By Valerie Stewart
In fourth grade I ruled on the four square court. NO one could knock me out of the server’s square. My family didn’t know and I didn’t receive any blue ribbons, but I knew and it made me feel great.
Thinking back, I realize that I took no specific pleasure in beating the other kids. The payoff was the sense of power that being the best gave me. In an era when parents and teachers didn’t constantly stroke and support children, it was up to us to find a sense of identity and pride. I see now that it was incredibly satisfying to beat all the boys at a time when girls weren’t encouraged to be athletes.
As an adult, what I don’t like about competition is making the other women feel badly when I beat them. What I do like is the sense of power and personal accomplishment that winning gives me. Many athletes say that they are really competing against themselves. Which is why timed competitions are so much more satisfying than judged ones; the former are not subjective, and athletes can accurately measure their own progress.
I define “athlete” as a person who has decided to commit to a physical activity, while working to improve their skills. In other words, anyone who chooses to can be an athlete. You may be drawn to a sport, or you may want to try out various activities to find the right fit. Don’t worry about your age or past experience or what you “should” do; if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.
I joined several kayaking groups last summer as a newbie, and am thrilled to have found another sport that I love. I’ll compete in some casual Class 1-2 kayaking events, but kayaking is primarily my safe and peaceful sport. A chance to discover the rivers, lakes, and bays of Northern California, while meeting lots of men and women over 40 who like to do the same thing. We share the delight of seeing eagles, herons, egrets, osprey, pelicans, geese, seals, otters, sea lions, turtles, even sharks and whales in their natural habitat as we float by. A year ago I didn’t realize that these experiences existed.
When I started snowboarding, I was totally unaware of snowboarding competitions. I hadn’t competed in anything since I was a kid in Horse 4H. But my willingness to try a new sport at an “old” age opened up a whole world of unforeseen experiences. I found myself competing on a national level against other women my age who also loved the sport. I produced two award-winning snowboarding videos, and interviewed pro boarders from around the world as they competed to qualify for snowboarding’s historic entry into the Olympics. I competed alongside Shaun White as he evolved from a promising nine-year-old into a multiple Olympic gold medalist. And I found a sport that expresses exactly who I am.
So be open, and ignore your doubts. And the doubts of others. You never know what life may bring if you’re ready to let it in.
Valerie’s Product Pick:
If you thought you could never swim in public again because of your “imperfect” legs, you were wrong. Coolibar has introduced a new age of swimwear – the Active Swim Tight. It comes in two styles; with or without an attached skirt. And it’s offered in three lengths; above the knee, below the knee, and above the ankle. The SUNTECT® fabric is UPF 50+ and resists chlorine and saltwater. I own three of these, and will buy more when they’re offered in more colors.