Winter Sports and the Art of Sucking

I come from a family of cross-country skiers. My father was a coach and my sister was on the Yukon Ski Team. Throughout my youth, our boot-room was cluttered with an assortment of multi-coloured waxes, skis, and poles jutting off at dangerous angles.

I, however, could never figure out the rhythm of the sport. Instead of the effortless glide my kin displayed, I propelled myself through the snow with a strained shuffle.

Inspired by Lanny McDonald and the 1989 Calgary Flames, I chose to play hockey instead. I laced up for four seasons in the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association and under the expert guidance of coach Larry Warner, I developed into the best player in the league who couldn’t turn left.

Dreams of hockey glory eventually faded and I quit playing with a career total of three goals and two penalty minutes (I got a questionable tripping call in my last season).

Since then, it’s been a struggle to stay active in the winter. I fenced for a couple of years, I menaced Mt. Sima for a few seasons and I still get dragged on the occasional jog around the Millennium Trail, but nothing has really taken hold and awoken my passion for winter activity.

The situation is getting dire.

My metabolism, which efficiently processed my calorie intake as a kid, has taken a turn for the worse and I have added the vice of alcohol consumption to my routine. So, in an effort to stem the tide of winter stagnation, I phoned my friend Cam Webber and asked him to teach me how to play squash.

Yesterday I had my first lesson. Here are a few things I like:

The small rubber ball makes a satisfying “whap” sound when it hits the front wall. There is weird intellectual/geometric aspect to the sport – Cam says it’s like playing chess while someone throws bowling balls at you, and oddly, I understand what he means. You don’t notice how exhausted you are until the rally is over; at which point you pant like a dog and re-adjust your shoelaces to buy some time before starting the next rally.

Here’s one thing I don’t like:

I suck.

The don’t-use-your-wrist-when-you-swing technique is completely counter-intuitive and the ball never seems to bounce where I think it will.

Back in my hockey playing days I sucked at that sport too, but I didn’t seem to mind as much. As a kid, my lack of life experience dictated that I was thrown into many situations where I had limited skill. To put it crudely, I sucked at a lot of things; but that was okay — that was part of the adventure of life.

Now, I find myself focusing on the things I’m good, at and quarantining myself from those I’m not. I’m less willing to take risks and way less willing to fail.

But I hope I stick with squash, despite my lack of ability. In order to stay fit as adult, perhaps I need to resuscitate my childlike enthusiasm for athletic incompetence.

Whether I become a legitimate squash player remains to be seen, but I want to become a legitimate practitioner of some winter sport. Simply by entering my childhood bootroom, visitors could see evidence of my family’s passion for cross-country skiing. My winter passion is visible in my bootroom too, but a crate full of empties isn’t inspiring.

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