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Confessions of a Left Brained Jock 

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Confessions of a Left Brained Jock

May 1993

By Catherine Kitcho

Some people are not naturally athletic. I was one of those people. My first clue should have been that first Phys Ed class in eighth grade. Phys Ed requirements were the only unpleasant memories of John F. Kennedy; he was the "fitness president" who instituted a national initiative for physical fitness for all Americans, and left this legacy that would torture entire generations of adolescents for years to come. My first Phys Ed teacher had a menacing presence to her that made my father and brother look like wimps. Girls' Phys Ed was held in the school gymnasium, and the visiting team's locker room was used for the girls; lots of snickers as to what that funny-looking sink was used for.

We did tumbling, I got floor burns. We did baseball, I didn't understand how the game worked. No one chose me for the team. I got over it - until I got to Freshman Phys Ed in college. Another year of torture. First quarter: robe burns. Second quarter: figure skating! Now here was something I could relate to. Class was held at the hockey rink. The first day of class, our instructor (who looked like Mike Ditka in drag) gathered all 65 of us in a group. She told us to put on the skates and then skate forward to test our experience level. The students in this class ranged in ability from sequin-adorned Olympic hopefuls to people who had their skates on backwards. I was somewhere in between. I was regaining confidence halfway through the quarter when I was sideswiped by a hockey player. I recovered from the injury just in time to take my final. Spring quarter was tennis - an easy "A". Our instructor was very thorough the first two weeks, and taught us how to correctly serve the ball. Unfortunately for me, the instruction stopped there. The instructor announced that the whole rest of the quarter would be one long tennis tournament - and have fun! I was doomed. I couldn't return the ball. No one wanted me for a partner. I became the local serving consultant and barely passed the course. Whew. I was finally home free.

After that, life was fine. But then, I discovered to my horror that the men in my life seemed to take an interest in sports. Even worse, they were more interested in getting ME to participate in sports with them. Somewhere along the way in each relationship they have seemed to have developed the irresistible temptation to make me into a jock. They have suffered for it - but not as much as I have.

Phil decided that sailing would be neat. Oh - and look - here was a Saturday-Sunday course held in one of the lagoons off San Francisco Bay - hey, why not? After being thrown into the 60-degree water fully clothed to see if we could pass the "float" test, we were dragged out of the water dripping wet, shown how to tie knots, then each of us (still dripping wet) were put into a wooden six-foot El Toro sailboat and shown the basics. The instructor (a little impatient French guy with a temper) paraded back and forth on the bank of the lagoon with a bullhorn yelling instructions at us. I was the recipient of most of the yelling - "No, no, no! Tiller toward ze sail! No, no, no. Tiller away from ze sail!" He obviously couldn't make up his mind. I had the honor of being the first to capsize. When the El Toros capsize, they sink to the bottom of the lagoon and they have to be fished out with the instructor's power boat - which made him yell some more. Needless to say, I didn't come close to earning my sailing certificate. Phil went on to eventually take Bay Sailing and loved it. I hated him for it.

My next male companion, Michael, had possibilities. He had looks, money, and after months of flirtation, asked me out. To play racquetball. I made up some excuse about a schedule conflict. At the next opportunity, I asked him out for dinner and a movie; normal dating activities, in my book. We dated for a few months doing normal things, and then I realized it wouldn't last. Michael was a jock with a capital "J". He was an expert skier, a licensed pilot, had done skydiving, sailing, scuba diving, rowing, racquetball, tennis, and every team sport ever invented. It was only a matter of time before he'd try to get me involved. It happened on Fourth of July weekend. We sat around on Friday night trying to decide what to do. I was thinking "wine tasting". He said, "I know, let's go canoeing!" Uh oh.

