Ask any ten people and an even dozen will tell you I am not athletic. It’s not that I don’t enjoy vigorous physical activity. I like the feeling of muscles straining and heart pounding. I like to sweat. I like the feeling of utter exhaustion when you can’t go any further. I’ve never been heavily into sports, mainly because of my aversion to silly rules, more anon, but I used to do a lot of hill walking. I enjoy digging up gardens. I used to ride my bicycle everywhere. The season I was stationed at Bedwell, on my longer weekends I rode my bike 15 km from Bedwell Harbour to Otter Bay, catch the ferry, then rode another 30 km from Swartz Bay to my house, then back again for my next round of duty. I miss my bicycle. I enjoy vigorous physical activity. I’m just not very good at it.
I ran over myself with my bicycle. The main sprocket gouged my ankle. Cleaning out the wound when I got home, it was plain two teeth of the gear had gone either side of my Achilles Tendon. With the wound clean you could see the tendon move as I flexed my foot. I still have the scar. Facing it on my other ankle is the scar from when a javelin passed between my tendon and ankle bones in junior high. In other track and field news, I tore a groin muscle hurdling and missed the mats in high jump. I have never tried pole vaulting. Probably for the best.
My speciality in running was to be the eighth fastest boy in my class, however big the class. In elementary school everyone participated so I was on the second string relay team. Stacy and I were the two fastest of the four and we were exactly as fast as each other. We crossed the line neck in neck every time. Our teacher put us in as starter and anchor. I didn’t like the parade for ribbons at the end, and Stacy didn’t like the gun, so I was starter and he was anchor. Warren ran second. Duncan ran third. The time came for our race. The gun fired and I was off. A clean start. I was third in from the outside and made up the stagger on the two outside runners. I increased the gap to all the runners inside. I handed off to Warren cleanly and off he went, running madly. Warren kept the lead, maybe gained a little more, possibly lost just a titch, but there was a lot of space between him and the next runner as he handed off to Duncan. We were going to win. This was a novel experience for us, in our school we were always also rans. The other teams were playing catchup and didn’t have the juice. Duncan walked. He walked his leg as the third runners of the other teams swarmed past him, as Warren and I screamed at him, as Stacy screamed at him, as everyone in the stands from every school screamed at him. When Stacy got the baton he ran like he never had before. He was 50m back on a 100m leg. He gave it his all. We came in last. Distant last.
We beat the crap out of Duncan behind the stands afterward.
I loved basketball as a kid, so my parents signed me up for soccer camp. I didn’t understand it then. I’m not going to try and explain it now. It was during this camp that I scored the one and only soccer goal of my life. I looked up and saw an opposing player approaching me almost nonchalantly. He was hardly guarding the ball at all. I nipped in and stole the ball from him and made my break. I dribbled down the field dodging defenders that seemed to be standing still and dropped the ball neat as you please into the back of the net. Of my own goal. Well after the whistle had blown to stop play.
In my defense, workmen were grinding the paint off the girders in the stands and you couldn’t hear anything. Another day we couldn’t use the field because of the work on the stands and we went indoors to play basketball instead. We all had cleats and street shoes so we played barefoot. The footing got slippery as my feet blistered and broke on the varnished hardwood, but I still played hard. We got in trouble with the custodians who had told us we couldn’t wear street shoes for leaving blood all over the court.
Basketball also serves to show I am not unathletic. Our high school had its jocks as all high schools do. Some of these had superior attitudes. Not usually the superior athletes, but the guys who filled out the squads. One day we were playing basketball in gym class. After a tussle under our net, the ball was passed out to me on the wing and I started down court. One defender stood between me and the basket, hanging around the top of the key. I dribbled past half court as the mass of other players surged up behind me and took a shot from outside the three-point line (or outside where the three-point line would eventually be). It sailed over the defender’s head and plopped through the net. He was furious. Who did I think I was? He was a jock. I did exactly the same thing to him three more times. He swore at me and threatened me. His little mind could not cope. He was a jock. Nerds did not do that to jocks. He got as far as pushing me and yelling at me. One of his friends—a fellow jock, superior player, and teammate for this game—told him to just come out and block me. Don’t let me take the shot. Our little crybaby cursed and swore at his friend, too. He was a jock. Nerds didn’t do that to jocks. They weren’t allowed to.
Gym class on the first day of junior high, all the boys in my gym period were lined up by height to be divided into sections for the term. I was a little ways down the short side of the line. I didn’t have an early growth spurt, but I was a husky lad. Not fat. Husky. I never went through the stage when I was too tall for my mass. We had several kids of the beanpole variety and the teachers started going along the line, pulling out the beanpoles, sending them down the line and replacing them with sturdier kids. I got pulled out of the shorty section and put in with the big kids. I went home in tears that day convinced I was going to die. It might have been a year of contact sports with kids twice my size that inspired my kamikaze attitude, or it might have been that attitude that let me survive it. Wrestling, football, rugby, I didn’t win often, but I had a reputation for being hard to convince I had lost.
I remember one glorious rugby game in senior high in the snow—in a blizzard. We had a student teacher who wasn’t yet overly concerned with his own comfort and played on a half field. You couldn’t see the other side of the pitch let alone the other end. We all played to the same try line, marked by the posts as the snow was knee deep, and had some rule that you had to take the ball out to the 22 meter line and pass three times before going for a try. Lots of running around and bashing into each other in horrible conditions. Not a lot of rules. Brilliant.
I like rugby. Union, not League. Rugby Union is a pure game. Take the ball, get it over the line. Don’t let the other side get the ball. If they have the ball, take it from them. Any game in which the first aid workers have to duck as players vault them is good in my book. Rugby League has some ridiculous rules where if the other side fails to get the ball away from you in five attempts, you have to give it to them so they can have a go. Nu-uh. You want the ball? Take it. American football is even worse. Hut, step-slide, step-slide, throw, catch, butt pat, butt pat, butt pat, “Good show guys. Five minutes for beer and gatorade, then we’ll throw the ball again.” And there’s that guy in the stripes with the hankies prancing around like a Morris Dancer. Spare me.
I like straightforward games. When weather prevented any outside activities in gym class, we would sometimes play Rocker. Rocker was a local school game devised for hurricane level storms. It was played in a half gym with a rugby ball and hockey nets. You were allowed to move each foot once when you had the ball in hand. There was no out of bounds for the ball. You could bounce it off the walls or the floor. You could throw it or kick it. The ball was allowed to bounce once. Goalkeeper was more or less a suicide assignment.
Our other bad weather game was floor hockey. I like hockey. I really like playing floor hockey and street hockey. Fast, physical, simple. As a Canadian I hesitate to admit this, but I have never played ice hockey. I can’t even skate. I did have a girlfriend who plays ice hockey. She’s good. She could kick your butt.