Monday, May 22, 2006

The Klutz Myth

I had a revelation yesterday. All these years thinking that my klutziness was a proud family heritage that survived in me for generations of clueless Jews when it comes to hand-eye coordination, were pulverized in a couple of racquet strokes.
I took a racquet in my hand for the first time since I was six years old and I was able to hit the day-glo yellow tennis ball in front of me and bounce it several times off a wall. This was virtually a miracle, because all this time I was convinced that clumsiness in sports is as genetical a trait in my family as eating sloppily and having high cholesterol.
I trudged through my school years always being among the last to be chosen for the sports teams and convinced that I was fundamentally unable to hold on to a ball with any of my limbs, let alone a bat or a racquet.
When I was six my mom enrolled me in a Tennis class at the Jewish Sports Center in Mexico City. I was a puny child, thin as a rake and not enthusiastic about physical activity. The wooden racquet was so heavy, I felt my arm was going to fall off. The teacher patiently tried to get me to hit the ball and I don't think I mustered enough strength but for the weakest, half-assed volleys. I promptly decided I hated tennis and never touched a racquet again (unless it was for badminton). Until yesterday.
So it turns out that according to my encouraging friends, I seem to have a knack for hitting the ball and I'm a natural, albeit way hidden, Chris Evert. Who knew?
I bounced that ball off that wall until I could not raise my arm anymore, imitating the sexy, powerful tennis star stances that I've watched countless times on TV. I felt like Navratilova at Wimbledon, even though to the innocent bystanders, I still looked like a klutz.
When it was her turn, I watched my friend bounce the ball off the wall with strength and agility. Then she informed me that she was terrible at all other sports. I was incredulous. If she could look like a tennis pro, she could play every other sport just as well. We decided that it's not that we were utter klutzes, but that we were made to believe so by our respective environments and our own image of ourselves. We had been klutzes because of fear, not ability.
She was a painfully shy child who wished to be invisible to others, and thus was mortified every time she had to play team sports. I was a klutz because my father before me was one, period. He encouraged me plenty to exercise my brain, and it was my mom that pushed me toward sports, not because she liked them, but because they were healthy. I was awkward and insecure. Once, when I was around eight or nine, a basketball landed right below my ribcage and sucked the air out of me. I remember the panicky, hard feeling of not being able to breathe and people (especially the fat bully who had sent the projectile my way) staring at me with both concern and contempt while I gasped. I was afraid of balls and the people who kicked them. No wonder I could not hit a ball if it hit me in the head.
Yet yesterday, instead of watching my friend play while I read, I took her up on the offer and had enormous fun. The idea of my physical inadequacy was finally banished from my mind.
Tennis, anyone?

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