I was the last to be picked at try-outs for Freshman Sports. I had, in fact, already been sent back to the locker room with the others exiled to regular PE when Coach called me back because my numbers were decent. I had completed all the exercises, and I had served for volleyball at 75%- underhand like a baby, one girl said– but, 75%. Far from stunning.
But I made the team.
I just wanted to be on the team.
I worked out every day with ridiculous athletes. Our teams were good- competitors at state-level all four years of high school. I stretched, I ran, I nearly died. I was not- am still not- an athlete. Basketball season was particularly awful. I was a backup to the backups and did not get a cool uniform like the rest of the girls. No jersey, no school sweats. I did get to ride the bus to games and I made myself useful by keeping the stat book for the team. Why I was willing to suffer the humiliation of being at the bottom of that heap day in and day out for the entire year is beyond me. It still shocks me.
High School is hard.
Halfway through the year, Coach issued a challenge: anyone who could bench press their own weight would earn a t-shirt. An emblem of achievement. Another proof of belonging. For me, at 99 pounds, that meant I’d have to bench 100 pounds. The first try a few weeks later, I failed along with a few others. The second try, I was close at 95 pounds… but not close enough. I would have one more shot- me, alone– the next week.
While the other girls worked on drills for that night’s game in the gym, Coach and I walked to the weight room in the field house. It was maybe the only time I’d ever been alone with her. I was terrified of her. I think I still am. To make conversation, she asked if I was excited for the game coming up. For reasons completely unknown to me and probably God, I said, “No.” She stopped in middle of the parking lot.
“Why not?” she asked, her hands on her hips.
The truth continued to seep from my mouth, “Well, [Maggie] keeps saying I shouldn’t even really be going. I don’t play. I just take up space. And, she’s right. I mean, I want to go. But I know some of the other girls don’t want me to go… and that’s, you know, weird.”
She stared at me silently for a second. Maybe she was trying to remember my name. I considered running away but realized she could catch me and, really, how much more awkward could this day get?
“Katie, you do the work. You do the same work every one else does every day. You just don’t get the same results. But, you do the work… so, you ride the bus.”
And just like that, she turned around and marched on to the weight room.
It took me a couple seconds to catch up with her.
It took me 20 years to understand her.
A few things:
That was the last time I weighed anything close to 100 pounds.
I couldn’t bench my weight that morning, and I didn’t get my t-shirt. She’d probably be fired today for leaving one student out, but back then you only got a shirt if you earned it. I didn’t. I understood that and I’m ok with it.
Girls are mean. They terrify me, still, to this day.
I do the work. Today. I do the work. I don’t get the behavior results or the blog results or the book results or the music results that some get… which is so absolutely maddening to me… but I do the work. I’m on the team.
So the next time I order up sweatshirts, I’m putting my name across the back. I’m a starter on this team now. No asterisk. No explanation. I do the work. I bench my weight. I get a shirt.
I’ve earned it by now, and so have you.
Get on the bus.