I am a kid who likes to play kickball in the street. We climb the apple tree too. We jump fences down the block, evading the eyes of grown-ups who might yell at us. We play hide and seek using the whole neighborhood. In winter, we sled at Silver Lake and skate at Loft’s Lake.
I am old enough to join CYO at St. Christopher’s around the corner. There are Saturday mornings spent playing volleyball and doing relay races and then tryouts for the basketball team. At the beginning of the season, there’s the excitement of getting our uniforms and the schedule of games. We travel to other parishes for our games – Our Lady of Redeemer, Sacred Heart, St. Barnabas.
At Baldwin High School, I am asked to be in Leader Corp and so wear a white uniform during gym and lead my class in calisthenics. In the fall, I play field hockey; in winter, it’s basketball; and then in spring, either softball or track.
I am never a star but sometimes I play first string. I’m an A minus athlete on a good day, often B or B plus. But I like doing it all. I like moving my body. I like the game, the competition. I like pushing myself so hard my face gets red. And I like being with others doing something together.
I used to be shy. There’s still a part of me that is. Sports were my way of being with other people. I wanted to be a gym teacher and coach because that way, I’d be able to help other girls like me. Sports allowed me to be myself and be part of a group. I was no longer on the outside trying to figure out how to fit in.
I try now to notice what makes me happy, what gives me pleasure or makes me content. One thing is clear — sixty years on this earth and being outside, playing sports, and moving my body still give me more pleasure than almost anything. Yesterday I rode thirty-nine miles with my Nitty Gritty Bike Band buddies from the parking lot behind the courthouse. We did the Antioch Church loop with the 12-mile add-on that gave me some of the hill work I missed because of Saturday’s cancelled mountain ride. The temperatures were cooler than usual but the humidity just as high as usual. I chatted with Chick about touring in Europe and with Steve about the “tender human heart.” Afterward we ate watermelon in the parking lot.
Saturday, with the Hog Pen ride cancelled, I went to Legion Pool and swam fifty lengths. Friday, I met Steve at East Athens Trail Creek Park and did the mountain bike loops. Thursday was Crossfit day for me. We learned how to do the Turkish Get Up and then for time, did our WOD (workout of the day in Crossfit speak) — four rounds of a 400-meter run, 25 squats, 25 push- ups, and 25 ab mats.
I’m sure there’s something biological going on. 23andMe have my DNA and send me updated reports. I am more likely to be able to detect the asparagus smell, have average odds of misophonia (the dislike of chewing sounds), am more likely to have wet earwax, and have the genetic muscle composition common in elite power athletes. Voila, there it is. Another report might tell me that I am more likely to run after balls (a trait Clare and Anne didn’t seem to have as young children).
I didn’t order these traits. They are what I came with. I used to not value this enjoyment of physical activity. It was more valuable to be artistic or musical. Now though I think I am quite lucky. Again and again, we hear that physical activity and social interaction make a significant difference in all sorts of physical and mental health indicators. I’ve known this intuitively all my life.
Last fall I joined a spin gym on Long Island and went almost daily. After about a week, I woke up and wasn’t depressed after the worst depression of my life. I kept my fingers crossed that it would last and it did. And it continues to do so.
Today is Crossfit. I am going to find a new one rep max on my shoulder press and then do six rounds of a 200-meter run, 25 sit ups, and some scaled version of a pull-up. Simple pleasures, for sure, but isn’t that the key – finding joy in small things. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Today though, that’s the case, and I’m savoring it.