Finding your Sport

Posted Tuesday, 07 May 2019

I always wanted to be a good athlete when I was young but I was skittish, uncoordinated and undersized. Although it struck me as unfair that I was lousy at sports, it never stopped me from trying. I played field hockey, basketball and softball for my school teams, all poorly.

When I went to university and starting dating, I was dismayed to learn that my boyfriend was an All-American athlete. Up until that point, I had maintained the hope that my romantic partner would admire me for my physical gifts. Instead when I sprinted next to him during our morning runs, he would walk at a fast trot and keep pace with me to show me how slow I was. I found his obnoxious behaviour charming so I married him and we had three kids. 

Despite evidence to the contrary, I still believed in myself. It was just a question of finding my sport, the sport which would unleash all my latent athleticism. So, when my children tried a new activity, I did, too. This is how I learned I was terrible at gymnastics, skateboarding, skiing and horseback riding.

I asked my husband what sport my body was built for. He looked me up and down, considering. “You’re built for a death march,” he said.

“What kind of sport is that?” I asked, incredulous.

He pinched my bicep as if checking my muscle tone. “If you had to set off on a trail of tears, you could strap our kids onto your back and walk further than anyone. It’s a great quality in a wife.”

“I don’t want to discuss something imaginary,” I said. “What actual sport would I be good at? It’s time I found it.”

“What am I, Nostradamus?” he said. “How should I know?”

Undeterred, I kept seeking my sport. One sunny February morning, my children found three pogo sticks buried under some barbells in the garage. The large one was for adults and big kids. The medium one was for younger children. The toddler version had a wide base to balance on. It was impossible to topple.

My middle daughter tried to climb on the medium one and fell.

I helped my six-year-old son climb onto the baby version of a pogo stick. He bounced up and down for a few moments, got bored and went inside the house to play with his toys. 

My daughters tried and failed to master their pogo sticks. “I don’t like this,” my older daughter said. She shoved her adult-sized pogo stick into my hands. “You try.”

“It doesn’t seem that difficult,” I said. I mounted the stick but every time I jumped once or twice, I lost my balance and had to hop off. 

My younger daughter tried alongside me and fell again and again. My eldest got restless and demanded her pogo stick back. I fobbed her off, realising that if I could master this skill before my children did, my athletic prowess would become legendary. I would brag about this solitary achievement until I died.

Then inspiration struck. “Maybe the problem is that we’re fighting the stick,” I said. “What if instead of pushing down into the handles, we pull up and see what happens?” I tried again, this time pulling the handles up as I jumped. I bounced until losing my balance.

“Wow, mama! That’s great,” my younger daughter said.

“I am great,” I said, feeling magnificent. “I became one with the pogo stick. It’s like finding enlightenment.” My life was changing. I had finally found my sport. I would pogo stick every day and become the world’s greatest hopper. I ignored my eldest as she demanded a turn. I got back on and bounced up and down. Now my children had two athletes for parents.

I heard a snap and felt an essential part of my knee give way. I crumpled onto the dirt, writhing in pain. I screamed obscenities for an incalculable amount of time with my eyes closed. When I finally opened my eyes, my daughters were holding hands, gaping at me.

A month later, I had surgery on both my knees. I never once got back on a pogo stick. All the pain and rehab was worth it, though. For one glorious moment, I was an athlete.

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.


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