To all the athletes searching for a new favorite YDN columnist, I offer myself to you. I LOVE athletes. (You’re coming on too strong, Josh. They’ll sense your desperation. Calm down. Breathe in confidence, breathe out fear. Just be yourself. That’s it. Ok, go get ‘em, tiger.) Ahem. Before you think me a slobbering sycophant or a shameless opportunist, allow me to explain myself. I admire all athletes — amateur, collegiate and professional — because I was once an athlete, too, and it ranks among my most traumatic experiences.
I don’t mean to brag when I say I was an athlete in high school. But I was, objectively speaking, the star of the freshman track team. I chose track because I have the hand-eye coordination of Quasimodo. Running seemed to suit my unique skill set. Indeed, my hollow bones, flat feet and BMI of an inflatable sex doll made me the ideal 800-meter runner. Additionally, I was told by multiple close relatives that I had perfect running form. Naturally, I torched the competition. Whenever I crossed the finish line before everyone else, I’d usually throw a rose (which I had stowed away in my compression shorts) to my adoring mother weeping in the stands. (Disclaimer: I actually always finished third for some reason, but this was my planned celebration if I should ever really win a race. Also, roses have thorns and should not come in contact with the scrotum.)
Then I moved up to the junior varsity team. My track career ended shortly thereafter. The skimpy (dare I say objectifying) track uniforms exposed whole swathes of my upper arms and thighs to the sun. Severe, blistering sunburns began to take their toll on my health. I was also racing against people who weren’t freshmen, so they tended to truly have perfect running form, as well as sinews, tendons and muscles. I put more and more pressure on myself to dominate as I had on the freshman team, and when I didn’t, I felt the frigid dejection of being a loser (shout out to Hillary Clinton LAW ’73). The smell of the all-weather track came to have the singular effect of instantaneously liquefying my bowels.
Track is the only thing I’ve ever quit. Actually, that’s not true. I quit gymnastics when I was three because I was tired of wearing leotards. I quit playing the piano in fifth grade because it made my brittle fingers unbearably sore. Oh, and I quit watching “American Horror Story” after its fourth season because Lady Gaga could never, ever, ever replace Jessica Lange (that woman is a national treasure). So, I guess I’ve actually failed at a lot of things.
But quitting track felt different because I was actually (kind of) good at it. There had been a time when I enjoyed it because winning is really fun, and everyone thought I was super badass until they saw me come in last at the district meet (my mom said she was still proud of me, though). The competitive part of me wanted to keep running track, while my cynical side reminded me that I would never amount to anything and that all of my forefathers had been poor, illiterate farmers.
Sometimes I regret my decision. But mostly I don’t because running track was really frickin’ hard. It required such physical, emotional and mental effort that I shudder to even consider it (I’m writing this inside an igloo, though, so that might explain the shivering). (Great joke, Josh. They just turned the page to read the theatre reviews.) In fact, I would say running track is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, right next to almost kissing a girl and almost asking a girl out on a date.
In all seriousness, there is something beautiful in watching an exceptional athlete compete at the zenith of their powers. The sprezzatura, the flow, and the spontaneity of such a performance is remarkable. I have attended the Texas Track & Field State Meet as an interested observer for the past two years and have been struck by the focus and ease with which the competitors run 800 meters in 110 seconds. Such a feat is, of course, the exact opposite of easeful – the legs turn numb after the first lap. But truly great athletes accomplish such victories with their own genius, a seemingly impossible mix of abandon and restraint I was never able to master.
So, athletes, I am on your side. If you want to be friends with me, you can connect with me on Goodreads, a charming social media platform for book lovers (my profile pic is a black-and-white photograph of Johnny Cash smoking a cigarette). My suite is also looking for one or two marginally normal people to live with us next year, and I know athletes are pretty kewl kats. If interested, you can send me an email, though I prefer written correspondence. It has more of a personal feel, you know? If you want to regularly read the articles I write for WKND, since I just wrote a lot of nice and sincere things about you and also confessed a deeply personal story about my tempestuous past, go right ahead. The honor, I assure you, will be all mine.
In fact, I think this is just the beginning of a long, beautiful and possibly parasitic relationship. I don’t know about you, but I’m trembling with excitement.
Contact Josh Baize at firstname.lastname@example.org .