“If you’re not first, you’re last, and you’re just not fast enough”… “You can’t guard her, you’re too short”…
Despite my effort to prove myself as a strong, tough athlete, I take most comments to heart. I’m sensitive to the opinions of others and, like most athletes, I want to be perfect. I want to be the best. Often, however, the determination to be “perfect” and “the best” is exhausting, because how can we achieve such superior status when there’s no objective way to define it?
In high school, I played basketball. Naively, in an attempt to be what I thought was perfect and the best, I worked against myself in order to be someone I wasn’t. I wanted so badly to be just like the rest of my team, but I struggled to do so because it didn’t come naturally.
Let me paint you a picture. Three of my teammates– who I had been playing with since I was 8 years old and who have now gone on to play university and/or national level basketball – are tall, blond, very skilled and were named to the senior team in our junior year. Meanwhile, I was less than average height, not extremely skilled, I had unmanageable dark hair, and I was going to band practice instead of playing for the senior basketball team. I wanted to be like them because in my mind, their success was directly correlated to their “perfection”. I would spend way too much time in front of the mirror seeing dozens of flaws—or at least what I thought were flaws at the time– and dwell on them. Regardless of the fact that I couldn’t actually change the way I looked, or the way I was built, I would make impractical goals to change these things anyway. “Maybe I’ll start running every morning at 6am and I’ll probably just have a light lunch…I could do bicep curls every morning too…and maybe wear heals to school or something… God I’d love to be taller.” In addition to this, I took hours to straighten my hair most days, I worked really hard at practice so that I would be more than just “the defensive player coming off the bench”, and I always asked to guard the biggest girl because I wanted to prove that my height didn’t matter.
In my last year of high school I was hoping that my hard work would finally pay off. However, I still wasn’t a starter. I was still told that I was “too short”. Working hard on the court may not have landed me the WNBA contract that my eight year old self dreamt of (seriously… I shot for the moon when I was eight) but, nonetheless, I gained a lot from this experience. Needless to say, I appreciate that I did have many coaches, basketball or otherwise, who helped me develop a lot of heart to continue training, regardless of an obvious reward (ie that WNBA contract). What lesson really sticks with me now however is to always respect my own body.
In high school I was painting the wrong picture of myself all along. Sure, in my own eyes, I wasn’t the athlete, or the body type that I thought I needed to be, but I recognize now that the flaws I saw in the mirror weren’t necessarily flaws at all. When my coach called me the best defensive player, he wasn’t saying that in vain, or to just make me feel better for not scoring, he was saying that because maybe I was actually a good defender. And perhaps, just perhaps there was nothing wrong with my long dark hair. Strange right? To actually like the hair you have.
It was only a couple years ago, when someone commented on my height in a positive way for the first time. At first, it seemed very strange, and I was so used to assuming that my height was a detriment that I actually laughed because I thought the person was joking. It was an honest compliment! My stature can actually be a positive attribute! Finding this through rugby, I am so grateful to be involved in a sport where every body type is celebrated in its own way. As a rugby player, I have learned to appreciate bodies, skills, and personalities for what they are naturally good at.
Maybe you’ve been made fun of for being “lanky”. But I bet your long arms can stiff arm anyone on the pitch. Maybe you have “thunder thighs”. Well maybe you can use those to drag three defenders down the pitch until you touch the ball down for a try. And maybe people think you’re a little too crazy, but I haven’t met a successful person who wasn’t.
There may be no way to objectively describe the “perfect” or “best” athlete, but there is a way to describe the perfect, best you. Use your natural ability to your advantage. Don’t be caught up in trying to be someone you aren’t. Always remember to appreciate your own talents, appreciate your own body, and always ALWAYS to see that water bottle as half full.
Photos by Krystal Calver of Calver Photography
Julia is wearing:
RaceHER Tank Top designed for Acadia University
FastHER Rugby Shorts
PowHER Jersey designed for Edward Milne Secondary School in Sooke BC