A Good Sport (cont.)

… The last time I rode a bicycle, my thighs hurt so badly after three blocks that I had to get off the bike and wobble home. I haven’t tried again. Some days my right arm can barely hold the weight of a dinner plate, so I’ve given up trying to bowl or play pool.  

After several incidents of tripping over invisible bumps on the sidewalk and losing my balance while practically standing still, I started to redefine my persona. I buried the part of myself that was once able to throw a Frisbee the length of a football field. I became an observer, not a jock. I read books; I didn’t play soccer. I meditated and stretched. I made myself forget the beauty of a tennis ball hitting the center of my racquet and sailing over the net. 

But when a certain hunky outdoorsman named Matt came into my life, I was reminded of forgotten parts of myself. When he gave me the tour of his house, I was mesmerized by the weathered punching bag that hung from his basement ceiling. He handed me a pair of boxing gloves and left me alone with the bag and my fears. And I beat the crap out of that thing. I stopped every few seconds, afraid I might pull all the muscles in my back or wake up the next day too tired to walk. But as the rage and determination and sadness and joy all poured out, I kept on punching. My face flushed and my body grew moist with sweat. My breath became labored. It felt like coming home. The next day I ached a bit, but it was that exquisite soreness that follows a satisfying workout.

Last week, I had dinner at my friend Felicia’s house, when her friend Sam said, “I swam in the Bay today. I’m training for the Alcatraz swim.”

“I biked for thirteen miles and then ran four miles around Golden Gate Park,” Felicia bantered back. “That’s longer than the triathlon I’m doing next month.”

“Oh, yeah?” I piped up. “Well I climbed a ladder today. I was helping Matt work on his boat and I had to climb a ladder to get up there.”

That confidence was still with me the day I shut the door to Matt’s house, accidentally locking his house keys inside. My apologies couldn’t make a spare set appear. His neighbors were out of town; his car keys and cell phone were trapped in the back bedroom.  

We walked around the house like burglars staking out a property. The bathroom window was open a crack. My fingers tingled with anticipation.

“Let me climb in the window,” I said without hesitation. I knew I could fit through the open window. I just didn’t know how I’d do it.  

Then, that lost tomboy inner-child of mine grabbed a black plastic bucket, threw it on the ground upside down, and stepped on top of it while leaning on Matt’s shoulder. I maneuvered my left leg through the open window and straddled the sill sideways. 

“Now what are you going to do?” Matt asked as I dangled three feet above his blue-tiled floor. 

“I may not be strong, but I’m flexible,” I said as I gripped his hand. “I can do this.”

My thigh scraped against the ridges of the sill as I slowly slid down the inside wall. My left foot landed squarely on the gleaming tile. I felt the grace of a perfect ballet stretch, the passion of an all-out karate kick, the delight of my ten-year-old self jumping down from our crabapple tree.

There may come a day when I will not be able to get up a ladder or slide across a window frame, but today I can. And as I massage the tender rainbow-colored bruise on my inner right thigh, I know it is the mark of an athlete.