Gift of Sport

For two weeks we were in the water every day except for the two days spent traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. We would spend two hours snorkeling in the morning, break for lunch, and another two to three hours snorkeling in the afternoon, and oftentimes when we did get back to land I would spend another hour or so playing in the waves. So when we finished our fieldwork time and had a day to spend working on analyzing our data, I was initially really excited to relax. But by mid-afternoon, the hours behind a computer began to blur into a mass of floating black letters. Finally I gave up and walked outside, desperate to do something active–go hiking, go swimming, play volleyball. Oh how I wanted to play volleyball. To let go of circling statistics and roommate drama and focus entirely on encapsulated moments: serve, pass, set, spike.

The only things stopping me were that we were in a beach town in Panama, with no access to net or ball, and most of my classmates had taken a taxi to the other side of the island: so really everything. But the more I thought about how my chances of playing volleyball were pretty much zero, the more I was desperate to get on the court and out of my head. I had all of this pent-up energy humming on my skin like a build-up of static electricity, which was driving me to go anywhere just to get moving.

I went for a walk, and when I found a beach I pulled off my shoes and started running. For many people this might be a normal thing to do, but I’ve never been interested in running for exercise. This time, though, the impact of my feet on that hard-packed sand grounded me, pulling together all the loose energy and leaving it behind. I told myself I would run the length of the beach, and though I was gasping by the end of it, I kept going the whole way. And there, by some fantastic blessing, was a volleyball net set up in the sand, and even more importantly, when I arrived there was a full game in progress.

I stopped and stood there next to the court, entranced by the movement of the ball back and forth, the good-natured talk bantered around in a mixture of English and Spanish. It was so wonderful just to see people playing that I didn’t even realize I was staring until the game ended. All at once I felt shy, concerned that they already had an even number of players and probably wouldn’t want a random girl in jean shorts inserting herself into their group anyway. But even as I worried that asking to play with them would be rude, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave without giving it my best shot.

Fortunately, one team was willing to let me join them. A couple passes and a string of serves later, they seemed quite happy to have me there. And I was ecstatic. I had some good plays and some bad plays, and even took a hit to the face from a spike that squeezed over the too-low net, and I was blissfully happy. I had so much fun I kept playing until the sun had begun to set, at which point I realized I was late for dinner. With lots of protesting from tired muscles, I ran the whole way back, and got back sweaty and smiling swith just a few minutes to spare.

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