Every running story needs that great turnaround moment, that time when the protagonist first ran and decided, This is my zen. I won’t disappoint too much, but some of you larger types might want to skip this chapter, because I’m going to use the terms “fat” and “big” and “overweight” in ways that many people these days would consider flippant and possibly rude. Indeed, I consider these terms judgmental and rude, but it’s hard to be self-reflective without entering dark territory. So:
I started running because I was a fat kid.
The year was 1993. As a high school freshman, I tipped the scales at 200 lbs and bent the tape measure at 5’8” -- including my awesome late-80s/early-90s Zach Morris-with-a-mullet hairstyle. I was a happy-go-lucky kid with a good brain who didn’t consider athletics relevant. I reached high school with the intention of opting out of the PE requirement (that lobby was successful, but it came through 3 years later when I was already as gorgeous as The Thinker at dawn).
During what was both his and my freshman year, my oldest brother -- four years my elder -- started playing lacrosse. He was suckered in by a roommate or across-the-hall neighbor (my command of his living arrangements in college is sketchy at best, clouded by decades of alcohol and not finding it important enough to look into), who happened to mention that the team needed a goalie. A goalie! What possessed that goon to play in the net? Perhaps we may never know, because I refuse to send him that particular G-chat; instead, I’ll chat him about his fantasy football picks and carry on as though this question is unanswerable.
Though I cannot speak for my brother, what possessed me to play in the net was just my natural reflexes -- sharp as a Ginsu knife after cutting that tin can a few times. Oh, and my girth. Yes, that might have had something to do with it, at least at first.
After my brother came back from college over winter break, nothing would be the same. My other brother (one grade above me) and I got our friends together, and we started buying lacrosse sticks. It was a magical time, when you had to get things from catalogs. We may have bought our first plastic toss-around sticks from Sears, back when you could page through and ogle the air hockey table or beg your parents for the cool RC car without knowing that both products were as durable as...well, as a lacrosse stick intended for 6-year olds and used by high schoolers in careless full-contact, padless games in the back yard. (Still, that air hockey table would have been sweet.)
I think we each went in about $10 -- that was a couple pizzas back in my day, when we didn’t have the internet and flat screen TVs and DVRs -- for the first sets of sticks, and a dozen of us would rotate in to run around the yard with a tennis ball playing 4-on-4 plus a designated goalie. I was almost always the designated goalie. It...was...awesome.
I could take a ball to the gut.
I could take a ball to the knee.
I could take a ball to the head and still walk away.
I could also take balls to the balls.
You knew that was coming because this list can realistically only end up in one place. Yes, I doubled over and may have fallen down once or twice, but compared to getting hit in the wing-wang-doodle with a lacrosse ball, a 45 mph tennis ball doesn’t do much damage. (Side note: I was not the local goalkeeper who discovered the agony of getting a lacrosse ball straight in the groin without protection; that honor went to my freshman apprentice whose testicle, it was later related to me, swelled up to several times its normal size and caused him severe problems walking for a month or so. I do not envy the experimental path he trod.)
Anyway, listing all the parts of the body isn’t going to help you visualize just how crazy I probably looked as a mulleted fat kit standing in front of the shed door with a broken lacrosse stick while my compadres tossed a tennis ball around with green, purple, blue, and black all-plastic sticks -- many held together with duct tape or electrical tape -- and tried to hurt each other as much as possible without causing permanent damage. Those gorgeous spring days in the Pacific Northwest were the start of a new and exciting chapter for all of us.