Home My Journey A Newfound Athleticism, & A New Love For The Olympics

A Newfound Athleticism, & A New Love For The Olympics

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Along my path, I’ve learned some things about myself.

I’ve learned that I have my vain moments… which often consist of me, standing in a mirror, and – with my best Mad Cobra voice – commanding myself to shout out “Gal, fleeeeeeeeeeex!” while showing off the muscle I’ve developed thus far.

US Olympic gymnast Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglass, doing what she does best.

I’ve learned that I’m more inspired by the “hood workouts” than I am annoyed by them, especially as someone who used to lift gallon jugs in my living room, and practiced yoga on my bed because my knees couldn’t take the floor without a mat. (Besides.. I’m not gonna lie. Shirtless dudes doing pull ups on a scaffolding are rarely, if ever, a lose.)

I’ve also learned that… if you do it for long enough, dropping down and getting your eagle on is just as good as any jump squat.

Don’t ask me how I know that. Just know… that I know.

But most recently… with the start of the Olympics this past weekend, I’ve learned that I’ve become all kinds of googley-eyed and star-struck by athletes. I mean, to an obscene amount.

I watched the Olympic opening ceremony with about as much confusion as the rest of my country – to be fair, I did eventually do some digging to see what deeper contexts I was missing, and instantly felt embarrassed by how little I know about the outside world – but that procession of athletes from each country… man. I was excited for them all. I sat in front of my TV, legs folded all criss-cross-apple-sauce-like, giant smile across my face, letting out all kinds of “Awwwww”s and even a few “Oh, that gentleman is rather handsome.”s, in more or less words.

I feel like I’ve been watching the Olympics all my life. I can actively remember laying on my floor, head rested firmly in the palms of my hands, excited as Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Jaycie Phelps and the rest of “The Magnificent 7” blew the world away with their ability. I couldn’t understand it then. It just.. gymnastics didn’t register to me as a kid as something “kids” do, even as I watched amazing “kids” do some pretty epic things on a cushioned floor. I mean, I watched Kerri be carried off the floor after injuring herself, sacrificing herself for her team. As epic as that was… I just didn’t understand it. I couldn’t connect to it.

I was not, by any means, a sporty kid. I didn’t really play a sport. I hadn’t “competed” in anything. It wouldn’t be until my senior year of high school that I’d actually actively compete in anything, and that was show choir. (Yes, it was all “Glee” everything, complete with nude heels, sequins and red lipstick. Don’t hate.) I wasn’t a competitive kid, and I never knew what it meant to work to develop a talent. So often, we’re told that people just “have a gift,” were “given a gift,” or they’re “naturally good at it.” Rarely, do we ever talk about the amount of practice time designated to cultivating that “gift.” We don’t talk about how much “practice time” goes into looking like “a natural” at something.

The same thing happens with being a vocal performer – some people are “born able to sing”, have “great ears,” or are “naturals.” We never think about how those “great ears” are cultivated by a combination of “practice” and lots of listening to great musicians. (You can’t develop an understanding of key and pitch if you’re listening to artists who are always off key and of pitch.) We talk about how “great musicians run in the family,” but never how we’re prepping those kids at a young age because of how much music they listen to… or the number of times we have to shout at them to hush, stop singing while we’re watching our favorite shows.

My point is, while some things might feel easy for us as individuals, our talents don’t exist in a vacuum. Our environments contribute to our abilities to develop a talent, and even contribute to our ability to want to commit to developing a talent.

Undoubtedly, this contributed to my inability to really appreciate the Olympics for what they stand for, and what those athletes sacrifice in order to be among those sent to represent their countries.

…that is, until Saturday.

Man. I watched those Male gymnasts on the pommel horse, and almost instantly my obliques started to hurt. I could barely swing my body around a pole with that kind of control… having horizontal hands while doing it, and having to do it one arm while I balanced and swung my body out of the way… and on rhythm? My triceps instantaneously began to throb. I was impressed, fearful, excited, and in pain. But more excitement than pain… but still, a lot of pain.

Those swimmers… the shots of them diving into the water and bodyrolling to first place (I know it’s not called bodyrolling, but if you saw those shots, you know exactly what I’m talking about!)…instantly, my entire core hurt. Pardon me while I faint.

I even watched the volleyball players – Kerri and Misty – as they lobbed kill shot after kill shot and… it took me back to my days of high school, where I wanted so very badly to play on that volleyball team. I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to be on that squad and have that team and hop three feet into the air and bean somebody upside the head with a volleyball because my aim was so dope. Like… that was me.

And then, I heard that they weren’t the average 10-or-20-somethings that you usually expect at the Olympics. They were in their thirties.

And then, with the story of the 70+ year old competitor – in dressage, no less – and, well, I can’t help but feel inspired. It’s one thing to do all this lifting and all this running, but to commit it to a sport? Playing on a team? Towards a common goal? That works a hell of a lot more than the glutes… though, those are important, too.

