This is a message for specific people. For the kid who helps out each year with a particular team, secretly longing to join the competition, but just...can't. For the one who dreams of getting in the game or racing down the track to beat the clock, but who instead listens to the voices of others saying “nope” and remains sidelined. I was there. I get you. Now hear me: your time is now.
When I was a kid, my sibling was the athletic one, good at every sport out there, while I was deemed dorky and uncoordinated. Sure, I tried a few sports prior to high school, including soccer and tennis, but a distinct lack of self-confidence coupled with well-meaning but weighty comments about my not being cut out for sports led me to a long stint along the sidelines.
While my high school peers were earning varsity letters in football, lacrosse, soccer, and even skiing (it was Vermont, after all), I earned mine by being the student manager of the basketball team. Yep. Filling out the books each game and making sure the team had water was grueling.
In college I was a champion spectator, eagerly cheering on my school's football and ice hockey teams, while the only games I took part in were centered around the air hockey table at the arcade.
The truth was that I really wanted to be an athlete. How I envied those who could run and execute plays and score points and be part of a team. I had no idea that my own worst enemy in this regard was me. Yes, I did have people telling me at various times in life that I just wasn't athletic, but the problem wasn't in their words. It was in my believing them.
It took until fairly recently for me to stop. Trust me when I tell you that my high school graduation day was many moons ago. The change started with a curiosity about surfing, which led to lessons that began with, interestingly enough, stand-up paddleboarding. An avid non-competitive swimmer, I have always loved the water. On it or in it, I'm happy. Stand-up paddleboarding quickly became my sport, something I was good at and eager to do more of.
In time, I went from short stints on calm water to paddling several miles, occasionally against the wind (though always with safety in mind). On a good day when the weather cooperates, I'm on the water for hours.
Sometime in the last year, my passion for paddleboarding inspired me to contemplate other activities I've longed to try but never did because I just...couldn't. Along with boarding, this winter I took up pickleball, along with a stepped-up fitness routine. Thanks in part to past experience in racquet sports, I picked up my new sport pretty quickly, even playing to a few wins with my fellow pickleball players.
Still, you can imagine my surprise when one of my game partners told me recently, “You're so athletic!”
But a closer look at my current lifestyle and the myriad changes I've made reveal a new truth: I am athletic. I power walk. I SUP. I play pickleball. And on Monday I began training for my first-ever 5K, happening in May.
It took some time; OK... A lot of time, but I'm an athlete, and you can be, too. That's why I'm sharing this tale with you, because I don't want anyone else to be edging closer to a “very significant” birthday as they finally figure out they had the talent within them all along.
I get that you're scared. Deciding to finally go out for a sport is daunting. But do it. Don't relegate yourself to the sidelines because you've internalized the words of others. What matters is you and what you might be capable of. You really won't know unless you try, and you deserve at least that much.