These days, I spend every other Saturday driving around the Carolinas to cheer on our daughter and her fellow volleyball players. And yes, I’m very proud of her. But honestly, not for the reasons you think. Five years ago, at the ripe old age of 10, she found a sport she was passionate about. Despite being a head shorter than her teammates, she’s continued to hone her skills, starting on a “development team” and growing into a consistent player. I’m proud that she’s been able to cultivate a level of self-confidence that only comes with becoming good at something physical and being part of a team.
While that may not be unusual for most kids today, it’s HUGE for me. You see, I never played team sports as a kid, for two reasons. One, being Jewish, our family stereotypically focused on intellectual pursuits rather than physical ones. And while this is changing, most of us can name famous Jewish athletes with the fingers on one hand.
Two, I always assumed my small stature precluded me from sports. In fact, my fate as a non-athlete was sealed when I was just 6 years old. On my first day in first grade, we played Red Rover, Red Rover; you know, the game where there are two teams lined up across a field. One team calls over an opposing team member by singing, “Red Rover, Red Rover, bring Sally right over.” It’s then Sally’s job to break through the other team’s wall of hand-holding children. Except this Sally couldn’t break through — ever. I was immediately convinced me that I was weak and uncoordinated. From that moment on, I was last – really, dead last – to be picked for teams. The glasses at 8 years old and braces, complete with headgear at 13, only perpetuated my awkwardness.
This pattern continued for 6 more years, punctuated by horrific moments in phys ed classes. There were stints in outfield praying for the softball not to come in my direction. Those were followed by interminable moments at home plate, on display for all to see like a spot light was magically installed in the sky and pointed right at me. I would stood like a statue at home plate repeating, “please be a ball, please be a ball, please be a ball,” like it was some sacred mantra.
It wasn’t until I was 19 that my weakling self-image was shattered. At college, my boyfriend and his roommate thought it would be funny to have me join the weightlifting club. Both were heavy-duty weight lifters, religious in their fervor to become “buff.” On a dare, they convinced all 88-pounds of me to go with them the weight club. Under their tutelage, menu plans, and rigorous work out schedule, I gained 14 pounds of muscle in just 6 weeks. I gained biceps and triceps that I never knew I had and developed 6-pack abs that any model would envy.
But much more than that, my self-confidence skyrocketed. I no longer shied away from physical activities and even connected a ball with a bat for the first time at 28 years old when I joined a company softball team.
What took me 19 years to understand, our daughter managed to conquer in just 13. Much more self-assured than I was, she continues to surprise all of us with her freakishly strong physical and mental abilities. And me? I gave up the weightlifting about 14 years ago . . . I’m a yoga instructor now.