And, that’s when the Olympics taught me something else about myself – there was a hyper-competitive side of me that was lying dormant, waiting to be let out and play on the edge of dopeness. There’s a part of me that wants to compete in a way that I can spank some ass on a court, and then shake your hand in the end. There’s a part of me that gets giddy at the thought of working hard and playing to win… and now, it’s time to let it out and, maybe… find a sport to play.

Here’s hoping I don’t break anything important.

Talk to me, y’all – who’s out there getting fit through a sport? Anybody got Olympic dreams for themselves or for their youngins? Let me hear it!

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17 comments

Kyle July 31, 2012 - 1:41 PM

While watching the opening ceremonies, the commentator mentioned that someone from a country I had never heard of was competing in a sport I had never heard of: race walking. O_o I looked it up. It’s most definitely harder than it looks because it seems af if they want to sprint….but they can’t. I. Want. To. Train. For. This. Rio 2016.

Kamea July 31, 2012 - 2:45 PM

When I was younger I never got a chance to play competitive sports either. People often say people have a gift for something which is sometimes not always the case. The majority of the time people have to go through vigorous training and love what they are doing. These athletes are such an inspiration. They work hard and it show you that you can amazing things with your body. The people competing seem so happy at representing their teams. I love the swimming teams/ water polo because I prefer water sports. I am happy to see the women representing.

marie July 31, 2012 - 2:48 PM

You do pole dance it is actually a sport but not really a team one 🙂

When I was a kid, nobody wanted me in their teams during the sport sessions….. I was so bad and they would fear I will make the team loose….. I hated team sports almost all my life! It is not until last year of high school that I gained a bit of interest in team sports while playing volleyball because I saw this as a game, it was fun and and I decided to consider useful remarks from my team mates ( to hell the nasty comments).
now that I am more “free” in my head and feel more autonomous about any decisions concerning myself, I consider running in a club and register to another dance group. I did that last year and it was just awesome to be part of a team and do your best to perform better than the other team. It was a huge boost to my self-esteem! And I think that doing sport or dancing in a team make you better performer because you confront to others and you are in a permanent challenge and continuous improvement state of mind + it is good to improve the way you socialize and interact with people

Ok I don’t really answer the question…. Lol

Erika Nicole Kendall July 31, 2012 - 3:02 PM

You are absolutely right regarding me and my pole! And, don’t worry… I’ve got a post coming up about that, too! LOL

In fact, I HAVE written about “functional fitness” before… but something about seeing the Olympics really puts it all in a new light.

Charlotte July 31, 2012 - 2:50 PM

I’ve always loved the Olympics…but since getting fit, I love them in a whole new way. They are my inspiration.

Isn’t Gabby Douglass just amazing? To be so young, so talented, so determined. I’m in such awe of her.

I also, when I think of the Olympics, think of the cross-country skier who fell in her race in the last winter Olympics and *broke a rib* and then went on to win a silver medal, because she knew it was her last shot. I was on a treadmill when I watched that race and I will never forget it.

They are extraordinary, inspirational people – and some of them very young extraordinary, inspirational people. They make me cry a little.

Paulette July 31, 2012 - 4:07 PM

I started running last year and am looking forward to the track and field events. I got so excited last Saturday, that I watched a bicycle event because I thought the strategy was similar to running.
I am hoping that after the flag has been passed onto to the next country, I have found more motivation to keep up with my strength training.

“Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger”)

Tiffany July 31, 2012 - 4:15 PM

Man, when I say I LOVE the Olympics, I mean I LOOOVE the Olympics. The first time I ever watched I was 10 yrs. old and it was the 1992 Barcelona games (yes, I just gave away my age and IDC) watched everyday for hours on end. When my favorites weren’t on: gymnastics, swimming, running, I watched any and everything else: equestrian, diving (which has become one of my faves), rowing, cycling, whatever was on. Ever since I’ve been a big fan. When Kerri Shrug landed that vault!! Man, listen. I wanted to be Dominique Dawes. When I saw Dawes sitting next to the First Lady, both supporting Serena the other day, LISTEN. This time around I find myself appreciating the bodies of the athletes. I find it fascinating that divers have the most chiseled bodies, even mor so than swimmers. I look at the male gymnasts and their huge biceps and know most have probably never done a bicep curl, ever, but when you are holding or lifting yourself up on rings, you don’t need to do bicep curls to get cut. I just gain so much respect for the human body and these athletes.

I was never sporty as a kid, but I think I’ve always had a burning desire to be involved in a sport. Tried out for basketball in high school and didn’t make it, and did field events (shotput and disc) for two years, but quit cause I sucked. If I could do life over I would try to do either gymnastics or running in the olympics. I only lean more towards running, because your career isn’t over at like 17 or 18 like in gymnastics. But in real life, I’ve always had a strong desire to do some type of martials arts. I took Tae Kwon Do for a little bit, and self-defense training that combined a bunch of different martial arts. But I really want to start either Karate, kickboxing, or MMA in the near future and really commit to it.

*Sorry for the long post, but I really love this topic (and the olympics!!) and don’t really have others who I can share this passion with.

