Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Love Story

Ever since I could talk, I have been verbalizing how much I wanted to play basketball. My mom kept a journal/scrapbook about my likes and dislikes from preschool through junior high. In it was the question, "What I want to be when I grow up," and in the space next to it is written, "basketball player," every single year. The handwriting changed over the years, but the goal never did.

Just before my 7th grade year, my dad convinced me to pick another sport. It was a strange request coming from someone whose rumored reputation in town was that of a tyrant of a father who wouldn't let me, my sister or any of our teammates participate in anything but basketball, but I obliged. The only sport season that didn't conflict with any of my basketball was the fall. The choice came down to volleyball or tennis. The girls that played volleyball were a tight-knit group that I didn't want to attempt to intrude on. I had just moved to town the year before, and was still working my way into the basketball group as the new girl. The tennis team, on the other hand, was made up of mostly juniors in high school, with no junior high team available. Even at that young age I knew I'd rather make a way for myself than to try to invade the territory of a group of 13 year old girls, so I chose tennis.

While my dad loved my passion for basketball, his logic here was based on his own experience. He never took up golf like his dad, and he regretted it. Instead he had played basketball and volleyball in high school, both sports requiring many players to compete. As an adult, he found it difficult to find enough people to play, and so he'd gradually stopped trying. With some tennis under my belt, one day, he was certain, I'd have a much easier time finding one more person to hit with than 9 others to play ball with.  

I was a good little girl, and I listened to my dad. I was put on the tennis team as a manager, but was able to practice with the team, and even scrimmage with other teams' managers. After the first week of practice, however; I wanted to quit. I never wanted to quit anything as much as I wanted to quit tennis. I was horrible. See, I had been playing, practicing, and even competing in basketball since I was 4, so I quite literally don't ever remember being bad at it. Most of what I learned, I don't even remember learning. I just know how to do it. Now, here I was, age 13, taking up a completely foreign sport where I have to hit a ball with a racket, and my first week of practice, I couldn't connect that ball and racket to save my life.

I'll spare you all the details, but I didn't quit. Of course when my dad realized the reasons I wanted to quit were because it was "hard," and I wasn't "good," he wouldn't allow it. We made a deal that I had to finish the season, and then make the decision. Truth be told, I began to really like the game. I stuck with it. After all, it was only 3 months out of the year. It still couldn't hold a candle to the feeling I got when running a basketball up the court, but it was fun, and actually helped me with some of my basketball skills.

Most of you know how this story goes. I went on to play basketball in college, which was my dream. I remember my freshman year, after a grueling practice, I grabbed a ball from the rack and headed back to the gym to do some shooting, and a more seasoned teammate of mine, confused as to why I was going back for more, told me, "Give it a few years. You'll get tired of that." I knew I wouldn't, and I never did. However; sadly, my career was cut short by an unexplainable ankle injury in 2003, and I have spent the last 8 years trying to get back on the court.

Be patient. There really is a reason for that whole tennis story, I promise.

This morning, I grabbed a basketball at 5:45 am and went to the gym; the same gym I played my years in college. Normally I would be running on the treadmill, but I wanted to shoot. Now eight years after my injury, I've finally been able to return to the court, and am playing in a competitive rec league. The treadmill has gotten me in shape for it, but I want to be comfortable with the ball too. So I found myself shooting this morning, in an empty gym where all the bleachers were pulled out and ready for the women's game tonight. I am almost 30, yet the sound of that bouncing ball in an empty gym is still the most relaxing sound I've ever encountered. I vowed I would shoot until they kicked me out, certain that I wasn't supposed to be in there. After about 5 minutes someone shouted to me that they would be turning out the lights, and the only lights that would remain on would be the lights around the track above the gym. "OK, thanks," but I kept shooting. They did turn out the lights, but I still kept shooting. I shot until I made 100 baskets, and then I stopped counting and just enjoyed myself, the sound of the bouncing ball, and the swish against the net, and I prayed. I must have looked like an idiot, shooting in the dark at 6:30 am, but I couldn't help but laugh to myself, and I prayed that my children would be "idiots" for something too. I pray that they would find something; something productive that they have a great talent for, something they are so passionate about, and something they are certain they are called to do, that even after a season ends, and the lights go out, they still find themselves drawn to it like nothing else.

Nothing has ever replaced basketball in my heart, and thankfully, I have found many leagues filled with women to play, and Dad, I have yet, to find a tennis partner. There it is.

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