Phew! This week’s Bite Size Memoir prompt was Sports Day and for a while I thought we were in for a poor turnout this meet! Then a few fabulous contestants appeared around the final bend at the last minute. A photo finish for a couple and a clear bit of cheating from some early contenders, with entries creeping well over the 150 word limit! I don’t want to call a stewards inquiry so please brush up on the rules for next time!
Rather late on I learned that Sports Day might be better known as Field Day in the US but was rather disappointed that the idiom ‘having a field day!’ – which means a number of things such as to have a very enjoyable time as well as to have an opportunity to do a lot of something you want to do, especially to criticize someone actually originates from military field tactics for battle and not from the supposed joy of school track and field across the pond.
Thank you all once again for a range of experiences, emotions and perspectives. I’m loving this!
When I was ten I changed schools and despite being the product of a ‘broken home’, I thrived at my new village primary school. Sports Day was one of my favourite events. We earned ribbons for winning and I won the 50-yard dash and was thrilled.
By high school my competitive edge really kicked in. I got the chance to compete in the high jump, long jump, javelin and yes, the running. By then I had progressed beyond 50 yards to the 100, 200, 400 relay and even the hurdles.
A dark-haired girl, Carolyn, tied with me at every race.
We urged each other on to run faster and faster. When we ran on the same relay team I imagined that we were running at the Olympics for Great Britain. The crowd roared and cheered. We did it!
I was sad that my dad wasn’t there to cheer me on.
Swimming Lessons of Life
I cannot recall my childhood without seeing the sunlight shimmer off the surface of a swimming pool. I lived in the water.
By age 10, I was swimming competitively. I mostly swam sprints. The 50 free or breaststroke. Two laps. Up and back. I was good, but I wasn’t the best.
In high school, there was no doubt that I’d try out for the team. I made it. I’d swim varsity all four years. I was good, but I wasn’t the best.
I’ve wondered why I continued competing in a sport that I was at best mediocre. I’ve come to realize what I gained from swimming.
Discipline – practices at 6AM before school, 8AM on the summer team.
Teamwork – you had to swim faster than your best on a relay.
Sportsmanship – you compete against teammates – sometimes they beat you.
Pride – hard work pays off.
I miss swimming.
Legs moving as fast as possible, like pistons in a luxury sports car, arms pumping alongside. Chest straight and head tall until the very last second lean forward to anticipate the finish. Every boy hoping to be first in the sprints, the senior high elite events.
“GO! GO! GO!” All the girls encouraging their favorites on the sidelines. Important to cheer on your hometown guys during the county track and field meet, but who could resist checking out the boys from all the neighboring towns who came to compete too.
It was the seventies. Short shorts and mullets were everywhere. It was just a matter of deciding who you thought was the cutest guy of all. There were stars, easy to pick out by red first place, and blue second place ribbons pinned on the front of their t-shirts. The losers sat sunning themselves bare-chested, they were definitely noticed too.
I was never too keen on sports when I was at school. I was more academically inclined, and at the time, both activities didn’t seem to be compatible! I was a defender in the netball team, because I was tall, however I was never very enthusiastic about it! But I did enjoy Sports Day at the end of the school year. Various coaches took us to a sports ground, somewhere in north London, where we competed with other schools. My participation was limited to cheering my school and friends, eating ice-creams, and rolling on the grass in my stiff school uniform, while the sun was burning my cheeks; it was always sunny on sports day!
Although I’m currently more attuned to the importance of sport in my life, it’s still not a priority, which means, alas, I still find it difficult to make time to practice it regularly…
I benefitted from the 1960s national outcry over Americans’ tendency towards couch-potato-hood and President Kennedy’s Council on Physical Fitness.
For periods of each year, my classmates and I were run through a gamut of field sports and calisthenics on the parched field of my parochial school in Phoenix Arizona. Although my eyesight was on par with a bat’s, and my glasses thick as Coke bottles, I was a colt of a girl and did well at the sprints, long jumps, and hurdles.
