I've never been much of an athlete. I'm not flexible, agile, or coordinated. I can't play any sport to save my life, and thinking about my middle school PE class still makes my stomach hurt. Growing up, the only semblance of a sport I tried out was cheerleading, which my quiet, reserved, not-willing-to-be-thrown-up-into-the-air 10-year-old self-did does not enjoy in the slightest. It was only when I got to high school that any athletic activity began to appeal to me in the slightest, and it happened to be the last thing I ever thought I would join: cross country.
My first day of cross country practice, I had not even run two miles before I started crying. It was a hot Georgia day at 4 in the afternoon, I was out of breath, I hadn't done conditioning over the summer, I hated the way my body looked in running clothes, and I'd just seen at least two girls on the team throw up on the side of the road. When I got home from practice, I emailed my coach to tell him that I wasn't cut out for the team and that I wanted to quit. Almost immediately after I sent the email, I went back and forth about my decision. Ultimately, I determined that it was stupid to quit something I sucked at after just one day of trying. Running wasn't something that came easily to me, but it had to get better with practice and effort, right? So, even though I felt like I didn't belong on the team, I told my coach to disregard my last email. I wanted to keep running.
With each day of practice, the miles began to feel less and less impossible to complete-- for all of us, I think. When it came time for my first meet, I didn't feel as nervous about running the race itself as I was about being watched. My fastest run was many other girls' slowest run, and I knew some spectators wouldn't think I was trying hard enough. Fortunately, though, that race ended up being fantastic. I was so happy about finishing strong and doing my best that nobody else's opinion mattered.
During my four years of cross country, there were certainly moments of insecurity. Every now and then, an onlooker at a meet would condescendingly shout something like "don't stop now, push through it, come on" (without my giving them any indication that I was planning to walk or stop, which none of us would ever do). During one practice, a driver passing some of us honked and yelled: "faster." But in spite of those moments, there were also the unforgettable moments of victory, like when one of my best friends ran me to the finish line, or when I made a huge PR at my last meet. Even better were the routine high fives and words of affirmation my teammates and I would give one another at practice. Regardless of skill level, we challenged and supported one another. After the first practice of freshman year, I never would have expected that cross country would be one of my favorite parts of high school.
So, even though I never came close to being on the varsity team, I never trained for a crazy marathon, and I was definitely not known for my running by any means, I'm glad I took the time to practice something that made me happy despite not being particularly talented at it. In an increasingly competitive culture, we should allow ourselves to realistically acknowledge that we're not the best at something, do our very best at it, and gain the same sense of excitement, dedication, and fulfillment we do from something we're good at. And whether we have the support of teammates or we're going it alone, we should learn to be okay with starting at square one.
So, whether it's an instrument, a blog, a project, or a seemingly treacherous athletic activity, try that thing you don't think you'll be able to do.
You might surprise yourself.