Jessie Raymond: Don’t have what it takes, and that’s fine

Last week I saw an article claiming that, in living rooms all around the country, viewers were watching Olympic performances and saying to themselves, “I think I could do that.”
Really? I didn’t even feel that way when the games cut to a commercial for mopping.
I do stand in awe of the Olympic athletes, but I’ve never felt that I could be one. When a future Olympian is 8 or 9, their parents, recognizing the child’s potential, pack up the family, move to Colorado and build a regulation ski jump in the back yard.
When I was 9, my only skill was spelling, which my parents recognized without interrupting whatever they had been doing. No matter how well I could spell, there was no chance they were going to move us across the country so I could grow up closer to the more competitive spelling bees.
I’ve always lacked athleticism. Look at gold-medal snowboarder Red Gerard. He does multiple insane airborne moves and lands on his feet, and he’s only 17. When I was 17, I almost tried out for cross-country, which I thought sounded lovely until I found out that it involved mostly (entirely) running. 
It’s not just that these athletes are, for the most part, quite young. They also have strength, speed, coordination, competitiveness and blindingly white teeth. I have none of these.
So, while I can be amazed at the snowboarder who does a backside triple cork 1440, I never think, “I could do that.” Hell, half the time I can’t carry a laundry basket through a narrow doorway without skinning my knuckles.
I don’t have what it takes. But what does it take? Natural ability? Opportunity? A flair for looking good in branded merchandise?
I avoided sports throughout my childhood, but I somehow ended up at a private high school that — cruelly — required participation in three sports per year. The joke, however, was on them: I diminished the quality of every team I was forced to play on.
One year, I exploited a loophole that allowed students to substitute the school play for a sport. But I got the best of them there, too: I was as bad an actor as I was a right-fielder. I had a motto: “You can make me participate, but you can’t make me excel.”
The school’s rationale, I suppose, was that playing sports is good for your body, plus it teaches you about teamwork and builds character.
That sounds reasonable, but it was lost on me. As the weakest competitor on the thirds soccer team, for example, I never experienced the same sort of euphoria that the better athletes seemed to feel. I rarely made it off the bench, and, to be honest, I didn’t want to. When I got put in the game, I was expected to know what position I was playing and what “offsides” was. Who needs that kind of pressure?
Watching the Olympics, I noticed that the athletes all said the same thing right before they went for the gold: “I’m just going to throw everything down.”
Hm. I’ve never “just thrown everything down,” unless you count last Thursday, when I tried to get the laundry basket through that stupid door again. (I threw down the laundry, and I kicked the wall, too. Knuckle scrapes hurt.)
Wait. Now that I think of it, I unintentionally threw everything down — in an athletic sense — the other morning while trying to go for a walk on the Trail Around Middlebury. I found that, despite the warm temperatures, the trail was still solid ice — and wet — and I hadn’t worn my ice cleats.
After 15 minutes of struggling to find my footing up a slight incline, during which I crept along the edge of the trail and held onto trees, I made it only about 50 yards. Giving up, I turned around and faced downhill, hoping to make my way out of the woods one sapling at a time.
But not long into the proceedings I lost my grip and found myself adrift in the center of the slick trail. Flailing as I gained momentum, I caught my toe on an exposed root and inadvertently launched — and briefly landed — a flying camel before coming to rest in a snow bank.
That night, watching the Olympic athletes compete, I applauded their performances.
“I can’t do any of that,” I thought. “And that’s OK.”

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