Once upon a time, I was an athlete. I hate that I'm using the past tense here, but alas, it seems appropriate. I have not played sports in years and years.
Growing up, athletics were my life. That might be a bit of an overstatement because I of course had many other things going on in my life - academics and music and family and friends. But sports were my passion. When I was really young, I logged hours in the driveway of our barn in the Berkshires shooting hoops solo. I played endless games of Wiffle ball and soccer with my sisters. For many years, whenever I had a birthday party, it was a sports party and I'd force my poor friends to play a game of basketball or kickball or soccer before cake.
In middle school and high school, I played on the soccer and basketball and softball teams. I was captain of each. I was a fierce and competitive creature and game days were my favorite days by far. I often ate dinner in a sweaty and soiled softball uniform, my pants dusty from sliding in to so many bases. I remember senior year when I had a bad stress fracture in my shin. I stood on the sideline of the big soccer field, holding my cane, begging my coach to go in. And when my coach relented, I tossed that cane into the grass and ran out there, limping, eager to score. And I did.
I could go on and on; my athletic memories are rich and plentiful in my mind. But I won't. This isn't just about nostalgia. It's about identity. Over the years, an enormous part of my self has somehow - and perhaps predictably - faded. I now walk down my street, past the basketball nets at the school on the corner (one is pictured above), and something little in me stirs. Something at once comforting and cryptic. Something about memory and childhood and loss. I realize - I let myself realize - in these moments that I miss my game days.
These days, I take my little girls to soccer class. An adult, a mom, I sit in the bleachers and watch them do what I once did. I watch as they skip around, kicking balls, smiling. I feel proud, yes. And excited for them. And, if I'm being honest, I also feel a bit envious that they are so young and free. That they have them all before them - if they want. The game days. (And so much else.)
Recently, I've been going back to the gym. Sure, some of it (or more than some of it) is about vanity and post-baby weight loss. But I have realized something, too. When I am there, working hard and sweating, I feel really good. I feel strong. I feel young. I feel alive. I feel like I am honoring a little (or not-so-little) part of who I've always been. I feel like me.
(Maybe I'm still an athlete after all?)
Do you consider yourself an athlete? Did you play sports growing up? Do you miss aspects of your youth?