Useful Life Skill   13 comments

Did you ever get picked last in gym or some other class? Have you used that in your writing?

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Of Course!

I’m 5’1″. I wasn’t always short compared to my classmates. I hit my growth spurt early, so I was one of the tallest kids in class … in the 4th grade — and I was average until junior high when some of my fellow students started growing and then ….

Norwegian with a fish bat

I’m an athlete — in the water. I could outswim anyone from the 4th grade on. Even in high school, I came in at respectable times in girls’ sprints and I could even beat slow boys in the longer events. I was a top-rated distance swimmer in the State of Alaska. One of my records (for the 400 individual medley) still stands (so my son says from when he was swimming seven years ago). I was a great athlete … in the swimming pool.

Or if you wanted me to do something involving my legs for a long time — like the Equinox Marathon. The Equinox is considered the 2nd hardest marathon in the US (second to Pike’s Peak) mainly because it is usually started at hypothermic temperatures and sometimes (depending on the vagaries of Alaska September) finished at sweat-inducing temperatures. It also goes up and over the +2000-foot Ester Dome. I’m not a runner, but I’ve done the marathon route as a hike a few dozen times. I competed in the official marathon four times and finished it twice. I came in not in the bottom 20 both times, beating old people, the obese, and small children both times. A lot of actual marathon runners don’t finish the Equinox, so that’s not a bad record.

Back to the Gym Picks

I’m 5’1″. I wasn’t any taller in high school, so of course, I was always picked last for most team sports. I didn’t really care because I hate sports that involve teams. Yeah, I was on the swim “team”, but swimming is an individual sport. You compete against yourself and sometimes you beat another swimmer, but you really don’t have to rely on the athletic ability of someone else. And nobody else had to rely on my athletic ability. I obviously was no competition in basketball and at 100 pounds, I wasn’t hitting a baseball to the outfield. So I was always picked last.

Including the swimming section we had to do in sophomore gym. Technically, my high school didn’t have a swim team. It was a community team that the high school didn’t claim until my junior year. You’d think my classmates might have noticed that I came to first period with my hair wet from practice, but that apparently never connected because Joyce — a high school athletic goddess who was center for the girl’s basketball team and took our girls volleyball team to State three times — picked me last for “races” in swimming. Hey, at least she picked me over the girl who floated like a balloon in the water. Feeling my oats because I knew how good I was in the water, I joked that I had all the buoyancy of a brick (which was actually true; I had a very solid core — another clue Joyce missed when I walked out in my swimsuit.) I then proceeded to beat EVERYONE in every event. I beat girls who were 6-inches taller than me. I didn’t compete in sprints, but I still won them that day. against non-competitive swimmers. We only went up to the 200 meter and I won that by a quarter of a pool-length and Joyce was my closest competition. Boys and girls were in separate classes back then, but the teacher reported a few days later that I beat 80% of the boys’ times. The four boys I didn’t beat I knew from the Midnight Sun Swim Team. Of course I didn’t beat them. They were swimmers … and I had beat one of them in a practice race the week before. Because I swam the longer races, it was hard to get up for a race without competition and not a lot of girls locally swam 400 meters, so I practiced against the boys…and very occasionally beat the slower ones.

That summer, the school district adopted Midnight Sun as the school’s swim team, so I didn’t have to attend gym any longer, so it wasn’t until our 10-year reunion that I realized the impact of simply doing what I knew I was capable of doing had on my classmates. Joyce, ever the organizer, got the great idea to do some competitive athletics as part of our weekend. Some woman I don’t even remember from high school picked me first for the water monkey-in-the-middle team. I acquitted myself well because even though I haven’t grown since high school, I played water polo in college. My taller competitors wondered how I got my toes into the hems of their bath suits to propel myself above their heads. While that is an illegal move in water polo, it’s also a common move when the refs can’t see it and, well, monkey-in-the-middle doesn’t have any real rules.

Then one of the men picked me first for his norwegian team. Norwegian, or Eskimo stickball, is pretty similar to brannboll, though Alaska Native villages have some variations and it probably predates baseball in Alaska; sometimes called “anauligatuk”, “anau” or “laptuuk”, it’s called “norwegian” in the Interior villages and nobody seems to know why. Rod picked me for norwegian because he thought I was part-Alaska Native (I’m part-Lower 48 Indian) and had to have played a lot of norwegian growing up. Fortunately, I learned the game when visiting Ambler Alaska and played it with friends since — otherwise, that would have been incredibly embarrassing. Since I was the only woman on the two teams who had ever played before, it was kind of fun to watch those girls who never picked me look foolish for one afternoon. I worked extra hard to be very gracious in teaching them how to play the game.

