Tear out the timid

You might find it difficult to believe, but I was once quite timid. I had the same intellect and abilities back then, but I lacked the confidence to share them widely. I did not often advocate for my ideas or say what I thought. 

By now you are likely thinking, “This is the sports section, lady, not a self-help book.” 

So what does my loss of timidity have to do with sports? Absolutely everything!

It was sports – or more precisely – throwing myself into numerous athletic endeavors that changed me from spectator to heroine of my own life. Getting fit allowed me to tear out the timid and let my personal authenticity shine. 

I first noticed the connection between an able body and a strong sense of self when I joined a kickboxing studio after my dad died. I started kickboxing to exhaust my body and release my sadness and frustration. Kickboxing succeeded instantly in meeting those goals.

But I did not succeed instantly at kickboxing. One of the Marines who ran the school worked for thirty minutes just to get me to punch a striking dummy with any force. Then he had to spend another hour trying to get me to punch his hand and chest, which were padded to the hilt. 

I noticed that I was alone in this problem. The younger girls in class – and they were all much younger – didn’t hesitate to put everything they had behind a punch or a kick to any part of an opponent’s body, padded or not.

I began to wonder why I had such a fear of hurting others, while my classmates seemed to have none of it. 

I thought that maybe the age gap had something to do with it. I was just entering school when Title IX was signed into law, ensuring that everyone had equal access to federally funded education and activities regardless of differences, including gender.

In my experience, though Title IX was conformed to in the sports arena, its application had yet to pick up momentum during my primary school years. Often the result was spotty equality given grudgingly or after a protracted battle.

By the time the twenty-something Bruce Lees in my kickboxing class entered first grade, equality in sports was more widespread and pretty much business as usual. Could some of the differences between us have to do with my understanding that a sports education was a privilege granted rather than deserved, while the younger set understood it as a right to which they were entitled?  Had their early and abundant sports training given them the self-assuredness I still sought? Had the lower expectations and opportunities for girls in athletics during my formative years limited my aspirations? All signs pointed to yes.

But the differences didn’t stop there. These girls were tough. Once after landing a punch that started her male sparring partner’s nose bleeding, I heard the woman who caused the wellspring taunt her bloody opponent. This kickboxing chick assumed no blame and felt no remorse. Where I would have dropped my guard and my advantage to apologize madly, this girl played the game. The result? Her sparring partner laughed and re-entered the ring while daubing his nose to check that the flood had subsided. 

It was as if these individuals had been raised with a different rulebook. That through being treated as equals in sports, they treated one another as equals in life. I cannot describe how hopeful this thought made me, after I got over my initial horror at the scene. 

Sports make us confident, outspoken fighters who do not look to harm anyone, but understand the risks we take and have the respect to play fair.

Watching these kickboxers flow, I realized that they were fluent in a language I had yet to learn. They spoke sport and that made them different. They trusted their bodies to act and react. They had developed coordination and strategy to an involuntary level, while my brain still sent separate messages for each arm or leg movement in a punch or footwork combination. They saw a kick coming and blocked it. They saw an opening and landed a glove.

Though the examples I have cited have been female, this phenomenon is not gender exclusive. Whether, female or male, sports and fitness pursuits instill pride, confidence and self-reliance. When your muscles are able and your body moves well, you have a happy sense of self that allows you to meet the eyes of others and to say what you think.  When we feel strong, we act strong.

Though I may never be a girl who taunts an opponent, I will never again be one who demurs from hurling an uppercut or roundhouse kick with intent and flow. Sports have done that for me and will do that for anyone. 

Before we were tamed. Before we grew self-conscious. Before we shied away from physical movement and contact, we were self-confident and capable. We were our authentic, athletic and beautiful selves. 

I urge you to tear out the timid. Exercise your way back to yourself, then share the self you find with everyone. The world is waiting to meet the real you.

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