My arms trembled as I struggled to keep my chin above the bar. Jaws clenched, I tightened my buttocks, my knees knocking together and lifted them toward my chest…as if that would keep me suspended above the bar.
“Chin up! Don’t let go! You can do it!” I could hear words of encouragement from Penny, the mom who took me to field day and supported me.
I hung for what seemed like forever, and when my arms gave out my chin instantly slid below the bar and my feet hit the ground. It was sheer determination that enabled me to stand on those wobbly shaking legs. It was a good thing I’d already participated in the broad and triple jumps, but I still had the 50 yard dash ahead of me.
Though I was never a great athlete, I suppose one could say that I had potential for adventure. I enjoyed all the “tom boy” things in childhood like climbing trees, playing kickball, and riding motorcycles. Maybe it was those very experiences that helped me excel at “field day” and the “turkey trot”.
I generally placed in the top three of most events at my own school. I was never allowed to continue to compete at the combined field day until that year. My parents didn’t attend those sorts of things, but that year the mother of my friends, Mike and Sunny, offered to take me with them to compete.
I hardly slept the night before and was ready well before they arrived. It was about a thirty minute ride over a mountain to get to the other elementary school. Back then, we did not have to wear seat belts. Heck, Penny’s van didn’t even have seats except for the driver and front passenger seats. We started out sitting in the back on cushions. We slid off on the first curve. We bounced from side to side, rolled front to back, and at times clung to one another to remain upright. By the time we arrived, we were a bit light headed and sick to our stomachs.
Nothing like adding popcorn, cotton candy, coke, and hot dogs to a queasy tummy…mine must have been made with lead because it was all I imagined heaven to offer. I spent every last cent my parents gave me on junk food and games.
I felt so “worldly” being let loose to find my events, allowed to fend for myself, and trusted to show up at the van at the end of the day. Somehow Penny managed to find each of us at our scheduled events to cheer us on. Mike and I usually were rough and tumble with one another. Actually, he usually threw balls at me and pushed me around, but that day we palled around and had fun without my getting beat upon.
When the day was over, I had a rainbow of ribbons on my wrist. I placed a blue (first place) in the flex arm hang. I got second (red ribbon) for the triple jump and third (yellow ribbon) in the broad jumps. I only placed forth (green ribbon) in the dash. On the way home, we were too tired to even try to hold ourselves up in the van. We let the curves take us where they wanted. Mike and I physically butted heads a time or two, though we didn’t argue once that day.
Once I hit middle school, my sporting days were over. My mother insisted, “You don’t want your legs to look all muscular like a boy. Besides, girls need to be ladylike.” I still roamed the woods, ran along our property, and rode motorcycles with my cousins. I also had a female cousin my age who was quite the athlete. When we played ball, her brother always called me a sissy. He was trying to insult me (truth was that even I could throw better than he could!), but I liked being referred to as being feminine.
At school, I started pulling the dainty girl act. I always thought I did it because I knew my mother wouldn’t allow me to play sports and I’d have to explain that to the PE teachers who also coached the school teams. Now, I wonder if I did it more because I knew in going to a larger school, I no longer rated in the top three places of all events. Maybe, I just didn’t like losing.
I’m happy to know that the activities I enjoy now are no longer labeled by society as “sissy” or “tomboy”. I enjoy a wide variety of activities which include sewing, writing, and hiking. At least now, if they were labeled, I’d still choose to do them because I find them enjoyable. It’s nice to reach an age of comfort in life where I can choose to participate in the things that bring me joy. I’ve also learned that winning or losing is truly the least important aspect of most things I do. I’m finding the journey itself to be the best prize of all.