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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Agony of Defeat

San Diego Mama had this great idea last week to give each other post prompts, and the one I got, courtesy of Blognut, was to write about my most embarrassing sports moment. I hope the following suffices.

Do you remember Field Day?

It was the only day of the elementary school year when we were allowed to wear shorts to school.

There were races and ribbons.

There were hardly any classes or lessons.

We got to eat Popsicles. At school! Outside! Frozen cold and so fresh in the heat of the Georgia sun in June.

Field Day was magical.

Especially for a little girl who loved to run.

Back then, there were no soccer teams for girls. Just a few short years after I hit middle-school, there were teams starting for younger girls. But I was just ahead of that curve, and so I dabbled in ballet, brownies, and ice skating, but gave them up, one by one, as unsatisfying.

Back then, most girls wore skirts to school. At least, enough of us did that the fact that I wore one every day (was in fact prohibited by my mother from wearing blue jeans to school at all, as inappropriately informal) did not occasion any comment.

But in my peasant skirts and saddle oxfords, I still ran.

Every morning at the bus stop, we ran races. We ran from just in front of Tommy Lewis's house all the way down the block to the sewer cover, around it, and back to the waiting judge. I can still feel the sensation of my skirts flying around my legs, the blood thumping in my temples, my hair ribbons whisking around my ears as I skimmed along the pavement. I remember seeing the bus round the corner just as we were rounding the sewer cover, and putting my all into the sprint to get down the block so as not to make the bus driver wait. I remember breathlessly picking up my library books and lunch, sucking in air as I mounted the impossibly deep bus steps, and the bus driver grinning at me as I straightened my skirt. I remember demurely sitting in my seat, catching my breath, and dreaming of the race I would win the next day too. (I nearly always won. Even Tommy Lewis could not beat me.)

I remember the girl (though I do not remember her name) who lived two doors up from Tommy, and whose mother forbade her running races at the bus stop in the mornings as it wasn't ladylike to get on the bus all sweaty and disheveled. Crushed, she had to be our judge forever after. We still ran.

Is it surprising that I loved Field Day?

We had sprints and longer races, silly contests like sack races, obstacle courses, and hurdles. Hundreds of kids were outside at once, baking under the relentless sun on the barren expanse of crushed-gravel playing fields. Trees dotted the perimeter of the field...trees perfect for waiting your turn at kickball or trying to avoid your turn at bat during softball. But the field itself was all white and silvery bare, with little shimmers of heat rising up from it.

One year, when I was eight or nine, I decided that in addition to the sprints and other running contests, I would enter the hurdles. I had never run hurdles before, but that didn't matter. I could run. I was a good runner.

Shy and quiet, bespecktacled and timid of any sports that involved balls or equipment heading for my face, I excelled at the solitary sport. If I could run, I figured, surely I could run hurdles.

There were no limitations on what you could or could not do on Field Day but your own. You picked your own events, and there was no training. And so it was that I took my place at the starting line, dressed in my favorite outfit -- matching hot pink velour shorts and top with pink-and-white striped ribbed neck and trim -- stared down the lane of hurdles, and placed two fingers of one hand down to the ground as the judge called "Runners, on your mark."

"Get set."


I took off. I reached the first hurdle, leaped, misjudged, caught the hurdle with the toe of my shoe, and stumbled as I pulled the aluminum bar down behind me. Undeterred, I regained my balance and kept running. I might be able to catch up with the fleet-footed runners who'd cleared that bar, I thought.

Hurdle #2. I leaped, grabbed the hurdle with my entire ankle, and fell to my knees.

I got up. Ran as hard as I could, which I was beginning to sense was not hard enough. Leaped hurdle #3. Weakly. Got tangled up in the whole thing and landed on my knees in the crushed gravel.

Bloodied and wobbly, mortified, I got up and tried to run some more. Knew that there was obviously no other way to get to the end of this lane but by running the length of it. Made it to the last hurdle but, of course, had nothing like energy or speed left in my legs. Leaped anyway. Took a colossal face-plant of a fall as the hurdle and I tumbled together in a flailing mass of arms, shoes, and aluminum legs.

Completely humiliated, I got to my feet, pushed my glasses back into place on my nose, and trotted limply to the finish line.

I did not look around me. I knew, of course, that everyone else had long long long ago finished this race. I was too embarrassed to seek out a teacher to tend to my bloody palms and knees. I suspect I wandered weakly away to pick bits of gravel out of my skin.

Interestingly, I don't remember anyone else in that race. I know there were others running and many more watching, since I have a strong sense of the mortification I felt at of making a fool of myself in front of them -- but in my mind's eye, it is just me and those hurdles. One long, endless stretch of glittery white gravel, my pink shorts and pounding feet, my hopeful exhilaration being met with bars that were too high, the legs that would not cooperate with the unfamiliar motion I was requiring of them, the deadly silence of hot embarrassment flooding my face, the determination, the blood, the feeling of complete and utter failure at not clearing a single jump. And then blackness. Nothing. The memory ends.

It did not keep me from running races at the bus stop. But to this day, more than 30 years later, I have never tried to clear a hurdle. And I have a debilitating shyness of participating in anything that might be termed a spectator sport.

But on the up side, at least I have a story graphic enough to distract from the otherwise mortifying fact that I was dressed in a hot pink velour running costume.


calicobebop said...

Oh my goodness! You poor poor thing!! I hope you weren't picking gravel out of your knees for weeks to come!

I loved field day because of the great big parachute. You know - the one that would get raised in the air and all the children would run under it? Not sure why, but that was my favorite part of field day.

Jaina said...

How embarrassing! I like the idea of the hot pink outfit...sounds like something I'd have worn too. :)

San Diego Momma said...

The way you described it, I can TOTALLY feel your pain.

I remember my friend ran hurdles on high school track and I was always amazed at how high she soared. I couldn't imagine trying that myself...but I'm glad you at least went for it.

Aimeepalooza said...

I could not run, so falling over the hurdles or not, I am jealous. And hot pink? I would have loved it!

MommyTime said...

Calicobebop, we never had a parachute to play -- but they look really cool.

Jaina and Aimee, oh, yes, the pink was rockin' (if you liked late-70s fashion, that is).

San Diego Mama, many thanks for the sympathy. I loved this prompt game, by the way.

rightonmom said...

Ouch! I hurt for you, as I did run hurdles in track and those mother#$$@s are hard. At least you did it, and then picked yourself back up.
Came here from spineless whine.

MultiplesMommy said...

I can't believe I never heard that story before! You poor thing! It's examples like that, however, that taught me to keep my feet firmly planted where they belong. On the couch.

anymommy said...

I remember field day. I was not a fan of any of the events except the sit up competition. I could rock out some sit ups in five minutes.

But, aw, you tried. This story makes me want to find a field day somewhere and hug the kid that falls. Or travel back in time and hug me the day I scored my first soccer goal -for the wrong team.


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