Friday, August 3, 2012

Inner Athletes, Outer Athletes

We've been watching the Olympics this week.  Some Olympic sports make me miss my youthful self.  One summer, I swam and swam and swam.  I could beat anyone who would agree to race me across the pool. I was 9.  I was unstoppable.

In some ways, I have the perfect body for swimming.  I'm not marathoner lean.  That's a detriment in much of sporting life.  In swimming, a bit of body fat can help with buoyancy.

I've also been a runner much of my life.  In the 70's and 80's, my family went to community road races.  At first, it was just my dad running, and my mom, my sister, and me cheering him on.  Quickly, though, we all started to participate.  It was those glory days soon after the passage of Title IX.  Girls could do anything.

It's sobering to realize, however, that women have only been competing in the Olympic marathon event since 1984.  As we hit puberty and continued to run, it was not unusual for my parents to field questions about whether or not we should be worried about our female parts.  I had this vision of my womb, all alone and bouncing around my body cavity.  Little did I know how many yards of intestines along with a network of muscles kept everything snug and secure.

I did know about the new generation of women runners, women who weren't a lot older than I was, women who seemed to be suffering no ill effects.  I continued to run.  Lots of us did.

So when I watch swimming and the track and field events, there's some distant voice wondering what might have happened had I committed myself to a sport.

I do not hear that voice when I watch gymnastics.

Oh, I was encouraged to explore gymnastics as a child.  Of course I was.  We all wanted to be the next Nadia Comaneci.  I watch today's gymnasts hurling themselves around the horse and on rings, and I'm amazed that our public schools had that equipment and let us try.  I have a vague memory of a balance beam and parallel and uneven bars, along with the horse and rings.

I bet today's students don't get to have fun with equipment--not without a lot of liability release forms being signed.

My main memory of gymnastics comes from the 8th grade when in P.E. class we had to create a gymnastics floor routine. I was that tall girl, the one uncomfortable in her slightly bulky, always changing body. And I had to create a gymnastics routine?

When I started thinking about it, I practiced all the things I couldn't do. I moaned about what I couldn't do, no matter how much I practiced.  It was either my mom or my best friend's mom who finally asked the break-through question:  "What can you do?"

I could do a great round-off.  Somersaults came easily.  Occasionally, a cartwheel.

I did the obvious thing.  I devised my routine around what I could do.  I highlighted my strengths.  It's been a valuable life lesson.

As I watch the Olympics, I'm trying not to mourn the body I no longer have.  I'm trying to focus on the miraculous fact that my body continues to work.  I've never been the speediest runner, but I can still run.  I still have an amazing amount of endurance.  Even though I don't spend much time with weights, I still have a lot of strength.  My joints and my bones provide a mostly pain-free, strong infrastructure.  I know that not everyone is lucky this way.  I know that most of us will not have a good old age without thinking about our inner athletes and our outer athletes.

Even if we're no longer the 9 year old who could beat everyone across the pool, we can still swim.  Even if there are no Olympic medals in our future, we can still run a strong race.

1 comment:

Lucille in CT said...

Your comment about the gymnastics equip your elementary school reminded me of my own: I went to a fairly small Catholic school in the 70's. I can't imagine their budget was very large, and yet we too had gymnastics equipment. We had parallel bars, uneven bars, a mini tramp that you ran and jumped onto and then into a forward roll. I don't remember a horse or rings. But we did have the piece de resistance: a trampoline. It was a big rectangular one, and the whole class would stand around it, "spotting" while we took turns on it, and sometimes in pairs.

Can you imagine?! My son's school has nothing of the like, nor did my high school, for that matter---but like you said, what school would use such equipment these days? Interesting to ponder....