My brother, Alex, played soccer for years and then did cross-country and basketball. In his free time he plays volleyball, goes rock climbing, and is training to run in Vibrams. My sister, Emily, held the pull-up record for third grade girls at Washington School for many years (I believe at that time she could do twelve). She was a gymnast, and went on to play ice hockey, soccer, and truly excellent Frisbee.
My cousin, Jessica, was a black belt in Kung Fu at a young age, and has played rugby (again, excellently) for the last five years.
Her sister, my cousin Jordan, was a star cross country runner in high school. She's about to turn twenty-one and is also playing Frisbee these days.
Our summers were centered on swimming, badminton, ping pong, basketball, and jogging. We just went kayaking together last month. On Thanksgiving morning, we (and our parents) ran a 5k together after breakfast.
Loping around the fringes of this family pack is, of course, me. I've never done a pull-up. I've never been in tip-top shape. My gym teacher used to look into my eyes and say, "Ok, Julia, just don't hit the volleyball out of bounds when you serve it. You can do it." And then put his face in his hands five seconds later.
It's not that I didn't love my body and the outdoors, I just found the least-mobile possible ways of enjoying them. I rode horses and went on walks. I paddled a canoe at about .1 miles per hour on a lake. I was a terrible ballerina and a worse tap-dancer; my tennis was the shame of Summit. I swim with confidence but without clean strokes. My archery could have killed someone, my high jump resembled a troll crashing into a toothpick, and my bat was a virgin when it comes to touching baseballs. New Jersey public schools mandate that their students take gym class three times a week in elementary school and every day from sixth grade through graduation, so I can say with certainty that I once sucked at sprinting, running the mile, basketball, volleyball, pickleball, archery, handball, tag, sit ups, pull ups, push ups, gymnastics, Tae-Bo, weight lifting, baseball, frisbee, and flag football. I know the sound of the heavy sigh of a disappointed teammate better than nearly any sound in the world.
Actually, this was wonderful for me. The daily failure did more for my character than the rest of my moderate successes combined. I recall being not-horrible at badminton, and feeling the glorious thrill of sheer survival. For my lack of time faking illness to get on the bleachers, my gym teachers rewarded me with arbitrary B's throughout my high school career. Since then I've miserably put on sneakers and trudged around once in a while.
And then, last year, at age 27, I started running in earnest. I started signing up for 5ks on a whim. Last year I did the Hartford half-marathon (only because I promised myself I would, and signed up months in advance, the optimist that I am). When race day approached I was undertrained and terrified, but more than that, really angry with myself, so I got up early, drank two cups of coffee, and did it. It was one of the best feelings of my life. I did another one this year, as well as a bunch of other short races. I'm loving running now because a runner always has some kind of goal to beat: farthest distance, fastest time, best hills, best course, best feeling throughout. There are so many ways for an achievement-addict like myself to improve.
So Alex, Emily, Jessica, Jordan and I just signed up for the Tough Mudder in Vermont. It was my idea.
If you don't know, it's a 10-12 mile race and obstacle course designe by the British special forces. Some of the least terrifying obstacles include: sprinting up a steep ski trail, jumping off a 15-foot wall into freezing water, crawling under barbed wire in the mud, doing monkey bars that are greased in butter, and crawling through a dark touch tunnel with strangers. And those are the ones I'm excited about. Look at the rest.
But here's the best part: you can sign up as a team. So we are going in our pack of five. We'll haul each other over walls and jump into jacuzzis of suspicious liquids together. Our mothers' maiden name is George, so we're thinking of calling ourselves "Furious George."
I am the weak link. I have the furthest to go. I have so much to prove to myself, but I'm thrilled to get going on my training. We have six months, and I can honestly say I haven't been this excited about an event of any kind in years.
Tough Mudder: get ready to get murdered by Furious George.