Sport gave me the faith to be myself

These two Canadian Paralympic Committee videos – “It’s not what’s missing, it’s what’s there” and “It’s more than sport” – really resonate with me.

I love how well they capture and communicate the spirit of parasport. And I love the inclusiveness of them, how their messages offer truths about being active that any of us can learn from. That we can, as my yoga teacher likes to say,”honour where we’re at”.

So what if the family next door all cycle around the neighbourhood together like some G-rated biker gang?

So what if the parents do marathons and their kids are champion soccer/baseball/hockey players (and straight “A” students)?

You are where you are. If you have a pair of runners (or even if you don’t) you and your kids can go for a walk to the park.

You can play a wicked game of basketball tossing socks into the laundry hamper.

You can build an amazing obstacle course out of kitchen chairs and sofa cushions and hop, skip, and run through it.

Don’t worry about what you don’t have, work with what you do have.

That we can – parents and kids both – get so much more out of being active than just physical health benefits. That sport challenges us to take risks and to push ourselves, to learn new skills, and to see ourselves differently.

And this change doesn’t even need to come from capital “S” sport.

When I was fifteen I was pretty miserable with my self/weight/life. My parents bought me a sparkly blue 10-speed in the hopes I’d get inspired, but the last thing I wanted to do was go outside – in revealing shorts and t-shirts – and be “sporty”.

Not only was I profoundly “un-sporty,” I thought people would see me and go: “Oh, she’s exercising because she’s trying to lose weight.” (Actually in my head it was more like, “Hey, check out the fat kid on her new bike. Way to go, chubby!”) And, boy, did this thought rankle.

After some initial encouragement from my mom (it was something like, “YOU WILL GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE AND RIDE THAT BIKE”), I committed to riding for a half an hour, down in the provincial park next to our house, every Saturday.

I took a watch. And when fifteen minutes was up, I immediately turned around and doubled back. No way was I going to do one more minute than was necessary.

God, how I hated it.

But I couldn’t let go of how much better I felt when I came home. Not just physically; I felt such a big sense of accomplishment, just for doing my little half-hour.

So that half-hour soon became an hour and Saturdays became whenever I felt like going out riding until I remember barreling through the shallow part of a creek (not the best use of a Miyata 10-speed, I grant you) and up onto the red-gravel bike path feeling pretty darned sporty, if I do say so myself.

And as I zipped past a walking couple I heard the guy say, with a laugh: “Did you see her shorts?”

I remember the mocking tone in his voice. But I can also remember how, in that moment, I really and truly didn’t give a crap what he thought. I was having a great ride and, yes, my shorts were a little tight and, yeah, they were pretty unfashionable, but so what?

I still treasure this moment because it was one of the first times I can remember being able to take someone else’s criticism and not have it get me down. Because I was confident in who I was and what I was doing. And it sure as heck didn’t stop me riding.

I can’t remember whether or not I lost weight that summer because what I gained stuck with me more: faith in myself, faith in my ability to make a difference in my own life. And nobody can take that away from me.

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