It was sometime around the fall of 1983 when I realized I would never become an athlete. I was in seventh grade and Coach Cormier was barking at me for refusing to do “suicide runs” (I think he was also ticked at me for claiming that I “forgot” my gym shorts yet again). I stood hunched over at the edge of the hot gym, panting so hard my pigtails were coming undone. My shaking hands clutched my knees, my Toughskins constricted around my waist in a vice-like grip. I could barely carry oxygen molecules from my lungs to my heart and this man wanted me to do what?
I squeezed my eyes shut but the dizziness was still there. “Please don’t make me run. Please, please, please.” I prayed. My burning lungs cried out in agony as I watched the other kids sail back and forth across the floor, zigzagging effortlessly like proud gazelles from half-court to foul line and back.
“Darla! Run! Run! Run!” Coach’s voice thundered above the old gym’s rafters.
I gulped and lurched forward, my legs moving out of sync, my feet clomping on the hardwood, my arms swinging awkwardly and my lungs bursting into flames. A haze settled over my eyes and the entire gym began to glow; sweat mixed with tears obscured my vision. I felt faint.
And then I fell.
And so did any slim hope of following in my older brother’s All-Varsity All-The-Time footsteps. It was that sweaty hopeless day in the gym when I knew what I was destined to become: an alto in chorus.
I was okay with that. Relieved. Earlier that year, I briefly joined the basketball team and became The Girl Who Couldn’t Do Lay-ups. The timing was a problem. Actually all of it was a problem: the steps, the jump, the lift-off with one foot (which one? I never could get that down) combined with the fact that you had to also throw the ball up into the basket completely baffled me. So I spent the rest of my public school life sport-less. But I sang my little alto heart out (making sure I didn’t trip and fall off the high end of the bleachers during concerts).
So it’s with astonishment (and loads of jealousy) when lately I see my friends are into running. They talk about their distance and their pace and yada yada yada. “I went 3.2 miles today! No wait, 3.25 miles!” Humph. Runners. And decimals. They think they’re so much better with their cool sneakers and their 5ks and their ability to run in a straight line without tipping over.
I would see them everywhere too, taunting me: At six in the morning, running past my window in the driving rain; at noon, running past me at Dunkin Donuts in the driving rain. Please. What is the big deal? Why on earth would you feel the need to run unless a tiger was chasing you? (And in my case that would be the world’s shortest race.) I’m not completely out of shape. I have exercised off and on for most of my life. I’ve even walked very fast before. But to cross over into actual running mode? Why on God’s green earth would you do that? And could a klutz like me pull that off?
Last year, I was happily walking at an extremely fast clip down our local bike path when a group of Runners blazed by me. I sniffed, looked down at my feet and my woefully unbalanced legs. Oh what the hell. I trotted into a slow as death jog. I looked around. Was I doing this right? Maybe if I lean more…Hmm, this isn’t that bad. I jogged a little more. Okay. Okay, this is good. I’m breathing. I’m still alive. I can do this! Two minutes later, I was back to walking. But I was hooked. I gradually increased the jogging and alternated it with walking. After a few weeks, I began to think I could jog a mile, maybe even two. Oh and a 5k! Yeah, I’ll do one of those too. How many miles is that again? Damn, now I have to buy some snazzy running shorts with the Just Do It logo or is it the Livestrong one now? And do my feet pronate or procrastinate?
Soon I was uploading my stats with my nifty Nike sensor to Facebook and bragging I ran 2 miles to other runner friends. Now when it’s damp and cool outside, I yell to my husband, “Ah! Perfect running weather!” and I’m off trucking down the road with a stupid grin on my face. Am I officially a runner now? Sort of, I wouldn’t call it actual running. I do more of a respectable slogging-like motion that resembles Frankenstein after a stroke. But if feels good. So I continue to slog.
My husband and I are registering for a 5k this summer (gasp!) I have to make sure I register or I might not actually go through with it. I hope I can complete it without tripping. Maybe I’ll leave my Toughskins at home this time around.