Doreen G. July 31, 2012 - 4:21 PM

In honor of the Olympics I chose some particular books for my son & I to read when we’re not watching. After reading “Wilma Unlimited” he said…”I think I want to run in the Olympics”. After watching these past few days, he keeps changing his sport! LOL.
I was watching to opening ceremonies just like you did and the channel on our TV hasn’t left NBC since. I’m mapping out my 1/2 marathon training now too!

Renee H. July 31, 2012 - 4:42 PM

It’s not too late…http://www.usatf.org/News/More-than-30-reigning-world-champions-highlight-fi.aspx

Many of the athletes competing at the Master’s National track and field meet didn’t compete until they were in their 50’s. Something to think about..

Marilyn Reed July 31, 2012 - 5:41 PM

I always loved track and field. Now that I call myself running, I am even more interested and have more respect for the Olympians. BTW: Aries Merritt and I are both from the same small town in North Mississippi. He competes on August 7 (100 M Hurdles). Waking up early to cheer him on.

Kimmoy July 31, 2012 - 8:43 PM

Kickball is a really fun sport to play, I started practicing with a local team earlier this summer but didn’t want to sacrifice my weekends so I didn’t join the team :/ I think that and maybe sand volleyball are good team sports to play with the lowest risk of breaking a bone lol

I was amazed just like you were, if you peeped how fast the volleyball athletes get up after diving to hit the ball, you would go bananas, like was that sped up? Lol Love the Olympics!

Gillian August 1, 2012 - 6:03 AM

Hi Erika,
I’ve always loved watching the Olympics and the procession of athletes is always a highlight for me. I used to be in an athletic club and ran the 100m and 200m at a local level. At the time I think I had great Olympic aspirations but my parents urged me to focus on the books. Once at University on a Chemical Engineering degree, I didn’t have as much time to train 🙁 Who would have known that I’d end up a Fitness and Nutrition coach 🙂

So I’ll be taking it all in especially track and field my favourite, cheering on all the athletes. It must be the greatest honour to compete on a world stage for your country.

Fitnessbuster supporting you in improving your fitness and nutrition.

MissCSE August 1, 2012 - 9:17 AM

Girrrrrl! You must’ve been channeling some of my inner chi cuz I felt the same way watching every sport from the Olympics. I get so excited watching just about anything. Geeked for the rowers, swimmers, divers, gymnasts, even table tennis and equestrians. The skill and talent it takes to participate in any of those sports is so unreal to me, which makes it so amazing. I heard myself say out loud while watching my boo Ryan Lochte qualify “I wanna take up swimming again.” I was shocked at my own voice after I uttered those words. I too, was never an athlete of any kind and never competed for any sport (Chorus/choir chick here as well even though I can’t sing in tune to save my life now). I’ve always been a water lover and I think it’ll be my go to sport soon. I’ve thought about it a lot, but as a fleeting thought. Maybe I should look more into it…

Alexis August 1, 2012 - 10:16 PM

This is soooo true. I’ve been going to sleep to the Olympics, waking up to the Olympics. evening having it on TV at work (muted, of course…maybe). I’m heavyweight obsessed with The Games and have been that way ever since writing a report on Jackie Joyner- Kersee in elementary school!

Like you, Erika, I wasn’t a sporty kid, but mainly because I thought I was too overweight to play. Looking back though, I’m like ‘Duh, playing sports would have helped manage your weight,’ but as a self-conscious teen, that logic just wasn’t there. I’ve definitely been inspired now with my fitness routines. I took a demo CrossFit class yesterday and every time I wanted to stop, I thought ‘Do World Champions give up?! NO THEY DON’T!’ Needless to say, I may have gone a little *too* hard as I now have the sorest muscles of life, lol!

Finally (long comment, sorry!) — with this Olympics, I’m growing to appreciate the strength of the human body as well as challenging some of what I had been upholding as “ideal” body images. For example, defined, muscular upper bodies are not typically what society deems ‘attractive’ for females (not that I’ve seen in my magazines, anyway). But that is absolutely necessary quality for a champion swimmer or gymnast.

…I don’t know if that makes sense, lol, but basically, I love how during the Olympics, we (the media, society, etc.) focus on bodies for their strength, and not what they look like.

Lashawn August 5, 2012 - 2:26 AM

I love the Olympics so much! I’m from Michael Phelps’ hometown and have been enjoying cheering him on. Watching him always makes me want to learn to swim!
This is the first Olympics where I’ve really noticed the different body types required/created by each sport. Gymnasts’ bodies are very different from runners or weightlifters or swimmers. Divers bodies are different from swimmers. It’s so interesting to wonder if the athlete has that body type because of the sport, or did they pick the sport because of the body type?

Eloquence, Inc. August 5, 2012 - 10:27 AM

Always enjoyed team sports because they bring my competitive side out and make me push harder for self and for team…

But the childcare necessary to get active in team anything kills all chances of that since I am already trying to keep a lid on childcare costs for work. So the track club I would love to be a part of and get back to being a runner like i was in high school, the volleyball I realized I had a murderous spike on in high school sports and was actually good at cause I had a serve no one could return unless they maybe had a death wish, and other things…can’t do a one of them, costs too much in extra childcare. 🙁

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