Have I Ever Used Being Picked Last In My Writing?

The “picked last for gym” scenario is a children’s literature trope and I don’t write children’s literature, so I haven’t used it yet, but I recently drafted a scene for the next book in the Transformation Project series where Jazz tells Shane about why she took up running and shooting. I didn’t know about this writing prompt at the time. It was just a happy confluence of ideas.

Being Picked Last Sucks, But …

It’s character-building. I look back at the kids who were always the first on the pick-up team and I think they could have used being picked last a few times. I think it teaches you to be a better sportsman. For me, it taught me to be comfortable with the sports I was good at and not sweat the sports I wasn’t made for. It also taught me to not pick the best athletes myself. Everybody, even great athletes, needs the experience of being picked last just so they can know what disappointment feels like. Graciousness is a useful life skill.

Posted February 15, 2021 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

13 responses to “Useful Life Skill

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  1. I never understood picking your friends for your team. I wanted to play to win, for Pete’s sake!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Unless your friends were players!


      • True and the athletes always hung together at my school. I didn’t. Even when the swim team became part of the school, I still preferred to hang out with thinkers rather than athletes. I’d already staked that as my territory in a school that had a certain view of athletes. It was kind of fun to have them court me after my trophies made it into the worship hall cases. I never really joined the athletes’ community. Not really a “team” kind of person.

        And, Joyce and I became friends later. She was a 15-year-old athletic goddess, but she was actually a nice person who learned a lesson from that day at the pool.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was never a “Team leader” so i never got the chance to pick friends or pick based on ability. then again, people seemed smart where i came from and did pick on ability a lot since i sucked at football…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome, Kendra. I was never a team person and I can’t recall a teacher ever selecting me as the team leader for anything. I’ve done it as an adult for Vacation Bible Schools. And, I always try to pick some of the kids you know are always picked last because I know what it means to them. And sometimes they prove why they’re picked last, but every so often you get one that shines.


  3. Everyone needs to win a big one and lose a couple of big ones. Coming up short or just flat getting your ass kicked is the same as picked last. Like you didn’t even belong in the same park. In the Sunday afternoon coed games I’d take the extra girls the weekend warriors didn’t want. Most of time they got the passes because the guys were all over each other and not paying attention. Which I never understood. You’re gonna bump and grab some guy and ignore the cheerleaders in jeans?

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s that line from It’s a Wonderful Life? “Youth is wasted on the young.”

      I think people need a mix of experiences to be well-rounded. I’d already lost plenty of races and my times that day weren’t wonderful compared to my historical times. But it was sure fun.

      My daughter did something similar in high school. Some football players were swaggering around about how they were athletes and she wasn’t. She was this all skinny thing. She probably could have beat them in a footrace, but she instead dared the quarterback to match her in eleve. That’s a ballet move where you’re on your toes. She was kind, she didn’t expect him to go on pointe. He managed about four minutes, while using someone’s shoulder for balance. She continued to do it with first position arms for about 20 minutes. She could have gone longer, but I showed up to take her to dance class. That was still a legend when her brother was at the same high school six years later. The QB was coaching there and he had actually incorporated it into the training routine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Been around ballet and dancers since I was 19 (a very long time). Dancers are extreme athletes. The ones who make it look effortless? Sheesh. There was winning college basketball coach years ago. His entire team took ballet. We know a kid who excels at hockey and ballet. Guys used to jive him and his response was being the only guy in a room full of fit, talented athletic girls in their underwear wasn’t the worst way to workout.
        In fact dancers and dance class figure in a lot of my work. I won’t advertise on your site, but Logan the Valley Girl Prima Ballerina is a fave.


      • When my daughter was dancing, her studio had trouble getting male dancers (Alaska – where men are men and women win the Iditarod, right?). They couldn’t do some of the dances they wanted to do because girls just aren’t strong enough to lift other girls over their heads. One day, one of the dojos came to the director and wanted to know if he could get some ballet lessons for his guys. Some of them were pretty clumsy and he thought they’d be improved with ballet. So Ms. Rebecca made a deal with him – free ballet lessons if they’d lift girls. All they really had to do was hit a mark and lift these girls. But it became so popular, some of the guys are still doing it 10 years later. At least one of them became a principle dancer for the studio and then went onto a middling professional career. Others still dance for the studio. It was a successful merger.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Like

      • Exactly. My daughter is 5’8″ and weighs about 120-125 pounds. Imagine lifting her over your head with one arm and making it look graceful rather than like you’re doing a one-arm shoulder lift?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Like you I hated team sports. I’m not a ‘team’ person, lol. Well done for your prowess at swimming. I didn’t mind swimming, just as long as I didn’t have to race anybody!

    Liked by 1 person

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