I’ve always loved playing sports. I grew up within a record-winning homerun ball’s distance of the old Memorial Stadium. I’m told sometimes we’d walk down to the Orioles’ games after the inning when they stopped checking tickets so we could get in for free. During most home games we could hear the announcers’ voices bouncing off the water nearby.
We grew up going to dad’s softball games and playing anything we were taught. We maybe didn’t become the professional athletes my dad saw us becoming but we both did pretty well for ourselves in high school track and cross country. While we’d both pictured ourselves playing soccer, basketball, and softball professionally well into adulthood, I think, we really found our home on the team with the Mercy High School’s strongest masochists. I still think there was no one tougher in that school than my senior year cross country team. On October 27, 2004 Aubrey and I were both on the championship IAAM Mercy High School Cross Country Team. That day continues to be one of the. best. days. of. my. life.
I remember being in elementary school and playing catch with Dad across the street on the filtration plant field. I was wearing some stupid, trendy Old Navy bandanna that made me look like a cross between a ’50s housewife and the way Blanche from The Golden Girls would look on her way to an “active” date. I couldn’t keep the bandanna tied at the back of my head and I just remember my dad saying, “That’s not what we wear in baseball!” I said something real clever like, “This is softball, not baseball!” That fashion statement was getting in the way of my already handicapped skills. Nevertheless, he persisted. And I am so grateful we did too.
We played basketball for years with Dad as the coach. Then, every spring we’d get covered in dirt twice weekly for softball. And the fall meant soccer and leaves and the unavoidable blisters I’d get from my cleats. I’ve continued playing team sports into adulthood–albeit not professionally–most recently, football with my team The Secret of the Booze and basketball with the Light Blue Fly Girls. We Fly Girls were actually the first team in IHM Women’s Basketball history to win 0 games. We won an award for not giving up so I guess: ya lose some (all), ya win an award. (It was actually super nice to be recognized.)
I can’t imagine my life without sports or athletics of some kind. From sports I learned humility–mostly because I had no choice. When I first started playing basketball, I remember shooting foul shots underhand between my legs–very intimidating to the opponents. I once crawled between the legs of someone on the other team to get the ball. And people think you need to be big and tall to play basketball–ha! Sports help you, the general you, to know that you don’t know everything. You realize that you can’t do everything. And that there is always more to learn. Maybe if Trump believed in athletics, he would be more humble. Come to think of it, probably not.
In many facets of my life, I have a hard time giving up control and depending on others. I know I will do things the way I want them done and then if things don’t go right, I will only have myself to blame. But, sports have always forced me to give control to others. Control freaks like me need that and we benefit from it and in my case, so does the team. As a team, each player is forced to relinquish control. You learn to depend on others, to look to them, and then to be there when you’re needed. It’s a big ole’ metaphor for all of life.
From sports I have experienced so much personal growth. Sports are really the first realm in which I saw true results of effort. This is going to sound melodramatic but let it be. The first time I really believed in myself (other than from my family) was because of Coach Randy Fowler. That man had showed me the best version of me and literally changed my life. He showed me how to set goals, how to work toward them, and then how to celebrate humbly after reaching them. I can’t even live life anymore without working toward goals. I’m in constant pursuit of something.
Indirectly or directly because of Coach Fowler, I have run a lot of races including about two dozen half marathons and two full marathons. Without him and my mom’s own example, I never would have guessed I could do those things.
In December in New York, I took a FlyWheel class with Chas’s and my friend Becca. It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever witnessed. Becca and I hungoverly hustled through Manhattan to get there on time as I haphazardly signed up for the class online during our walk over. We arrived and what felt like 324 people crammed into a room for the 45 minute session. We clipped our weird shoes into our weird pedals as a fleet of fans blew our stray hairs into our sweat. The teacher? lead biker? motivational speaker? continually told us about our lives and our goals. A screen displayed the rankings of the 20 people who signed up to be publicly ranked. I mean damn. We all held onto her every word belted out between her rock hard arms and shoulders and into a telemarketer’s microphone.
She said things like, “You only live once. You might as well be a bad ass!” And, “The past is gone and the future is not guaranteed.” Also maybe something like, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is determined by what you do.” It was terrifying. Becca and I admitted to one another we each felt like we were going to vomit. Then we wiped ourselves with the complimentary towels, sipped the complimentary water, and scarfed the complimentary bananas.
At $35 per class, some shit better be “complimentary.” I don’t know if FlyWheel is always that intense or if it was enhanced by being in Midtown Manhattan. Probably a combination. I walked out feeling great but also dumbfounded. Like I couldn’t decide whether I had just attended an exercise class, a therapy session for depressed people with really low self esteem, a convention for urban white women, or an introduction to an alternate universe. I think it was all four. Y’all millennials are weird.
These days, as a yoga teacher and a runner (at this point, occasional runner), athletics look different for me than they did when I was a kid. I strive to continue making myself better every single time I practice but I also get to work on this with others. In a way I guess a yoga teacher is like a coach and it’s my job to show people the best versions of themselves–does that sound FlyWheel-ish?
I have also been hearing about this program called Orange Theory. Here’s their motto so you can get even more confused: “MORE LIFE We all want more. More energy. More strength. More results. Orangetheory is designed to give you that, and more. Our workout changes you at the cellular level, and is scientifically proven to give you a longer, more vibrant life.” I can’t knock it–haven’t tried it. But come on. Their website looks more like an ad for a sci-fi film than a gym.
In the month of January I took 30 yoga classes. Some doubles, some early mornings, some unwanted sweating, I did it. And I know not everyone would agree but with 30 yoga classes in my dangling rearview mirror (story for another day), I feel really athletic. I love that yoga’s season has no end. I am constantly evolving, and so are the people around me. We silently strive. It’s kind of beautiful. And now I get to spread that myself. I found my Kool Aid pitcher and I drink it in. CorePower is my cult.
I think in the group exercise world of 2018, if you’re into exercise and/or sports, you just need to pick your cult. That’s what these are. Who will get to swipe your credit card monthly? Or will you just grab your sneakers and hit the streets? Will you be with the yogis, the bikers, the gym rats, the Orange Theory people, the Cross Fitters? Because literally no one can afford to do it all. And really, what are we looking for? Humility, personal growth, letting go of control, free bananas? Well, as someone I met once may have said, “You only live once, you might as well be a bad ass.”