“Winning is about taking your opponent’s heart out and squeezing it until all the blood has come out, even the very last drop. There are no prizes for a funny loser.” ~Pete Sampras
I’ve always loved the Olympics. As a kid, I watched my favorite events and imagined myself someday competing among the best in the world for my own Olympic Gold Medal.
The problem was, I didn’t have any talent. At least, not any talent that anyone was willing to encourage, or invest in. And that seems to be a really crucial component to these athletes success.
While the Olympian to be puts in long hours of training and conditioning, the families take on second jobs, relocate to be closer to the best training facilities/coaches, invest in private tutors and set their sights on 20-whatever.
I can’t help but admire that level of commitment. My mother didn’t like to take me to school when it was cold outside. So, there was no way she was going to get up, everyday, and haul me to 4:00am training sessions.
And truly, it’s just as well. My Olympic dreams would have most definitely ended in scandal and my banishment from, probably, all the sports.
I know this, because there was a time when I did have a goal….to make my middle school cheerleading team….and it damn near ended in the death of my math teacher.
My mother had been a cheerleader throughout her adolescence.
Later, after I’d been born, she started a youth cheerleading program in the small Ohio town where we lived and she became the cheerleading director at the local high school.
I served as the mascot, cheering alongside high school girls at Friday night football games.
To the outside world, my mother was a bubbly, adorable little ball of energy. Behind closed doors, she could hurl glass ketchup bottles at my dads head with the speed and precision of a major league pitcher and she had the mouth of a drunken sailor. Actually, the only difference between her and a drunken sailor, is that she wasn’t a sailor.
Later, when our world imploded and the carefully hidden skeleton’s in our closet had been exposed, we moved away and she didn’t try as hard to cover up the crazy.
But cheerleading represented a remnant of our glory days, when we looked and smelled perfect. And I was expected to carry on the legacy and some piece of the ruse.
In my final year of elementary school, it was made clear to students, that we would only be eligible to try-out for sports in middle school, if we ended the year with an acceptable grade point average.
I was a good student when it came to the subjects I liked; Gym, English and History. Otherwise, not so much.
Math and science were always difficult for me. I just didn’t get it and asking for help at home was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
With a few months left to go in the school year, my math teacher was given the task of passing out the sign-up paperwork for the middle school fall sports teams.
As promised, those who didn’t meet the academic eligibility requirements were not able to take a packet. I was one of those kids.
It wasn’t a surprise. My math and science grades were terrible. I had gotten an “E” in math the previous semester, which was the equivalent of an “F”.
When I’d brought that report card home, my mother looked at it and asked, “What’s E stand for?”
“Excellent.” I replied.
I had almost gotten away with it until she saw the legend key.
I had to get really creative with my part in order to hide the bald spot for that one.
Not matter how much blood, sweat and tears (LITERALLY) I put into improving my math and science grades the balance of that school year, the best I was going to achieve was a D.
But, I’d never told my mother about the academic requirement for middle school sports, so even though she knew my grades were lousy, she was surprised when she found out I hadn’t been given the paperwork.
There was only one thing I could do. Blame my math teacher.
It was either her, or me. And chances were, we’d move again before she got stuck with any of my younger siblings.
Her pain would be short-lived. I still had years to go. So I tossed that woman directly under the bus.
The next day, we screeched into the school parking lot, in our 15 passenger GMC van, with it’s automatic power steps that unfolded when you opened the side door and a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus, Don’t Leave Earth Without Him” on two wheels.
We marched into the office and my mother demanded to see my math teacher. What happened next, is probably being used as role play material in school security training programs all over the country.
Had it happened today, the school would have gone into complete lockdown. The police and SWAT teams would have descended and the incident would have ended with my mother, facedown on the pavement, still shouting obscenities at my teacher, the administration and law enforcement, while someone from child and family services loaded me into a car Ford Taurus and off to foster care.
But this was the early 90’s, when schools were still largely a safe haven for students and teachers in the suburbs.
As my mother ranted and snarled, my math teacher and the school secretary, just a bystander, really, were brought to tears. And I watched, as the innocence died from their eyes that day.
When she was done, my mother left, without taking me with her, of course, leaving me to face the entire day alone….the kid of the woman who had completely lost her shit over seventh grade cheerleading tryout’s.
So you see, it’s really for the best that I was never meant to be an Olympic contender.
I hate to imagine a world where a poor little Michelle Kwan gets squashed by a “rogue” Zamboni during Olympic Trials.
Or, a cute as a button Keri Strug has to vault on an ankle, not injured during competition, but after a slip and fall on a piece of Crisco covered Saran wrap suspiciously placed outside her dorm room door in the Olympic Village.
Everything happens for a reason.