writing

Green Bloomers or Late Bloomers?

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When I was in high school, we wore bloomers under our athletic pinafores. We felt so archaic. They were dark green with elastic waists, and the pants ballooned up underneath.  I mean, what was the purpose of the daily humiliation?  Where would it get me in life? I wanted marriage and children, not an ability to score goals. Wasn’t it enough that our daily uniforms looked similar to Peter Pan outfits? Green, green, green.  Apparently not. At least for gym, we traded in our brown oxfords for white Keds and short white socks. I hated gym so much that I once hid in a broom closet for an entire class, just me and the mop, face to bristle. I could have suffered suspension, but I was lucky, and was never missed. Many days by the time two o’clock rolled around, girls had their monthlies or were faking cramps, so it wasn’t uncommon for gym class to be half its size.  Athleticism wasn’t a family trait in my neck of the woods. The most athletic thing I had ever seen my father do was mow the lawn. My mother, in her childhood, had ridden horses, but gave that up for city life. My sister’s school did not require gym, lucky her. At my private school high on a hill in the middle of nowhere, gym classes were daily mandatory lessons of boring distaste.

We played one sport per season. Field hockey in the fall from 2-4 pm. My only good memory from back then was of crickets serenading our half assed effort. I was always Third Squad, the class for dummies. The instructor was rumored to be a dyke, but that was a lie. She was actually just a manly looking woman in a plaid kilt who thought everyone loved hockey. I didn’t care about sexual orientation back then. In fact, I had no idea what a dyke was.  My main concern was pinching at my bloomers to stop them from sliding down my legs, and very occasionally giving the ball a fruitless hard whack. Field Hockey. Back and forth across a lumpy field we ran, smacking at a hard wooden ball, often bloodying someone’s shins by mistake.

In winter, we went inside and played an equally dumb game of basketball, again chasing a ball up and down a court. I hated when I caught it. I’d see hands advancing on me, people calling me name so frantically that I’d about face, and run for my life towards the hoop. FOUL! I’d forgotten to dribble (bounce) the ball before shooting. I was always last to be picked for a team. I cared for my reputation, but not my skills. Or, lack thereof.  Now, Men’s basketball is fun to watch. Men are fun to watch. But women’s basketball? No, nope, no. My inability to run and bounce at the same time, my fear of catching a pass, and worse, pretending to be a guard when I could have cared less about the opponent winning, are my nightmares of Basketball.

If you’ve ever lived in Maryland, male or female, you were born with a miniature lacrosse stick in your hand. Bacharach Sport made ten inch long wooden sticks – while my hockey stick is in our basement, I don’t know where my lacrosse stick went. Our son’s is in his room and will be handed down to his offspring when that offspring is born. In spring, all private school girls and boys played lacrosse. Period. At some boys’ schools, they were forced to carry their sticks with them at all times, and that was before backpacks were invented. Nowadays, there are a myriad of sports to choose from, any season, in and out, but in the late 60’s this was how it was. I wasn’t on any squad in lacrosse. I didn’t even make Third Squad. On my report card, the name of the sport was Athletics in which I’d receive a “C”. But the best thing about lacrosse in my Athletics class was that on Varsity game day, there’d be boys showing up for emotional support, 6 cheerleaders jumping up and down in cute little green rompers, and occasionally a chance to witness an accidental scalping from the tip of a wooden lacrosse stick. All that drama! Blood, gauze, an ambulance, crying girls, guys moaning, “Hey, cool, man!” and a sympathetic “You win” from the opposing team. I wanted the glory, the coveted White Blazer handed out at Commencement, the sash to wear with the kilt, but I lacked the impetus to reach for any of it. High school glory was for that other girl.

Lacrosse, a game of skill, stamina, and shooting finesse, was invented by the Indians. They made their sticks out of wood and twigs laced horizontal for a pocket to catch the ball (rock). . Sticks, when I was in school, were made of wood too. But now, they come in graphite, made by Warrior, STX, Brine, Gait, and more. They’ve gotten so high tech they nearly power a kid down field like a Hovercraft! Not to forget the makers of lacrosse gear. That discludes bloomers, but includes UnderArmour dry wick clothing, Tribe 7Lax, MedicineMan, and LaxWorld, located in – no place more fitting – Maryland!

