple jump, strength events, etc. You were picked based on performance in gym. I got depressed when my 50 yd time was 7.2, and all the cool guys were 6.8 or something, and the coolest kid was a zippy 6.4.

As the excitement built week-by-week to the big event, I felt more and more shunted to the side, unable to babble with the others about going. Then, the week before, the gym teacher, Mr Walling (its funny how how this comes rushing back – I haven’t thought about it for decades) pulls me aside, smiles, and tells me I’m going! Apparently, the qualifying times and distances are age-rated, not grade-rated, and I make the dash and the triple jump. I didn’t win any medals, but I was proud to even Participate. Still, back at my home school, I was scorned because of my size, yet tolerated because I was one of the Chosen Few.

Then, in the sixth grade, my father promised to buy me a transistor radio (the iPhone of its time) if I joined the swim team at our local pool. I did that mainly because I wanted to listen to rock ‘n roll, and the Cincinnati Reds baseball games. But I was the WORST swimmer on the team, it seemed. Nonetheless, I persisted, finding a niche in breast-stroking, where I went on the get a bunch of red or white second or third place ribbons, because there was always someone on my team or the other team who would beat me at the dual meets. Same thing in high school and college. Masochistically, I kept joining swim teams, and being the worst on them, all because of that transistor radio.

One thing led to another, and here I am @ 68, still slogging away in the pool and on the track. A dilettante at individual sports, but dogged enough to put them all together. (Maybe someday I’ll get to tell my biking origin story, also from grade school)

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