Every class has one… an archetypal, chubby, clumsy child who can’t hit, catch, throw or save a ball for toffee. That child was me.
One of my earliest memories is standing, shivering, on the poolside and wondering why all my classmates had such dainty, slender legs compared to my thunder thighs. (I still have a complex about being seen in a swimsuit).
PE lessons were a joy. I was always the last one to be picked for teams and still burn with shame recalling the regular stand off between two captains. (‘Oh come on. We had her last week – it’s your turn’…’No, you have her’) while I studied my plimsole laces.
Other memories (finishing miles behind my classmates in the 100m…being forced to attempt the high jump, in a mixed class, in a leotard and ending up straddling the bar while guffaws rang out… cruel, cruel days) have been banished to the deepest recesses of my mind.
During prize-giving assemblies I would gaze in undisguised envy at the gleaming trophies bestowed upon my talented peers… acutely aware that one would never, ever be coming my way.
Life would be very different now if I hadn’t been ‘persuaded’ to make up the numbers of a Race for Life team 14 years ago while working for a magazine in London.
The first training stagger round a football pitch was hell (and not just because, with the absence of a sports bra, my 34E bosom was bouncing merrily away). My heart was beating so fast I seriously thought I was going to die. But I built up to two then three laps.
Even worse was the conviction that everyone would laugh at the sight of me in running gear. After all those years, the catcalls and jeers still rang in my ears. But I quickly discovered that no-one is looking. In fact, no-one gives two hoots. They’re all too busy getting on with their own lives to take an interest in whether your backside looks big in running tights. And that’s what I always tell wannabe runners who only venture out after dark or when no-one else is around. It sounds harsh but, in the nicest possible way, ‘get over yourself, love’. No-one cares.
On the day of the race, I was amazed to find it wasn’t that bad. I even overtook some runners.
Even more surprisingly, I felt good as I crossed the finish line and basked in the sense of success… pride even. Buoyed up by my medal and endorphines, I bought a sports bra and a decent pair of trainers. I joined a running club and progressed to 10ks, then half-marathons then marathons.
The older I got, and the more I trained, the better I got – even after two children. When, at a local 10k, I was presented with a gleaming trophy as the first veteran ie. old lady to cross the line, I was sure they’d made a mistake. (Eight years on I’m still waiting for the knock on the door requesting its return).
With each birthday I’ve become more adventurous. I upgraded my granny bike with shopping basket for a sports bike (the leany over handlebars, and clip-in pedals took some getting used to) and took up triathlon. I’ve gone from nancy-girl novice (overcoming an irrational terror of swimming in open water) to half ironman and, this summer, I’ll be attempting my first Ironman event (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and full marathon).
I’ve also completed both the summer and sub-zero winter versions of Tough Guy Nettle Warrior – an endurance race involving electric shocks, eight foot high nettles, and leaping through fire – which left me with a cracked rib and impressive bruises.
But those school memories will always be there. My children aren’t nearly as inept as I was but, sadly, they have inherited my ‘go-slow, plod-on’ genes. Needless to say, I dread school sports day. With the emphasis on speed and sprinting it’s an exercise in humiliation for those not blessed with the genes of Usain Bolt. And that’s just the mums’ race. In my first and last attempt six years ago, it was like stepping back in time. I found myself bringing up the rear – behind a skirt-flying, barefoot flurry of super-speedy, sharp-elbowed mums. (How can you never exercise and still score a sub 10 second 100 metres? How? How?) It triggered all sorts of flashbacks. Call me a miserable old boot, but I’ve resolutely refused to take part ever since. In fact, I’d quite like to see the mums’ race banned.
But hopefully, due to my efforts, my children will grow up realising that you don’t have to be fast to enjoy – and excel – in sport.
I won’t ever be able to catch, throw, hit or save a ball. But, hopefully, with my Ironman medal around my neck, I won’t care.