It turns out I’m an extremist. Adrenalin junkie, whose only way to true sports happiness is through hard ass workouts. I picked up exercise as a way to control my diabetes blood sugar, and it soon became a passion.  My doctor said I had to sweat. No meandering strolls around the corner, no using vacuuming as an excuse, no water aerobics. Running, dancing, hiking, or swimming laps.

At first I decided to try aerobics, but yuk, I just wasn’t a dancer. So I joined step aerobics which led to reuniting with a childhood friend, who had also just found out she had diabetes too. In time, she grew bored with step aerobics and began running. Just the thought of running anywhere intimidated me. Run? That was for other people, not little old me. And then, one day out of the blue, with half an hour to spare, I headed out the front door and ran a mile. Pretty soon I was running 7 days a week, eventually competing in racing, and was totally addicted. At one point I could run a 9 minute mile, which for a 42 year old, was a pretty good start. I kept diaries of mileage and what I’d seen while running. The most I ran each week was 35 miles, and the least I ran was 25, if sick or injured. Yes, I ran injured. Most true runners did.  I once saw a woman with a hard cast running up a hill. If she could do it, so could I. Running was such an easy sport to pick up, especially since all you needed was a good pair of shoes, a Walkman or other musical device, and about a half hour for a three mile run. Unlike my days in Field Hockey, basketball and lacrosse, I was on to victory in the running field. Who knew?

If it hadn’t been for the running, I never would have been able to take up boxing. I joined a gym for the sole purpose of getting my son into speed interval training for his upcoming lacrosse season, and on rainy days, I’d hit the treadmill. One day at the gym, I popped into the ladies room and heard very loud bass music, and a man’s voice shouting over the beats, “Jab, Punch, Jab, switch!” The noise intimidated me rather than intrigued me. He sounded like a drill sergeant.

Two days later, I heard the same voice shouting, “WTF? Start over! The rotations are all fucked up. Give me 500 mountain climbers, 300 Suicides, 3 one minute wall squats, and you others take your positions at the bag.” There was a lot of moaning.  I couldn’t resist. Very timidly, I followed the sound of explicit rap into a mirrored room where 15 people were learning how to box.  The instructor, a giant of a man, opened a cabinet and jacked up the sound, swigged at a bottle of water, and shouted, “Switch!”

Kurtis Schulz was a well-known Terps’ basketball player back in the 80s. He was the son of a well-known football player. He’d wanted to go pro, but instead joined the Marines.  He stands at an imposing 6’7″ and wears a size 17 shoe. His biceps and shoulders and thighs ripple with muscle. Every morning he shaves his head until it shines. He’s imposing, intimidating, and handsome. No tattoos, no body piercings, no gang affiliation, and no saying no to Kurtis. You either worked your ass off in his class or you were persona non grata. Like me, it took a while for him to find his athletic niche. The Marines were not a good fit for him, so he toyed with the idea of becoming a conditioning coach. Along the way, boxing became his introduction to stardom.  It was both an aerobics class, and an anaerobic class. Start slow with jumping jacks to get the heart rate up, then hammer it half to death with sprinting a half gym, beating an 80 lb. punching bag, and slow the heart rate down while doing wall squats.  A killer workout.  Boxing was a win-win for Kurtis and Brick Bodies, the gym where his private class took up two rooms. Over time, he brought in a few stars from his Terps’ days, and others followed. Ray Lewis with the Ravens, and Stan White, Jr., (a former Cincinnati Bengals player), Quint Kessenich, with ABC TV Sports, and lots of ordinary people like me. Kurtis, though for all his height and shouting,  was a puppy dog in a bear’s suit.

I truly believe that if I hadn’t been a runner first, I couldn’t have been a boxer second, and a Tennis nut third. From running to punching to hitting a bag or a ball you need stamina, devotion, dedication and focus. Proper form is crucial to keeping injury at bay. I know that if Kurtis ever returned to MD, I’d not quit tennis for boxing, but I’d certainly invite him to play a game or two. If only he’d been my gym teacher in Field Hockey or Basketball, I might have been a standout lacrosse player in my day. Or, not.

 

 

 

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