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My Fitness Journey: Heather Williams

To tell my story about fitness would be to first admit that I made a poor choice – one of those you’ll-regret-it-for-the-rest-of-your-life choices – and that was to not try out for the high school girls basketball team my freshman year. Well, I did go the first day but then I never went back that week. I quit. And my mother has yet to let me live it down 30 years later!

I was always outside playing sports with my older brother and his friends, playing tag on the roof of our house (yes, tag on the roof!), or watching football with my dad on the weekends. I was the classic tomboy that was about to enter the big bad world of high school sports. Piece of cake! After all, I played every playground sport there was from tetherball, dodgeball, kickball, and flag football to small league sports like baseball and soccer, where many of those times I was the only girl. I “tried out” for the track team and the basketball team my last year in junior high, making both. See, I thought I had this high school thing in the bag! And then I opened the door to the high school gym.

What I saw happening on the floor basically amounted to a small basketball clinic being put on right in front of my eyes. These girls were tall, they made quick moves, passed like Magic Johnson, and could shoot from what appeared to be the half-court line – making their shots. My self-inflated confidence evaporated before the doors could close. Everything I thought I knew went out those doors and down the hall. I looked for anything, big or small, that I could use as an excuse not to go through with this because when this was over, I did not want to see that my name was left off the “You Made It” list. This was going to be my reason for not being on the team, not that guy over there yelling at the gym full of girls.

The coach was the one who I targeted as my reason – my scapegoat – to say it didn’t work out. He didn’t look nice, he yelled a lot, he had a bad haircut, bad breath even, anything to make the trip home easy. When I left the workout, I went home and told my mom and dad that it wasn’t for me. I’d have a lot of homework, be unavailable to do my jobs around the house, the coach was a yeller, anything to make this unfamiliar feeling of quitting to go away. My parents could smell something was fishy but didn’t say a word.

As time went on that year, I made new friends and kept on playing sports but that was getting harder to do because we didn’t have sports outside of school back then. You were either on a team and had practice after school or you didn’t. I was losing my friends to sports, the very thing that I loved but voluntarily removed myself from, because they were busy with practice. It was a lesson that I was not about to admit out loud but was going to do something about. Stop right there if you are hearing the Rocky theme in your head and picturing me getting up at the crack of dawn to go shoot 1,000 basketballs and then I went off to make the winning championship shot at the buzzer! No, I just decided I was going to try out for the team my sophomore year and see what happens.

October rolled around and try-outs started. The same coach was there, yelling at us to move it up and down the court. Pass! Fill your lane! Shoot! But this time he didn’t seem that bad. Yes he yelled, but I tuned it out and didn’t take it personally. As the week went on and the final day came to view the “You Made It” list, I thought if I didn’t see my name in black and white it was going to be okay because I finished.

The list was posted and I saw my name, it was official, I had made the girls basketball team all on my own! I worked hard that year, and the next and the next, even receiving the “Most Improved Player” my senior year. And the coach that yelled? He was an amazing guy that wasn’t a yeller after all. I asked him once why he yelled during that first week and he told me, “ I yell on purpose during try-outs to weed out the girls that can’t handle the environment and that just didn’t want it”. If he only knew how true that was.

Sports have always been a part of me, whether watching or playing. My experience playing basketball was one that I never will forget. Not the time I fouled out of the game against our cross-town rivals or the time that I made my free throws during crunch time at an away game with a hostile crowd. I remember playing in all of the games because I didn’t quit.

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