Last Word: The Sports Gene

Growing up, our neighbors had a small duck pond that in the winter became my personal skating rink. Sometimes after school I’d walk over, shovel off the snow and work on my short program.

It was exactly the same as the one Alexis Winston did in Ice Castles when she wore the pretty, blue skating dress that gruff-but-kindhearted Coach Beulah had specially embroidered with her name on the collar, but Lexie was too embarrassed to wear after she became famous, then wore again when she finally pulled off the triple axel despite being blind and tripping over the flowers at the end.

The only difference being that my routine didn’t include any spins, flips, jumps, loops, lutzes, salchows, lifts, camels or anything other than a few wobbly passes around the ice, combined with some impromptu backwards skating, usually resulting in a massive wipeout, before wrapping up practice for the day.

When I eventually realized that I was never going to be chosen for the Olympics, let alone medal, I turned my attention to my other passion; gymnastics.

With no formal training, instruction or a single gymnastics class under my belt, I went out for the sport in middle school.

Oh sure, I had spent countless hours in our front yard nailing down a forward roll, but my cartwheel needed serious work and I’d never even heard of a back handspring, let alone a vault.

That didn’t stop me. I just assumed that the coach would teach me everything I needed to know.

I was surprised, then, when Ms. Bothwell, also my unforgiving gym teacher, dismissed me on the first day with nothing more than a bewildered look before moving on to instruct the other girls who already knew how to do all sorts of gravity-defying tumbles and didn’t appear to need the least bit of help with any of them.

Put off, I ended up quitting, but not before competing in a regional meet first. After seeing my lame-duck name on the roster, the judges threatened to disqualify the team if I didn’t do my floor exercise, which might not have been so bad, if I’d had one.

Instead, for 90 glacial seconds, I ran wildly along the mats, improvising faux-ballet leaps and jumps, while adding a couple of somersaults for good measure, until the final notes of “If I Were a Rich Man” (the instrumental version), blared out from the speakers.

From what I remember, no one clapped when it was over and the judges’ score was lower than the daily interest earned on my checking account.

The following year I tried out for the school band color guard. There were 10 spots and 12 of us trying out. It was an intense battle of marching and flag-spinning. When the dust settled, 10 lucky girls had been chosen, along with one alternate, leaving me as the only one who didn’t make the cut and effectively ending any future aspirations I had to ever do a sport of any kind.

Not much has changed since becoming an adult. Throughout the years I’ve attempted to improve my abysmal athletic skills but without much success.

I tried Zumba a few years ago, and was consistently the one person mamboing to the right while everyone else was doing the salsa to the left. Instead of executing steamy Latin dance moves, my awkward dancing looked more like I was trying to hail a cab during rush hour or learning how to swim after accidentally falling into the deep end.

And for good measure, the large floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the studio revealed things about myself that I didn’t necessarily want to know, like the Rockettes can rest easy knowing there’s one less person in the world competing for their job, and that stretch pants only look good from the front.

The upside is that I recently read an article saying scientists have discovered a special gene that athletes and other sporty people are apparently born with, enabling them to do more than sweat and mouth-breathe while walking the treadmill at its lowest setting.

If true, I’m pretty sure that it explains why other people can do stuff like ski and play volleyball, while my abilities are limited to laundry-changing and getting the mail without breaking a leg.

It also lets me off the hook. The winter Olympics are next year and my short program needed a lot of work.


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