Athletics Back in the Day

What were your first athletic adventures or interests?

Athletics was not a big part of my childhood. We did not have television until I was about 15, so until then I was spared developing ear damage caused by my dad sitting on the couch and cheering on the BC Lions and the Vancouver Canucks, so loudly that they could hear him even if they were playing on the other side of the continent! When we did get TV, I tried to escape the house during those televised sporting events. My parents were not personally involved in any kind of formal sports, and there were not many children’s teams when I was young, especially not for girls. My younger brothers did play baseball in their elementary years, but those were all-boy teams.

When we lived in Revelstoke, the ski hill right outside of town was famous for its ski-jump, and some world championships were held there. I have very vague memories of standing on the hill watching the ski-jumping, looking up, up, up at the skiers leaning in a low arc over their skis high in the air above the jump slope. But our family did not take up skiing until I was 14 years old, although when we did it became a consuming part of my teen years. When we moved to Rutland when I was five, a big part of community life was the annual May Days with a big parade that ended up at the community park where there was a community base-ball tournament going on all weekend. On very rare occasions, we would go bowling; I was not particularly talented, and remember the shame one time of ending up with a score of 5 for the entire game! We did a lot of hiking up in the hills around our place, but of course that was just for fun; we didn’t purposely “exercise”: walking to schools and stores and friends’ houses, biking, softball with the neighbor kids in the empty lot next door, all-day hikes in the hills in the summer, playing hide-and-seek and prune-wars and other very active games were just every-day parts of life, and we were so active that we didn’t need special activities.

Living in the sunny Okanagan from the time I was five, we of course did a lot of swimming in the lake in the summertime, and faithfully every year, my mom would sign us up for two weeks Red Cross swim lessons at the beach at Kelowna City Park. And just as predictably, my dad would suddenly decide, about 3 or 4 days into the lessons, to take the family off on another camping trip, and so of course we’d never finish the lessons. After taking the basic level 3 or 4 years running, my mom finally gave up, and allowed us to figure out how to sink or swim on our own. We did have some friends from the coast who had a motor-boat. They would come up to the Okanagan most summers, and we would get to ride the boat, and when I was about 10 or so I learned the basics of water-skiing.

Athletics was also not a part of our early school experience. Our elementary school did not have a gymnasium until I was in grade six. School was about the 3 R’s in those days, and things like art and physical education were almost totally non-existent. Of course, we had to be outside before and after school, and at recess and lunch time, and we played all kinds of games like skipping, marbles, playing on the swings, bouncing balls and so on. When I was in grade 5 or so, one of the teachers taught us the basics of softball, and we’d play “catch-up” ball out in the field in the spring and fall. The summer I was going into grade six, a gymnasium was built, and so started our training in athletics. I mostly remember doing endless amounts of jumping jacks, sit-ups, and running around the outside edges of the gym floor, round and round and round. I also have vague memories of volleyball, and I suppose we must have been introduced to basketball and so on.

Oddly enough, athletics suddenly became very important when we reached high school, and all the schools in our district, and indeed in our province, were highly competitive. Our school, with only about 400 students when I was in grade 8, regularly won provincial championships against schools with between one to two thousand students. Needless to say, with that level of atheticism, getting onto a school team was difficult. However, in grade 8 I tried out for the grade 8 girl’s grass hockey team, managed to get on it, and once in a while even got to play. Unfortunately, I wasn’t good enough to make the Junior Girls’ team (grades 9 and 10), so ended up being team manager, as I loved the sport, and wanted to be involved in some way. Being under 5 feet tall at that point, getting onto the basketball and volleyball teams was out of the question. Girls’ sports choices were not as wide as the boys’; we could not play floor or street hockey, soccer, or rugby in Phys Ed or on teams, as those sports were considered too dangerous for girls, and the girls had to play soft-ball instead of base-ball. So I played the “boy sports” all the time outside of school, with friends, mostly older guys, and when, in grade 12, girls were finally permitted to play floor-hockey in Phys Ed, I was sidelined by the teacher, because I played too rough! We did have annual ski lessons when we were in high school, half a dozen times a year. But we did not to to the skating rink, the bowling alley, the swimming pool, or any other of those kinds of athletic events such as schools provide nowadays.

I was not fast enough for the track team, although in the annual school-wide track and field day, someone twisted my arm to sign up to run the mile for our house team. It turned out to be about 100 Fahrenheit that day, and as usual, the house team scores were very close, and the mile run was the last event of the day. The runners from the other house teams, who were all good runners, but worn out from other events, decided not to run the race, so I slowly jogged the course, and earned enough points to put my team over the top! Many, many years later, my daughter, who is a really good athlete, was at a regional track meet, and basically the same thing happened. Again it was the end of a long, hot day. Although she was feeling really sick, I encouraged her to run anyway. Two other runners started, but dropped out. She wanted to drop out too, but her mean old mom ran out into the field and ran along beside her for the last couple laps of the track, cheering her on, until she stumbled across the finish line, and put her team’s points over the top.

We did have annual ski lessons when we were in high school, half a dozen times a year. But we did not to to the skating rink, the bowling alley, the swimming pool, or any other of those kinds of athletic events such as schools provide now-a-days.

Posted: Aug 23, 2008

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