Last week, my fraternity held their annual alumni gathering in New York City. The official event was a jacket and tie cocktail reception with some speeches on the Friday night, but the real fun is always the Saturday when the younger alumni meet up for beers and just hang out.
This year, they decided to play a version of Family Feud in which all the responses were fellow fraternity brothers.
The questions ranged from most likely to end up in jail to most intelligent, sketchiest, most likely to cause an international incident and so on.
Over 35 brothers submitted their votes ahead of time. Despite my absence, I was the top answer on the board for one of the categories – LEAST ATHLETIC.
I found out via a recap email on the Monday after and the fact was it hurt. Now, perhaps the votes for me were in jest as they knew it would get my goat since I so often speak about CrossFit and my training.
The other possibility is that their image of me from college hasn’t changed. And the truth was in college I would have been rightfully so deemed least athletic.
(For example, senior year I sprained my ankle within two minutes of being out on the basketball court.)
The same perhaps could be said of me in high school and most definitely as a kid. A talent for golf doesn’t translate well on the play ground when its time for kickball or dodge ball. To summarize my youth, I have a lot of participation ribbons.
I played soccer and baseball regularly as a kid and during the summers was on a swim team. But I got very used to the fact that I would be picked last in gym class.
I had other talents and excelled in academics, but we are a nation that loves sport and worships our athletes.
My parents were always supportive and cheered me on regardless of my abilities. Yet to this day one of my mother’s cherished memories was when I was playing third base in a little league game and the batter hit a huge drive into the outfield.
The outfielder picked it up and threw it to me. To the crowd’s amazement, I caught the ball and threw it home and got a runner out, closing the inning.
My mother was beyond thrilled. Why? Because it was the last thing she or anyone expected from such an unskilled baseball player as myself. I was the hero for that one moment to her and my team.
But now, twenty years later after that fateful game, have I changed people’s expectations? Or will I always be remembered as the uncoordinated kid who wasn’t very good at sports?
More importantly, will I let that unwanted accolade of “least athletic” from my youth and adolescence dictate who I am now?
It’s a hard to move past labels. I could tell you a million things that I can do now in the gym, from multiple pull-ups to handstand push-ups, but when I am the last one to finish a workout sometimes in class, I feel like that least athletic kid again. Always JV, never Varsity.
Some of us are voted least likely to succeed. Some of us are called names based on our appearance, our height, weight, glasses, hair, clothes and even skin tone.
Others of us are chased through life by a reputation earned in our youth as a troublemaker or a slacker, a stoner, a mean girl or a gossip. But who we were is not who we are or can be!
Today, I am an athlete. I don’t need anyone else to confirm that fact for me. I don’t need to prove it to anyone. I don’t need a trophy. I don’t need a medal (or a chest to pin it on).
I know my own truth.
I know what labels are correct or incorrect. “It’s not that I am confident, it’s that I am confirmed.” And I will take this sense of self and let it carry me forward.
It’s not a revolutionary thought, but sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that we are NOT defined by others. We define ourselves.