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Travails of a Non-Swimmer

Blast from the Past: Judo, Me & My Chicken Heart

Note: Into my second month of group swimming classes and since I don’t see any progress I’m really getting discouraged. I unearthed the article below from my old site. It was written when I was fifteen years old, after taking a summer of judo lessons. Unfortunately, seeing all the little children around me and feeling too clumsy, hopeless, “old” and “starting too late”, I lost the motivation to continue and quit after my first tournament.

It was a decision I regret to this day.

Twenty years later, as an aspiring swimmer, I’m really down in the dumps about swimming and feel like quitting. But I don’t want to turn 50 and look back and wish I had the insight and wisdom to continue when I felt that things were hopeless at 35, when I felt I was just too old and starting too late.

I hope you enjoy the article even if it’s not about swimming. I think it’s the best I’ve ever written. :)

Judo, Me and My Chicken Heart

11 January 1994

Judo symbol “What are you doing here?” the voice inside my head named Cumback T. Y’ursenses queried.

“I’m not so sure myself,” I muttered, the words coming out low and unintelligible. Pivoting heavily on an unsteady heel I continued leaping ala frog, making an effort to avoid collision with the girl ahead of me. I could imagine my friends regarding me with a mixture of shock and disapproval, saying very sweetly afterward, “You know, Beverly Claire, we’d rather you paint.”

Having been born all elbows and knees, my kind was a chair’s best friend, seemingly born to sit. We are smart, charming, and prefer embroidery to tennis. You see us on the sidelines but never on court. So when I entered the YMCA building and into the gym instead of the library, I knew all logic has left me.

“Ready, fall.” Ten times seemed a thousand as I complied and landed in a clumsy tangle of arms and legs. There goes the imaginary judoka in the pristine white judogi falling gracefully without a grimace. My head-crashing, butt-landing summer affair with Judo had just begun. (My summer affair with that really cute blackbelter instructor, though, has not.)

I came home aching from the nails of my toes to the roots of my hair, assuming I’ll never make it till midnight. After moaning and groaning in bed for half a century, my sister gently suggested that I write my Last Will and Testament.

Yet inspired by something bordering on insanity I came back for the next session. And the next.

If anybody deserved not a Medal of Valor for courage in face of chickening out it had to be me. Me, an average teenager who seldom tried anything because of this…Fear of Failure. Small wonder I was scared stiff with this new sport, unathletic girl that I am. And small wonder I am scared stiff with trying out just about anything I’m not already good at. Chickening out was my way of protecting my fragile self-esteem. A failure was the last thing I wanted to be.

Perhaps it was the tumbles we did all the time, but somehow I came to realize that in this day and age it doesn’t help being a chicken at all. It dawned to me that all my life I’ve been taking a step back because I was afraid to take a chance. I was afraid to try.

No, there was no miraculous turn-around that made me fall madly in love with judo. I did not find it a most satisfying sport after all, like the way those fairy tales end. (About that cute blackbelter, there was not an iota of a fairy tale romance developing between us either.) I find nothing lovely in flying way across the room for a simple front roll, or ending up sprawled all over my back with arms flailing about, unsure which side is which.

And no, this realization did not transform me to a Miss Dare All. My motto did not instantly switch from “A cautious man is a safe man” to “He who hesitates is lost.” I still have my wattles and feathers. But at least I have admitted what was wrong with me. Step 1.

“Go, Beverly Claire.”

Positioning myself for a hip throw, I yanked. The guy–my practice partner– did not budge an inch.

“Bend your knees and spring.” “Pull his arm harder.” “Use your foot.” Coaching from the sidelines.

I tried again. No. Again. Wham.

So there is nothing remarkable in going to judo club three times a week. Yet for this person here, it is a milestone for a chicken heart. Step 2. Overcoming the Fear by actually grappling with it.

In this unforgiving world where timid guys do finish last, I guess it’s important to dare a little, to risk a bit. *Sigh* And it took me all these years to see that.

OK, so I may never win any tournaments and that cute blackbelter will never become my boyfriend (Liven up! He’s years older than you anyway. And besides, you are no competition to that pretty brownbelter), but then I managed to grit my teeth and finally try. That, in my case, is already something.

It doesn’t hurt to try. Easy for them to say. But I’ve found out that it is true, after all. I guess it really doesn’t hurt to try. I think it would help a lot of I keep this in mind as I slide down the banister of life–not only in sports but in all other matters as well. OK, so the splinters may point the wrong way. And the bruises may take ages to heal. But then again it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.

Postscript. Clamping my teeth to keep them from chattering, I tried to get my heart off my throat. It was my first tournament after a month of intensive judo and I was a cross between pre-fight nervousness (normal) and stark terror (not normal). That cute—and super nice—blackbelter came up to me just minutes before my first round match.

“Nervous?” he asked. I nodded dumbly. My heart was pounding mad not so much for him smiling so kindly at me (That charmingly boyish smile!) but for my impending death on the judo mat.

“You’ll do fine,” he patted me on the back reassuringly.

You got it–I was beaten to a pulp. But everybody was pretty nice about it all. No smirks or snide remarks; just encouragement and “next time”s. I ended up a soupy dish all right, but I will be looking forward to that next time.

What a help it would be if I plant firmly in my mind that whoever tries her best–win, lose or draw–is a winner.



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  • ms

    Oooh boy, I remember all the groaning and moaning and your begging me to massage your whole body. I really couldn’t understand why anyone would want to punish their bodies like that. Well, I still don’t. I run but I don’t get ultramarathoners. It’s good to do things you find difficult tho, character building and all that.

    • beverlyclaire

      Hehehe, so you remember! I wish I didn’t quit judo. I mean, looking back now, fifteen was young! I feel that one of the main reasons I’m having such a difficult time with swimming is that I never have persistently practiced a sport where I went from terrible to passable, so I don’t really believe I can do it (especially now at this age). Incremental development, daily progress, body stat monitoring, these things are foreign to my body. I hope that I can stick to swimming this time, though. Ah the lifelong benefits! I absolutely agree with the need to overcome obstacles in order to develop character. Something I really need to work on!

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