One day at recess when I was in the third grade, a girl named Sydney materialized in front of me, yelled, “Think fast!” and promptly launched a soccer ball at my face and succeeded in hitting all of it. My equally unpopular friend Andy as my witness, this happened.
Coincidentally, I have been hit dead in the face with a ball exactly four times in my life. Two of them were right by the basketball court at my elementary school during recess. The third time was just after my dad had given me a long lecture about ‘being aggressive’ during basketball practice, which, for the record, I was forced to attend against my will. I boldly rushed beneath the basketball hoop to retrieve the rebound, and BAM! I was struck so hard in the face that I had to leave practice immediately on account of my nose bleeding profusely.
Needless to say, I was never remotely aggressive during practice again, and returned to my strategy of running behind everyone else because basketball was boring and stupid and I hated it. My parents decided against signing me up for another season, and gave up forcing me to stay active.
The fourth (and hopefully final) time my face made contact with a rubber ball traveling at light speed was during college orientation about two years ago. I had, most unfortunately, become acquaintances with an outgoing extrovert. During the nighttime activity section, the staff set up a Gaga pit. In case you are unfamiliar with the game of gaga, I will provide a brief explanation for your convenience. The players are stuck in a hexagonal pit of doom with a rubber ball just bigger than my face. One player dumps the ball on the ground and says, “ga, ga” with the first two bounces. After that, it’s a free for all, in which players are required to lob the ball at other players to get them “out”. If the ball touches you anywhere but your hands, like say, your face, you’re a goner, and it’s all over for you.
My acquaintance talked me into playing. About two minutes in, the ball smashed my face in and embarrassed the both of us. No one really asked me if I was okay as I made my ungraceful exit. Everyone seemed to conform to a silent agreement to just ignore the whole situation, and, in hindsight, that was the kindest thing they could have possibly done. Other than hurling a heavy rubber ball at my face, that is.
As you might have guessed, my history of physical activity is less than illustrious. I have faced countless humiliations at recess, gym class, and beyond. Once, in phys ed, when we were playing kickball, everybody was required to pitch. They lined us up and made us approach the ball one at time. When it was my turn, I raised my foot high and looked straight at the ball, which was sitting still and patiently before me. I swung my foot with gusto and managed to miss my target entirely, and every single 13-year old in the gym that day witnessed my mistake. I tried again and luckily, my foot actually made contact with it, though my relief was short-lived as a cacophony of sweaty seventh graders pronounced it foul. Then, in her misguided efforts to make everyone feel included, the gym teacher decided that everyone had to be applauded for their efforts. You could pretty much feel the sarcasm in each and every clap. Miraculously, I resisted the urge to climb up to the top of the bleachers and jump. (Pretty much on a weekly basis, too. I don’t know how I’m still alive.)
Another time, I was so red in the face doing push-ups, (a fun side effect of working out when you have translucent skin) the gym teacher towered over me, squinted, and said, “Are you done? I think you’re done.”
In gym class, I was one of the girls that clustered together during dodgeball at the edge of the court and prayed for mercy. Whenever I tell people this, they sneer, “Oh, God. You were one of them? I hate those girls.” Which tells you all you need to know about the social climate of gym class. Exclusive, humiliating, and downright dreadful. Plus, they made us wear gym shorts. The girls had to shave their legs in the winter. What’s that about?
Recently, my mom talked to our family eye doctor about how one of my eyes is 20/20 and the other is so awful that I mistook the giant, all-consuming “E” she flashed before me on the screen for an “F”. “She said it was possible that you have depth perception issues,” my mom told me. “Maybe that’s why you always flinched so much whenever anyone threw a ball.”
My mother was an aerobics teacher and my father has played recreational sports his whole life. They met playing volleyball, and then, a few years later, had me, the biggest disappointment on the face of the earth. To this day, my dad still nags me about exercising whenever he gets the chance.
If my vision is their scapegoat, fine. But I’m not convinced.
Here’s the thing: My entire experience with physical activity is embarrassing. The mere thought of sweating in front of other people fills me with anxiety. Gym class was supposed to encourage me to stay active, and help me explore different outlets of physical activity. Those sports my parents signed me up for were intended to do the same thing. I used to beg my parents not to make me go. I think I’d have been better off staying home, honestly. The combined result of all the physical activity I was forced to do as a kid gave me one, simple message: that exercising is only for the athletic elite, and that I am not welcome.
But what about you? Are you coordinated? Are you a huge disappointment? Did you face-palm while reading this? Let me know in the comments down below. Like this post and follow my blog if your chosen dodgeball strategy involves hiding behind your equally fearful friends. Peace out or whatever.