People often refer to me as “The Redhead,” but in pre-school, I was a blonde. The kind of golden-streaked blonde you’d associate with a child who spent her free afternoons outside frolicking in the sunshine. I wasn’t that kind of blonde. No, my toddler-age blonde locks were either simply explained by “it’s her first head of hair,” or a recessive Aryan gene that wouldn’t show itself again until my teen years when I developed the kind of tree-trunk like legs I can only associate with those German Recklings who, I’m sure, also had names like Heidi and Gertrude.
I was just never one of those kids who got a thrill out of running around outside.
The pre-school I attended had a playground nestled on the base of a huge, steep hill. Sitting in the sandbox, the grassy slope looked like it stretched straight up to the sky. When I go back now, I think I need a climbing harness to scale it. When my classmates and I were 4, all we needed was our lunchtime chocolate milk. We’d joyfully trek to the top, our teachers huffing and puffing behind. I realize now that they only allowed us to do this because recess was immediately followed by nap time and what better way to tire children out than let them climb up Mt. Everest, without oxygen. Once at the summit, we’d let loose and run, at full speed back to the bottom.
It only took one misplaced step and a badly grass-burned knee for me to realize this was a terrible way to have fun.
Long and short of it, running didn’t suit my build. I was bottom heavy and plump. Plus it caused injuries. But my tumble and the subsequent gauze bandage flicked on a light switch. Why run down the hill when you can roll down a hill?
As a rotund child, trying to power my legs in coordinated circular motions at high-speed seemed inefficient. Rolling, on the other hand, was just a simple case of transferring my weight from one side of my body to the other, in the same direction. Something I did on a regular basis, like when I was getting out of bed. Gravity would take care of the rest. All I had to do was steer away from the occasional rock and keep my eyes closed.
This must have been how the cavemen discovered the wheel: they pushed the fat kid down the hill and watched him roll.
The truth was I hated running. Relay races were the bane of my existence. The only reason I batted clean-up in Little League was that I had learned that if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t need to outrun a throw to first. In fact, if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t have to run the bases at all – I could quickly stroll around them. I hit a lot of homeruns. I also walked a lot. I guess you could say my distaste for running helped me develop a “good-eye.”
Running suicides really was suicide for me, and the Presidential Fitness Test’s Mile Run usually put me under for a week — even if I was relatively sporty.
But then came life as a Division 1 Collegiate Athlete.
In college, I seemed to find my legs as a runner. I’d wake up and hit Riverside Park before class. I wasn’t fast, but I had endurance. It was part of my cross-training between competitive seasons. And when I was having a rough stretch in class or in my social life, I’d hit the road and let my legs go until I thought they’d fall off. Running became a way to clear my head and heal emotional wounds. I became rather good at it.
I can’t run anymore. A sport-related accident makes running painful again and to my inner-4-year old’s surprise, I miss it.
On the up side, I can still roll down a hill, carelessly, and joyfully.