Monday, 10 June 2013

I hate sport

I hate sport.

I can pinpoint exactly where this lifelong hatred of organised physical activity in all forms began: my hometown's PCYC, where I was regularly hauled many years ago for afternoons of intense misery in the name of school sport.

You're fat, ugly and useless.  Also everyone hates you, and life isn't fair
Being forced to participate in this stuff at school absolutely killed any innate affection for or interest in sport I may have once had.  I'm quite sure I'm less active today than I would have been had I not been given so many hangups about my body and the way it moves when I was a child.

Let's get one thing clear from the outset: school sport was not about being healthy, being fit, or having fun.  It was about competition.  It was about winning a shiny thing for the school, or at least staying out of the way while someone else did.  If you came last in the first heat you didn't run (or swim, or jump, or throw) again all day, even though the kids who came last were probably the ones who most needed the exercise and practice.  Instead, you sat in the sun with no water watching other kids run, swim, jump or throw.

The particular instance that really sealed the deal for me was trampolining.

For a start, they did that thing where two favourites team captains are chosen and they then pick their team members, calling out names one by one.  At this stage, it was obvious to a dead horse that I had motor skills issues; I dropped things, I bumped into things, I couldn't catch a ball or ride a bike or swim, I had odd posture and gait.  And since both the favourites captains knew sport was about competition and winning, neither wanted me on their team.

The whole class knew who was going to pick who and in which order.  We all knew I was going to be picked last.  But instead of just sorting ourselves into the teams already preordained by the prevailing social order like civilised human beings, we had to go through this drawn-out charade of sorting two dozen or so children into order from most to least desirable by physical aptitude and general popularity.

There was an odd number.

After a long, awkward silence, the teacher arbitrarily assigned me to a team whose leader hated me (although to be fair, that would have been either one) and we approached the behemoth trampoline.  We each had to go individually, with all the other kids watching.  Which does, in hindsight, beg the question of why we even needed to be in teams in the first place.

First problem: I could not get on. Even when I was slender, I've always had trouble lifting myself - out of a swimming pool, for instance, or on monkey bars.  I can carry quite heavy loads under normal circumstances, so I think it's about co-ordination and working out where all the bits of my body should be rather than a simple strength issue.  But while the rest of the class somehow floated onto the shoulder-high trampoline with minimal effort, I had to haul myself up like a sack of spuds, hurting one arm quite badly in the process and occasioning much mirth from the assembled pack of little darlings.  It's unlikely a professional-standard gym didn't have a stool or step of some sort to hand, but that would have deprived me of an important life lesson: nobody gives a shit about you and your problems.

Second problem: we had to do this move that was basically a faceplant - you bounced once standing up like one usually does on a trampoline, then when we came down we had to land on our stomach, then when we bounced up from the prone position we got back on our feet.  I have trouble with up-and-down motion at the best of times (it's why I don't to roller coasters) but this move just completely defeated me.  I could not do it.  At all.  It wasn't even a conscious thing - some self-preservation instinct seemed to kick in and say no, you are not going to deliberately fall on your face.  Fortunately the teacher was very understanding.

Me: I can't do this
Teacher: Well, you have to.
Me: I just can't
Teacher: You have to
Teacher: YOU HAVE TO.

Eventually we reached a compromise, where I'd go from standing up to hands-and-knees, then to my stomach.  But being the only kid in the class who couldn't do it - and having to demonstrate that in front of everyone who could - set in concrete the idea that was already forming in my mind, that there was something very wrong with me.  The other kids had already worked this out, and Mum - who's very likely on the spectrum herself and has her own horror stories to tell, much worse than mine - knew too.  But we didn't know what it was, or have a name for it.

And wouldn't have for another 20 years.