I am not an athlete.
I’ve never been exceptionally fast or strong. I took up running for a bit as an adult. Miles. Rage filled miles. In retrospect, I was coping. I’d do six, seven, nine mile runs, in pain most of the time, talking to my deceased father. Praying to my ancestors. There was no such thing as moderation. I ran, screaming, past the point of all reason. I’ve actually had the fabled runner’s high multiple times. Bursitis of the knee forced my retirement, and I’m somewhat glad. It may be my anxiety talking, but I usually expected myself to drop dead. In reality, it’s much more likely that I would have been creamed by an inattentive driver.
In the fuzziest of memories, I am swimming. I loved the water. There were M&M cookies involved, somehow. Horseflies and wasps abound, alive and dead. Chlorine. Wet Funyuns. Pennies thirteen feet down. Teenagers screaming Revenge of the Nerds references. I was cute and I’d get carried like a baby by wet cheerleaders. People called me Short Round. Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.
After I exited those skinny, brown years of floating around the country club, things weren’t so hot. I was chunky to obese as a child, depending on the time period, and I was always clumsy. I played tee ball and whatever they called the thing before little league but I was afraid of the ball. One time I actually made it to first base and overheard my coach tell my mother I was “grinning like a possum.” I remember very little about my baseball adventures other than the wonders of the concession stand, but this stuck with me.
Mom enrolled Blake and I in Taekwondo classes when we were young. At this point I was so fat I had little boy titties and I would wear a t-shirt under my white uniform. The guys would always say, “Are you a girl? Only girls do that.” I peaked at a yellow belt with a number of green stripes, a number I don’t actually recall because the real number has been erased by all the lies I’ve told about the amount of green stripes I had, as if it mattered. This is similar to the tale (read: terrible lie) I have told about how I got an overall 30 on the ACT. It was a 29, actually, but I had a 32 in Science and Reading. That 26 in Math brought me down. See, I’m still so proud that I have to explain it.
I tried out for the basketball team in ripped sweatpants when I was ten or eleven. This was when I still danced at parties. This is when I was still a funny chunko who didn’t know shame. It embarrasses me even now. What must I have looked like stumbling around and failing at layups with my underwear showing? Not long after this I rocked a mullet and a do-rag. The early 1990s in rural Arkansas were not kind to anyone’s fashion sensibilities.
When the time came, I got this close to signing up for football. A couple of teachers were actually excited because I was so overweight that I would have made a good defensive lineman, in their minds at least. It would have been a fucking disaster. I changed my elective to band at the last minute and I do not regret this decision. I did excel at marching but there’s not going to be an Olympic medal for that any time soon.
I’ve had a personal workout regimen going for well over a decade. It has mostly involved some form of resistance training. I won’t write a book about it because it’s not impressive, but I’m proud of it anyway. I try to think of it as something as routine as taking a shower or a dump. Maybe I’ll live longer for it. Maybe not.
I’ve been shunned in countless conversations because I know jack shit about sports. I can’t make myself care about it most of the time, and if I had to guess I’d say it’s because I’ve always been terrible at everything that involves moving, but that’s a bullshit lie. Once, when I worked at Sam’s Club, I turned a corner running full tilt and met a toddler. I lept and spun, a move worthy of Nancy Kerrigan herself, cleared him completely, and landed it. Then again, one time I ran into a pallet of Gain and broke my ribs.
Let me back up a bit here.
When I started working at Sam’s, I was a big dude. I had just come off the tail end of being a shut-in for a couple of years and I was proud of the gainful employment. When someone asked me to do something, I hustled, and when it was at the back of the store and I was at the front, I ran.
I swear that I remember seeing Sam’s Club employees on roller skates when I was a kid. My brain may have invented this. Either way, I’m shit at skating, roller and ice. Add those to the list.
It might have been inadvisable, especially to their insurance department, but I ran, and ran, and ran. I started wearing a pedometer everywhere. This was before smartphones and Fitbits so it was the only way to keep up with it. On busy days I’d run 12-14 miles. I’d play movie scores in my head. It usually varied, but for a while I was stuck on Rudy.
It helped me to imagine doing something cinematic and important when all I was really doing was fetching a box of Tide or a case of Gatorade. It resonated with me even though I had nothing in common with the guy Sean Astin depicted in the film. Upon further research, Rudy actually didn’t either. It’s all fiction, but the fantasy served me well while I trudged warehouse club concrete for the Waltons.
Still, it’s nostalgic to think about footballs flying through the crisp autumn night and the itch of Bermuda grass. Basketballs beat and sneakers squeak where the pep band once played. I may not have been on the team, but I was there. I can still crank out a Manly Single Tear when I hear the Olympic theme that John Williams composed. That shit just echoes Raiders and Superman and E.T. It’s the eighties. Nerds and Queen. Wheaties and gymnasts and Mr. T. Aren’t we all so enamored with the decade in which we became a little human?
I never thought I’d write an ode to athletics but, you know, there’s something to that. There’s something to those bodies huddled together in celebration. That’s society. That’s the herd. That’s church.
I’m not an athlete, just a standard body maintenance man who played in the band. I’m a retail track star who medaled in the toddler jump. I’m the winner of the Jonesboro Grief ‘n’ Hollering 10k. I’m a Self-flagellation Hall of Fame inductee.
You can take that last one whichever way you like. They’re both accurate.