In less than an hour, we had packed camping gear, his canoe, river guidebooks, and we were on our way. I tried desperately to protect my shame of being a klutz. "But Michael - I don't know the first thing about this!" He assured me he would teach me everything I needed to learn. A sense of doom settled in. How long would the relationship last once I'd been found out? As we were putting the canoe in the water, he gave me a 5-minute lesson on how to execute a "J" stroke. It was dismal. I didn't know the bow from the stern. I learned quickly - the person who sits in the bow gets the windburn on her face. It's also that person's job to keep the canoe from running aground. Except that I didn't know that until after the fact. I improved, though. Eventually, I was able to report that we were GOING to run aground, rather than WE HAVE run aground. The best part of the trip was camping out at night, knowing I wouldn't have to get back in the canoe again for a few hours.
In December,Michael and I were still seeing each other, to my amazement. He decided it was time I learned to ski. I contemplated finding another lover, thinking that the relationship was doomed, but decided that it was a poor time of year to find another date for the holidays. We packed up the van, rented equipment for me and headed off to his condo near (where else?) Squaw Valley. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for me, the condo and Squaw Valley were both snowed in. We had to stay in a motel near a smaller ski area. Michael said he would give me lessons, and proceeded to do so on the bunny slope while we waited for the lifts to open. I had made the mistake of telling him I had taken ice skating in college. "Wonderful!", he said, "then you know all about edges! Just go up to the top of that little hill there, and just pretend you're on ice skates." The bunny slope was the size of Mount McKinley. Facing forward and slightly bent, I held my breath and gave it a try. I promptly went straight down the hill and plowed into a pine tree. As he came to my side to inspect the damage, I said through the clenched teeth I had left, "I think I should sign up for beginner lessons - why don't you go have fun on the expert slopes?" He relented.

My next torturist was David. I had recovered from the stress fracture I received from aerobic dancing, and the doctor prescribed no weight bearing exercise - only walking or bicycling was allowed. And wouldn't you know it? David had been a bicyclist for at least ten years and would love to teach me how to ride a bike.

I grew up in the country without paved streets, traffic signals, or traffic. The bike I had as a kid was one speed, had wide handlebars and balloon tires. I mastered that bike and rode it until I went to college. That was the last time I had been on a bike. Now, fifteen years later, David decided it was time I had a REAL bike, one that I could ride on suburban streets; in traffic. Right. The bike had incredibly skinny tires, curved handlebars, shift levers on the lower crossbar, and - my worst fear - toe clips. Now I could really kill myself on a bike. David insisted all these things were necessary to ride properly. We got the bike, took it to the school parking lot down the street. He tried to explain how to flip the pedal over during the upstroke so that I could get my left foot into the toe clip. He said it would be easier to do that if I looked down to see where the pedal was. I looked at him, incredulous. "Try it once," he said. I did. Splat. I was sprawled on the pavement, the bicycle stuck to me via the infamous toe clip. I yelled, "I told you these were a bad idea!" The next day, we worked on shifting. We headed off to a slightly hilly neighborhood. On my first shift attempt, I veered off to the right, off the road, and straight into a mailbox, which, luckily for me, was surrounded by a pile of redwood compost. I told David to go off riding by himself. The next day, I took the bike back to the store and had them make a mountain bike out of it, with the shift knobs on wide handlebars. No biking invitations since then.

Scuba diving was next. Now it was time for the really dangerous sports. Scuba is one of those things that requires so much training that somewhere in the middle of it all you decide you really love it or really hate it. I wasn't sure. During one of the countless pool exercises, I discovered I was not neutrally buoyant - meaning - that I had to have a weight belt on to even skin dive. This presented a problem with one of the skills that had to be learned in order to pass certification. It was called "removal and retrieval of weight belt while on scuba". Even with a 20 pound air tank on my back, as soon as I released that belt, my fins flew into the air like Chicken of the Sea, and I was face first down in the water hanging on the strap of the weight belt, now resting on the bottom of the pool. It was not a pretty picture.

David informed me after the scuba experience that he has finally figured out why I'm such a klutz when it comes to sports. He's convinced that it's because I'm left-brained and tend to analyze everything in order to learn these skills. I've had some time to think about this while recovering from my most recent injuries. There could be some logic to it.

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