With the London 2012 Olympics permeating the airwaves and holding court in the newspapers, it is perhaps not surprising that I have decided to write about the Athletic Squirrel. In this post, I shall regale you with tales of my athletic prowess and sporting achievements. My wife rolls on the ground laughing when she hears me tell of my days of glory in the basketball team and doing the high jump. This annoys me but I realise that her disbelief may have something to do with the fact that these days, I am kind of short for my weight and my centre of gravity is rather low. Nevertheless, I hope that you gentle readers will be more
Competitive Monkey Bars
My earliest foray into the sports arena occurred when I was in kindergarten. I was trying to beat my personal best time on the monkey bars when there was this slow poke holding up traffic on the apparatus. Being highly competitive and motivated, I pulled his hands off the bars to get him out of my way. The little twerp fell heavily to the ground, started crying and went to complain to the teacher and I was pulled off the monkey bars, disqualified and banned from the sport. And so from an early age, I was traumatised for being punished for being competitive and I think this had a lifelong impact which reflected in my lack of future success in sports. Yes, that’s probably the reason.
I took up roller skating when I was about 12 years old. In those days, roller skating was in its infancy in Malaysia. The roller skates were not like the sleek roller blades of today but more resembled something assembled from spare parts found in a car chop shop. In fact, my pair came with its own set of spanners and tools. It was the good old days before safety helmets or knee pads. Heck, our skating rink was the school car park. I got pretty damaged with many scrapes and bloodied knees. But as I recall, it was damage done to teachers’ cars parked there from collisions with the soft bodies and brains of hurtling student skaters that resulted in the sport being shut down.
This is even an Olympic sport! And I picked it up at school when I was just 13. We were fortunate in having a teacher who was a fencing enthusiast. He single-handedly set up the school fencing club, buying much of the necessary equipment including the swords, masks and protective clothing out of his own pocket. Like many other youngsters at that time, i jumped at the chance to play at being a swashbuckler like Errol Flynn ( I guess the current equivalent would be Capt’n Jack Sparrow aka Johnny Depp). We poked with the foil, slashed with the epee and did all sorts of nonsense with the sabre. The teacher held a school-wide fencing competition and I made it to the semi-finals. I eventually won the bronze. Unfortunately, during the course of the competition, our over enthusiasm cause many blades to be broken. So, fun was had by all except the teacher in charge. Left with only a couple of functioning swords, the broke and broken teacher had to shut down the fencing club after only one year of running.
This one always cracks my wife up but it is absolutely true. When I was about twelve, all the kids in that year had to take part in sports tryouts. So I tried out and rather unexpectedly, after a little coaching, I was able to make the cutoff mark in high jump. The coach gave me a letter asking me to join the athletics team to train for high jump. I took that letter excitedly home to show my parents. My mother immediately penned a letter to the headmaster in which she requested that I be exempted from high jump practice because I was already soft in the head and could not risk further injury. That was the end of my high jump career but what could have been…what could have been…
This was really the sport of my childhood. I played it every week and whenever I was free when I was growing up. However, in Malaysia, a cager was a dime a dozen and I did not really stood out. It was only when I went to UK (in those days, basketball was not quite as popular as it is now) that I had a chance to be chosen to be part of the school team. Unfortunately, I was in the reserves and probably had less that 15 minutes on the court during the whole season. Ah, well. It meant some traveling and missing some lessons so it wasn’t a total loss. Almost getting killed on a basketball court during a showdown of rival school gangs kind of took the shine off the game a little for me. Still, the main reason I dropped out in later life was the lack of easily accessible basketball courts.
My days at a British school just before University, also introduced me to a number of sports. One that I always remember is the 10 km cross-country run. We were all required to run and train for this 10 km race which took us along the beaches of Brighton, then up along some white chalk cliffs before proceeding inland towards the rolling hills called the Downs. We ran on pebbles, on roads, through country lanes, through pathways crossing farms and even along a horse racing circuit. Being in England, it could be hot and dry, and wet, cold and blustery all in the same day. I was not among the top runners but I ran the race twice and I am happy to say that I made it. I completed the race and I wasn’t even the last one to finish. It was embarrassing to have been caught trying to catch the local bus along part of the route on the last year I took part. In my defense, it was raining and that stretch is just uphill all the way!
That same school also insisted that I play rugby and so I did. I can honestly say that in my entire rugby career, I probably never held the rugby ball more than ten times, never successfully scored any points nor tackled any opposing player. Let’s face it. I sucked at rugby. Most games, my highlight was getting to at least slap the opposing player on the stomach as he ran past me on the way to score. Today, I am still involved in rugby but my proper field position is that of “spectator”! I am a very good spectator and rugby fan.
Cycling and Swimming
On a more serious note, cycling and swimming are perhaps two sports that I actually a little proud of. The first time I took up cycling was when I was about 14 and I almost got myself killed on the road that same year while cycling. But despite the shock, I still loved cycling. When I was in Ottawa, Canada for my postgraduate studies, I took to cycling to my University as a way of saving money and got quite good at it by the end of my stay there. Among my adventures was cycling in the snow (wonder if that will ever be a Winter Olympic event?) and completing a 20 km ride.
I can swim but then again I suppose 80% of everybody swims. I did swim reasonably well in my youth though again not at any competitive level. Unfortunately, today, I probably swim more like a frog than a dolphin.
Well, that is my fairly embarrassing tale of my sporting achievements. Don’t you just hate all those over-achieving Olympic athletes. Always support the under-dog.