After becoming more active, it delights me to no end when people assume that I have been the sporty type for my entire life.
What they don’t know is that before 2008, my lone, sad attempt at sports came at the age of seven, when I was forced, I mean, encouraged to join a youth basketball team. There were no practices (at least none that I can recall), not that it would’ve mattered. Between a mix of low self-esteem and a lack of interest in activity, I wasn’t the best candidate for a game of five on five.
In 1989, baggy clothes hadn’t taken over pop culture (or the NBA), so we were assigned vintage royal blue tank tops and short shorts as our uniform. Capped off by striped knee high white socks, I couldn’t tell if our gear was meant for the court or for your promiscuous 21-year old sister’s Halloween costume. I assure you that between my Coke bottle eyeglasses, distended belly, and effeminate manners, I TOTALLY looked the part of an athletic superstar, and at the right angle, I gave quite the show of my ample silhouette.
My most notable moment came one fateful fall Saturday morning. Our games regularly took place at 10am, and my family and I rushed out of the door late, meaning I missed the “most important meal of the day” (We were building great foundations even back then).
I arrived and headed for the locker room, where I was was always amazed that they seemingly never washed said uniforms. Every game, we’d place our used, sweaty uniforms in the a box and retrieve them for the next. I never had the same jersey number from one week to the next, and I am sure I contracted ringworm at least three times in the season.
The 1980s weren’t anything like the PC present day. There weren’t ribbons for participation! There was barely a third place or bronze. You had to bring it, or face ridicule.
Nevertheless, I determined that it was my time to shine. I was passed the ball, and began to illegally double-dribble the ball down the court like any competent child athlete, fighting through the noisy hunger pangs of my stomach.
Then I saw her. My sister and then-nemesis Amber (also known as the “evil incarnate in barrettes”), waving two hot dogs in her hands from the stands, taunting me. She knew I wanted that hot dog more than life. Even more than I wanted Viki and Clint to reconcile on “One Life to Live.”
My eyes darted back and forth between the hoop, and my sister, now sipping a fountain soda.
Then, I did the unthinkable. Holding the ball, I rose through the stands, snatched the hot dog from my sister’s hand and ate it whole, as an auditorium full of people looked on, mortified.
It was as if time stood still. I hadn’t actually fantasized about eating the hot dog before snapping back to reality. I actually did that shit. In public. During an offensive play. I exposed my fatty habits in public for all to see, and now I was frozen.
The act must’ve been more entertaining than the game itself, because the crowd erupted in a mix of laughter and scattered applause. When I returned to the court, the coach looked at me, with utter disgust, not at my blatant disregard of the game, but also for the Hulk Hogan red and yellow mix of ketchup and mustard stained on the front of my uniform. I wondered if I would draw that same pair again next week.
There are defining moments in life, and at that point in time, as my parents shook their head in disbelief, mine read: “This boy will have a severe Doritos and Double stuffed Oreo addiction.”
Still, my parents were determined to help their meek, shy child become more assertive and active. Their solution? Karate classes at the local YMCA. One would think that taking a child to learn martial arts while living in an crime-riddled inner city would be useful, but even at the age of seven, I knew that Mr Miyagi’s crane kick would be no match for a gun or a antsy crackhead. Weeks later (and several “Be a man!” punches to the chest by the instructor), and I was done.
By the age of eight, my father would drive me to the athletic track, where he’d all but beg me to walk (not run) several laps with him, just to get the blood flowing. I’d throw tantrums until he gave up, exasperated as we returned to the car.
Years later, I called him minutes after I finished my first half marathon, and he recounted the experience at the track. “Who are you and what did you do with my son?,” he said.
“Better late than never,” I replied.
A person’s decision to lose weight is deeply personal. The motivation and self-discipline needed to begin a fitness journey can’t come from outside pressure. It has to be something you want for yourself.
If not, you may find yourself shame eating processed food in front of a crowd of total strangers.