Yeah, a lot of us grow up with childhood dreams of being great athletes. Professional athletes. Olympic atheletes. Some of us actually do… become world-class atheletes, or at least end up being pretty good at some sport or another along the way. Last night I was watching the Rio Olympics, and I started thinking about all the things I tried in my attempts to become one of those world-class athletes, or just be pretty good at one sport or another.
For example: I wanted to be a professional quarterback. At the time I saw myself as another Bart Star, the Hall of Fame quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. Also, at the time, I was a sophomore in High School, weighed a massive 118 pounds, was slow as a snail, and could throw a football maybe 20 yards. I was a quarterback on the Junior Varsity team, third string, and rarely played in games which nobody went to see anyway. I read every book I could find, studied playbooks, worked out, practiced hard, and hoped that all of the effort would make up for my total lack of natural talent. It was never going to happen, and of course, it didn’t. I got discouraged after my junior year, realizing I would never start varsity, never play in college let alone get a scholarship, and gave up football to work at a fast food restaurant
Then I decided I was going to be a professional golfer. I hit a few golf balls with my Dad, and decided this could be something I could be good at. You didn’t have to be big. You could be thin and wiry, and you could still hit a golf ball a country mile. My hero at the time was professional golfer, Tom Watson. I again started reading everything I could find about how to play golf, practiced hard, and hoped my efforts would make up for my lack of natural talent. I wasn’t any good, never got any good, and still play some to this day, although “play” has a totally different meaning for how I hack a round of golf. For a time, in my 40s, I even thought I could be good enough to make the Senior Tour. Well, no, I finally gave up when I discovered I couldn’t drive a golf ball straight and over 100 yards no matter what I did. Most of the time my drives end up on the women’s tee box or just past it, if the ball should actually land in the fairway.
Maybe football and golf weren’t my games, so I decided to try track and field. Remember, I was slow as a snail, so the only events at the high school level that I might be able to compete in were distance races; the mile, or the two-mile. So I practiced and ran and ran and ran. Dreaming, of course, to be a State Champion and then get a scholarship to run for USC, then on to the Olympic Trials, and Olympic Gold. I ran the mile, once in competition and took third at a time of 5:32. I was third out of a race of four and beat the fourth place finisher by maybe a half second. I was damn proud at the time though as you can tell by the fact that I still remember the actual time. I ran the two-mile twice in competition and finished last in both races, way last, and felt like I was going to die. It only took me one year to realize that State Champion was not ever going to be in my future.
I tried wrestling as a freshman. We practiced in a room that had the temperature turned up to over 100. You could lose 5 to 10 pounds every practice, and weight was important. When I wrestled, I needed to get at or below 103 pounds at weigh in. After you weighed in, you ate 20 candy bars, six oranges and drank as much as you could get down. I wrestled in competition once against a Crow Indian from Hardin, Montana. I was losing the match by more than 10 points so my only hope was to pin this guy in the last period. I took the up position, cross-faced the dude so hard that his nose started to gush blood, and I flipped him over and drilled my chin into his chest until I felt like I was going to drive through his ribs. The referee hit the mat and blew the whistle. The fans who were there that night said that I jumped up three feet off the mat. It just so happened that the junior college was playing a game after the meet, so there was a pretty good crowd gathering in the gym. When I pinned the Indian dude from Montana, the crowd roared. It was pretty exciting to hear the cheering as the referee raised my hand over my head. I quit wrestling the next year. Beating some guy from Montana as a JV wasn’t going to get me into the Olympics, and I really just didn’t like it much.
I gave basketball a try. I had never played basketball, when I tried out for the team as a sophomore. I practiced hard but didn’t make it past the first cut. I had actually scored a basket in the final basketball scrimmage the night of the cut, and I remember distinctly the coach telling the team that I was “the best player he cut this year.” Three of us got cut that night, and the other two could barely walk and chew gum at the same time as I remember.
My last attempt at sports stardom was bowling. Not many people will admit that bowling is a sport, and frankly, I agree with them. I bowled in a drinking league that had a bowling problem, and, as expected, I wasn’t very good. And yes, I read everything I could find, and practiced and tried different equipment, and took lessons, and still sucked. There were “moments” during the three or four years that I bowled in league though. I bowled a few games over 200. I have some patches and pins recognizing my accomplishments, but the biggest win was the $1,500 I won on video poker at the bar before the bowling started one night.
Needless to say, totally without need, in fact, I was never destined to be good at any sport. I could try archery, or ping-pong, or cycling, or diving, or swimming, or volleyball, or baseball, or marathons, or shooting, or soccer, or it wouldn’t matter. As much as I want to be good at some sport, something, I have no natural talent. I don’t care what they say, you will never be a world-class athlete without natural talent. It’s in the genes, just not in mine. And I’m comfortable with that fact, now that I’m older. It wasn’t like I didn’t try.