I never thought of myself as ‘athletic’ at least not until I started climbing.
I used to say this at quite regular intervals, but after a discussion about the recent Olympics with a friend, I realised this is far from the truth. As I’ve said before, I have a habit of forgetting things.
Ages and ages ago, when I was about 7 or 10, I started gymnastics. My grandfather thought it would suit my flexibility and strength well and indeed, I naturally took to it. I found the un-even (err… asymmetric) bars to be quite dauntingly high, but after falling off them a few times, my worries started to subside.
I rapidly progressed and was doing routines that were quite advanced for my age group. My instructor called me a ‘tough cookie’ and I certainly tried to live up to the name.
I really enjoyed the sport and I was doing well, a bit too well. As soon as I showed signs of progressing, my required practice sessions increased. It was few days a week after school and all day on Saturday and it was likely to get more intensive. It was a huge commitment and I had little support from people other than grandfather.
Whilst I am horribly dating myself I think a bit of perspective is required. At the time I was practising gymnastics in the US (where I lived then) the Olympics were seen as much an object of national pride as was the space program. The mentality of “we must do better than the Russians” was all permeating and had a trickledown effect to even semi-serious sporting culture. Either you were a candidate to be the best in the world and spent every minute devoted to your sport, or you never even bothered. It was quite intense.
At that age, I didn’t have what it took to dedicate myself completely to a sport. I wanted to climb trees and play with my dog, not spend hours rehearsing one move on the un-even bars. So I decided to give up.
My instructors were obviously disappointed but my grandfather seemed to be the most hurt. He called me a ‘quitter’. It was harsh, but true and unlike most things was something that I never forgot. I always kept it in the back of my mind.
Outside of stints in ballet and running I never considered doing a sport regularly and on the basis of this I developed the mentality that I was not cut out for sport, forgetting in the process that I chose to be this way.
Annoyingly enough, I now find that I have the drive in place as I spend a lot more time training for bouldering than I ever did for gymnastics, but I worry about the basics such as getting too old, starting too late, acquiring too many injuries, etc. but none of this has stopped me so far from trying my best.
My grandfather died just before I took up climbing, but I like to think that he doesn’t see me as quitter this time ‘round.