I’d been thinking about this for a while, triggered by watching the Olympics but a conversation with a friend today made me really want to get it out.
We’ve been following the Olympics religiously. The fact that it is in our own country adds an element of extra interest, but I am interested every time, regardless of where it is held.
As we watched the various events, from gymnastics to weightlifting, I often remarked to my husband about how I had tried X sport, competed in Y sport and knew a fair about about Z sport. It got me thinking to how lucky I had been to have the opportunity to try various sports but then I wondered why I had never pursued any to any significant level.
In Primary School I always enjoyed gym. My friend and I came to a “keep fit” class in the evenings, a kind of 80s aerobics class. Well it was the 80s so that isn’t an analogy. Imagine a room full of people in fluorescent lycra and large sweatbands and you’ve got the picture. The gym teacher started up a badminton club and a netball club. I joined both. But then I think I just liked joining things. I also took up the recorder, then trumpet and joined the school band. I even tried out for the school choir even though I’m a pretty terrible singer. Despite our school being in the middle of a Dundee housing scheme, we had a debating team. I joined that too. Herein lies the root of my problem. I have always been interested in everything, and had an insatiable thirst to try everything.
I stuck with the recorder and trumpet lessons, competed in a couple of debates, although always against Secondary Schools because no other Primary School in Dundee had a debate team. I don’t remember doing anything much with the badminton team, but the netball team was part of a city schools league, so every week we trooped out and were thrashed by school after school. We were keen, but not very good. I was a Goal Shooter because in the first practice session I scored 2 goals. It stuck. Looking back I don’t think our coach really had her heart in it. A couple of times in the competitive matches I scored a goal (is that even the right term? It’s been a long time.) and we celebrated like we’d won a championship. We were bottom of the league every year. But I enjoyed it, it was my first taste of the camaraderie of a team, the excitement before the match, I loved learning about tactics and stats. I enjoyed practice and games, even when we lost.
On to secondary school and I continued to enjoy PE lessons. There were more clubs to join, I opted for gymnastics and volleyball. I can’t remember what other options there were for girls, boys had football and rugby, there was definitely water polo but I could barely swim and that just sounded like torture. I was rubbish at gymnastics. I suffered from a terrible fear of things going wrong, so I held back and was reluctant to try the more advanced moves. I did it for about a year though and enjoyed the training. I think I enjoyed learning more about how the body works, how to have fine control of all your movements and about balance and poise. The volleyball team was more my style, I took part in inter-school competitions, although bearing in mind it was a small school and a small club I don’t think there was much competition for places in the team. We did ok as a team, and again I enjoyed the training and competitions, but began to lack enthusiasm for the actual sport. I knew I was only doing volleyball because that was all that was on offer, but I would have much rather been doing something else.
I also carried on my musical interests to Secondary School, I continued the trumpet and took up drums and percussion. No debate team here, but I did manage to sign up for the school show (Sweeny Todd), the Amnesty International group, the school newspaper and the student council at various points. I just couldn’t stop joining things.
When the time came for athletics season in PE I was really looking forward to it. We hadn’t done anything like this at Primary School and I loved watching athletics on tv so I threw myself into running and jumping with all my might. Unfortunately my short stature (I’m 5ft 3in now, probably less then) meant that I was never destined for a future in jumping, despite the best efforts of one PE teacher who repeatedly made me attempt a high jump with me protesting that I was only going to run into the damn thing and knock it over again and again. Yep, still rankles. But somewhat to my surprise I was good at running. Only short distances, mind, 100m was my thing, but I did well enough in my school to compete a couple of times at the Dundee Schools meets. I didn’t win any of those races, but then again we turned up and found people who had proper kit. We felt like the hillbillies from way out yonder. We found out that other schools had organised extra training and had done fundraising for spikes and starters blocks. We just turned up in our regular t-shirts and short and ran. But those events were thrilling occasions, the sight of all these people warming up, running and jumping hither and thither, all the different team colours and the sound of the starters gun. I was invited to train with the local athletics club, the Hawkhill Harriers but my mum said no. Not sure why, maybe because she was already ferrying me to various band/orchestra rehearsals, maybe she anticipated more cost, maybe she thought it was going to be a passing fad, she mentioned something about the fact that I had asthma would mean that I couldn’t compete in sports, but that may have just been an excuse. She also said I couldn’t take up karate, but I think that was more out of fear of me breaking a limb. Anyway, I was disappointed, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have enough other activities to keep me occupied.
So by the time I was in 3rd year at school, aged 14-15, PE was no longer compulsory. I was trying to focus more on studying and something had to give. It came down to a choice between sport and music. I felt I could continue with the school paper etc because that was something I was genuinely interested in as a career. Much as I loved sport I loved music more. The music department had become like a 2nd home to me, whereas the PE dept wasn’t interested if I wasn’t going to study it as a subject. I had also experienced some bullying and intimidation in the volleyball team, but the bands and orchestras were where I found my group of friends. Added to that my sports teams were all segregated, but the band was mixed, so as a 14 year old this was a big factor. However by this time I knew I was never going to make it as a sportsperson. It’s not that I lacked the ambition or dedication, I could just never decide what to dedicate myself to. I dabbled in a wide range of sports and moved from one to the other, never settling. When I did find a slight talent for sprinting I wasn’t permitted to take it to the next level.
So I focussed on music. I eventually gave up the trumpet, but continued with drums and percussion and a bit of keyboard. I studied music to Standard Grade and Higher level. Our band did well, we won competitions and performed at various city events. I was still active, I walked a lot and cycled everywhere as a means of transport. I watched Athletics events on TV with some knowledge of the activities which added to my enjoyment. And I watched the Olympics.
When I started uni the first thing I checked was what clubs I could join. Old habits die hard. To my delight there was a range of martial arts on offer. No mother to stop me here, I signed up for Shorinji Kempo. Following tradition I also joined the Student Paper and the Amnesty group. Oh and I studied some politics too. I thought about seeking out a band to join, but lacking my own instruments was a bit of a hindrance, and I was having too much fun rediscovering my love of sport. Albeit a non-traditional sport.
So after 10 years of training in Shorinji Kempo, and some recreational cycling, a break to have a baby followed by 3 years of walking as my only exercise I find myself sitting in front of the telly watching hours of Olympic coverage and reminiscing about my time as a netball player, badminton player, gymnast, volleyball player, runner and martial artist. I like the added insight it gives me into the sports. I feel some kind of connection with the competitors even though my involvement was little more that just above the basic entry level. I will always be interested in sport and watching others compete. I realise I would never have made it as a professional, but I’m glad I had the chance to try and explore what was out there. I undoubtedly learned skills that benefited me in numerous ways even after I stopped training.
I would never have made it as a professional musician either, but at least that is something I can keep as a hobby and dabble in now and again. You can’t exactly just dabble in running 100m as fast as you can or volleying a ball now and then. However the whole Olympics thing is making me restless. I want to do something more active than walking again. I have very little time in which to do this, between working and raising a small child. I don’t want to go back to Kempo. I don’t want to do any of the sports I previously did. My inherently restless nature is urging me to try something new. I would dearly love to take up a team sport again but couldn’t commit the time and there are few clubs out there desperate for a 33 year old short stalky woman. I could dust off my old bike and get cycling again. Or I might try swimming. I was never that keen when I was younger, and my eczema really does prevent me sometimes, but occasionally when I was injured and unable to train in Kempo I would swim to aid recovery and ended up enjoying it. However I never continued once I had recovered. No equipment required. Relatively cheap. Easily accessible. Available all weathers. Yes, I’m going to be a swimmer next!