Still, it wasn’t Kennedy’s program that kept me fit; it was outrunning my older sister, a blue-eyed angel with ripe-rose lips and the heart of an imp. Indeed, she perfected an ingenious three-step torture on me: 1) the knock down; 2) the disarming straddle; and 3) the air-block, achieved by covering my mouth with one hand and pinching my nose with the other.
What could I do but get fit with a vengeance?
It didn’t matter what sport it was, there was always that one kid. Sure, there were lots of the other kids too, the ones who trained and had dads that yelled from the sidelines and moms that brought cupcakes to every game, but it really didn’t matter who else showed up as long as there was still that kid. That kid. The one that got to play the whole time, usually as something that ultimately turned out the be important like goalie or pitcher. The kid that no one like not because they were unlikable, but because they had neither aptitude nor interest. They were the coaches kid, or that guy that went to state when he was a kid’s kid. They made daisy chains during the game, ate too much of the pizza afterwards, and generally didn’t mind losing.
I wonder where those kids are now. Are they all in middle management? Car sales? Have they remained disaffected and bored? Did they ever find anything they cared about?
At seven I hated school sport – too fat, too slow. Mum knew better. Cricket was her love which she shared. I practised alone, catching at first, for hour after hour; then it was an old chair leg as a bat. I dreamt and sweated. At eleven, at my new senior school, my size got me an audition – prop in their rugby team – I couldn’t run, catching was still rudimentary but I was world-class at leaning. I changed school again, at twelve, when Dad’s job had us move. ‘Do you play cricket?’ ‘Yes sir.’ They picked me for the first game and I went mad, scoring 47 runs. Oh frabjous day! Move the clock on, to 18, and I’m captain of cricket and vice-captain at rugby. I have a self-confidence that comes with belonging. I kept playing both sports until my ankles told me ‘enough’ as I approached 40. The secret of my success? Practice, never give up, embrace reinvention and lie convincingly. Perhaps that’s why I became a lawyer?
Sports days were fun events in primary school. In addition to the normal running events there were also races such as the egg and spoon race, the sack race and the three-legged race. Races that even the non-athletic child wanted to enter. In those days I entered everything even though I was far from athletic and I occasionally took out prizes. Whether that was because of my talent or a policy that every child went home with a prize I don’t know and I don’t care. We looked forward to those days unlike my years in high school where the competition was high and I wasn’t in the race from the beginning. Had my asthma been diagnosed earlier this may have been different. Two of my friends entered all events whilst I entered the walking race and the javelin throwing, that was, if I couldn’t get my parents to write a permission to be absent slip.
Nicknamed ‘Butterfingers’, I was the person who ducks when you throw the ball. The last one to get picked for the team.
Growing older, I was teased for wearing a vest, I never had the right bra. In the communal shower it was embarrassing to be flat-chested and hirsute. But it turned out I could swim! I was picked for the gala. Cycling to practice, never learning properly to tumble-turn. Ah, the summer we made pom-poms and danced a cheerleading routine on sports day.
Later still I was a mother. Hot afternoons on green grass, baby at breast, her older siblings throwing beanbags or jumping in sacks while I cheered myself hoarse.
Thorn in daughter’s foot. Criss-crossing the field to watch first, second and third sons leaping, hurling, and running. Yes! Ruben is the winner. Small son’s face scrunched up in puzzlement at the odd routines. Cups presented, parading flags.
Lisa Reiter – UK
800m and 1500m were my distances. I ‘trained’ well, running around the village going somewhere fast or getting away from someone even faster! Legs Eleven was a nickname for a while.
There was sports day excited chatter on warm summer days. It never rained in those summers. The oval track on a field of grass, looked so inviting, trimmed short of its sunny daisies, with brilliant white painted lines. I still hear the wind in the trees and smell the grass on the breeze.
I hear the starters gun! And round I go, in front again with everything pounding. Exhilarated but hurting and tightening when all of this fades to black and I’m floating down.
Soon after running again – on a treadmill at Great Ormond Street with wires stuck to my chest, feeling humiliated and embarrassed in my vest. Just a kinked aorta I’ll soon grow out of.