The Outlier: My Life as a Non-Athlete in the Middle of an Olympic Village

It’s that glorious time of year when the trees are budding, the birds are chirping, and everyone is eager to spend as much time outside as humanly possible. Meanwhile, I’m over here seriously considering making spring hibernation a thing. Because as soon as I walk out my front door, my eyes are assaulted by bodies in motion: swarms of joggers bouncing in unison like a runaway mob of Mexican jumping beans and golf carts full of ladies headed to their tennis matches brightly dressed in head to toe Lululemon that probably cost more than all of my high school prom dresses combined.  

It looks like everyone—EVERYONE—in my neighborhood is training for the Olympics. Or if they’re really slacking, the lowly Boston Marathon. I want to yell at them as they whiz by, “Did y’all not get the memo? This is ‘Merica. We are a collective of lazy and largely sedentary people! Now do your civic duty and get your overachieving rears back inside where they belong!”

Suffice it to say, I’m not athletic. Who am I kidding? I’m athletically challenged. And that’s probably being polite. It’s OK, I don’t know any different. I’ve always been that way. When I was in elementary school, the thought of gym class looming closer was enough to compel me to fake a stomachache in order to seek refuge in the icy—but sedate!—presence of our school nurse. Anything was better than standing for eternities with my fellow unfortunately uncoordinated classmates waiting to see who would be the very. last. person picked for softball scrimmage that day. Fast forward to college, where I managed to make pretty decent grades in all but two subjects: golf and tennis. I failed both. Think about it: how do you fail golf and tennis? Well, I managed.

And then came my move to Suburbia, Texas, a few years ago, which forced me to confront my athletic ineptitude head on. Unbeknownst to me, the beautiful neighborhood in which we landed is considered a “golf cart community,” which essentially means two things: (1) that you’ll be late to everything in your life because slowpoke golf carts helmed by senior citizens with not a care (or agenda) in the world have just as much right to drive on the road as cars do; and (2) everyone is a super athlete—or at least that’s how it seems to me. If you don’t play golf around here, you’re on the tennis team. And if you don’t play tennis, then you’re a runner. And if you’re not a runner, then you’re at least taking twice weekly spin classes at a fitness club. And all of that is a wonderful thing—unless, of course, you’re not participating.

I’ve frankly never experienced that driving force that compels people to join a sports team or rearrange their life to make time to visit the gym every single day. If I’m looking at my schedule, and I am lucky enough to identify an hour or two that’s free for the taking, the last thing I want to do with that block of time is use it in some semi-torturous way that will leave my body begging for mercy the next day. Hitting both Target and TJ Maxx in one day? Heck, yes. Actually conquering some of the laundry piles that lord above the floor in every single closet in my home? Yes. Pounding the pavement to the extent that I’m a sweaty mess, thus requiring a shower with a hair wash (another activity I already find sufficiently challenging to fit into my existing daily—OK, weekly—routine)? HELL, NO!

I have a hard enough time keeping all the balls in the air without adding the challenge of chasing actual tennis or golf balls to my current list of to-dos. As best I can tell, playing a sport necessitates a pretty seismic shift in one’s lifestyle. Once you join a team, you have practice, matches, never-ending group texts, and the inevitable happy hour or two. All of these activities necessitate time and attention, and both of those are in pretty short supply in my life these days. To add insult to injury, you have muscle soreness. I’m guessing this dissipates over time (though I admittedly have no experience on which to base these claims), but it’s still an added unpleasantry that must be endured.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had periods of time when I did find it necessary to incorporate regular workouts into my life. Around this time every year, for example, I try to muster up the inner fortitude to head to the gym in a rather halfhearted bid to make my jiggly and dimpled thighs appear, well, less dimpled and jiggly. I also forced myself to work out regularly during both of my pregnancies, knowing that research indicated working out was good for both mommy and baby. And then there was that time early on in my career when I embarked on a series of evening workouts at a fancy fitness club. I actually enjoyed those sessions, but it was not so much because I loved the burn in my quads as it was because I loved the chill of a cold glass of post-workout Chardonnay at the swanky in-club cafe. And let’s not forget about the post-partum years I lived in yoga gear. That should count for something, right?

But the truth is, I just don’t enjoy working out. I know it’s good for me and I know I should do it, but I have a hard time convincing myself to make it a year-round part of my daily routine. Maybe if I had more free time at my disposal, I would find it easier to submit my life to athletic pursuits and I would live happily and healthily forever after. But for now, I have exactly 10 hours of daylight to myself during the week, and they happen from 9:30 A.M.–2:30 P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

These hours are not spent lazily thumbing through magazines or catching up on my extensive catalog of TiVo-ed shows, as I had once assumed they’d be. These hours are spent racing around my house trying to maintain a standard of cleanliness high enough to keep CPS at bay or shopping for groceries blissfully unencumbered by the incessant wails of “Mommy, can we have that?” These hours are precious…but they are definitely fleeting. And waking up at 5:00 A.M. to squeeze in a workout before the rest of the family wakes up? Well, that’s just out of the question.

I realize I’m missing out on innumerable benefits in my decision to abstain from athletics in general. Chief among these, obviously, is improved physical and mental health (something Lord knows I could benefit from). But to my mama-of-littles mind, the bigger benefits that accompany participation in my neighborhood’s thriving athletic scene are the friendships and sense of community forged along the way. Like a woman who marries a hunter or golfer and soon finds herself a hunting or golfing “widow,” I have lost quite a few friends to athletic pursuits over the past few years. The separation starts slowly, with communication easing from daily to weekly, but as my friend’s involvement with her poison sport of choice increases, the texts and play dates between us dwindle to nothing.

And as much as I don’t like being disenfranchised from my community by way of athletics, I especially don’t want my children to experience the ill effects of my bookworm-ish nature. I know that where friendships among adults are forged, friendships among their children are not far behind. I want my kids to have strong friendships in their neighborhood, and I am keenly aware that at their young ages, I am solely responsible for making that happen. I also want my children to look forward to sports and physical pursuits in general and not dread them with the fear of the apocalypse as I always have. So far I haven’t done a great job of modeling a love of physical exertion to them, and I know that has to change if I want to instill them with the desire to be physically active as they grow.

So while you will probably never find me parking in the designated Tennis Champion’s space in front of the neighborhood club, perhaps in the future you will find me attempting to hit a ball or two in my Lulu-knockoff tennis skirt. And although I can confidently say I will never, EVER train for a marathon, I can do a better job of taking after-dinner walks with my kids this year so they get a sense that being active should be a regular part of their day. I may not like being active for the sake of being active, and I may suck at every single sport on God’s green earth, but I know I’ve got to do better for my kids. Their future depends on it, and if I’m being honest with myself, so does mine.

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One Response to The Outlier: My Life as a Non-Athlete in the Middle of an Olympic Village

  1. Vag March 15, 2016 at 7:52 pm #

    Nightly walks and bowling when I arrive!