Saturday, January 24, 2015

Basketball All-Star

In my defense, I was on drugs.

Not the fun kind. The kind my doctor tells me to take when I have a headache: over-the-counter, generic Excedrin Migraine, which is basically a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine. I took it before basketball practice, after I got up from a nap. This migraine that's been following me around all week pops up out of nowhere, makes me feel nauseous and cranky. The kind of cranky that comes from feeling like someone stabbed you in the head with a hatchet. I find that taking my meds and lying in bed with the lights turned off, surrounded by no sound, is the only thing that helps.

Mom tells me to wait it out. It's a thing some women experience in their forties. It'll pass once my hormones get themselves straighted out. Then I can look forward to developing osteoporosis and growing coarse grey hair out of the moles that will make an appearance after my fiftieth birthday. Ah, isn't aging fun? It's fan-freaking-tastic compared to the alternative.

So I had a headache and took some drugs and drove to the school for our scheduled practice time. I'd been feeling dizzy and pukey off and on all day, but once I stepped into the gym and started chatting with these girls I coach--this poor sad sack team that was so desperate for a coach they accepted me for the job--I forgot about my headache.

Three girls were out sick and others had other obligations, so we didn't have enough players for a decent game of scrimmage. Without thinking, I offered to play.

Let me remind you: I'm a short, fat, middle-aged librarian. I break a sweat when I take a brisk walk around the park during my breaks at work. My favorite "activities" are reading and writing. When it's time to cast my biopic, Kathy Bates and Roseanne will have to fight over the lead role.

And I'm fine with all that. I have no desire to work out three hours a day or pass on the dessert tray. I wasted too many years hating my body--from the time I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade til I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at age eleven til I finally gave up dieting in my early forties. Guess what finally changed my mind? A book. Sitting my ass down in a chair and reading my life story written by a doctor I'd never met but who saved my life. After I finished reading Dr. Linda Bacon's triumphant book, Health at Every Size, I vowed to give up dieting, move my body in pleasurable ways, and love myself.

Not only do I feel healthier and satisfied with myself, I've become a good role model for my eight-year-old daughter. I want Katie to love her body, to take care of herself, to avoid developing an eating disorder or an exorbitant need to follow fads and please others. It's a tough job raising a self-confident girl in our society. The only way I know how is to work on my own confidence.

So when the league emailed the parents asking for a volunteer to coach Katie's team, instead of rolling my eyes and deleting it, which was my knee-jerk reaction, I thought about it. I could coach a youth basketball team? Me?

Baller Becky, 7th grade


The question sounded less weird the more I thought about it. I used to play basketball. I was good. Really good. It was my game. I was on the all-star team two years in a row, and in seventh grade I won the layup contest at school by making 24 out of 25 layups. Then my boobs got too big and my bra didn't fit right and it became painful to run down the court. And it was so embarrassing. I was the guard, so it was my job to dribble down the court and either pass to an open teammate or score by going for the layup. I could feel my boobs bouncing, which made them sore, but it was nothing like the agony of feeling all eyes in the auditorium on my gargantuan boobs. I quit after seventh grade and never played again.

I grew up, my boobs got even bigger, and I forgot about playing basketball. I didn't miss it. I found many more obsessions to occupy my time. Thirty years flew by and my daughter needed a coach.

"I'll do it if you can't find anyone else," I wrote back to the league. Within five minutes they replied, offering me the job.

I have no clue what I'm doing, but I like to think it adds to my charm. The first step is showing up. I haven't missed a practice or a game all season. If a parent complains about my coaching ability, all I have to say is, "You wanna coach? Be my guest. If you think you know what's best, why didn't you offer to coach when they needed one? Now they don't. They've got me."

I've only had one girl's parents pull her from the team. At first two girls left, but suddenly, after we won our first game, the second girl started showing up to practices and games. We haven't won any more games since she came back, but so far she's sticking it out with me.

It's been a few months now. Other coaches might be better at teaching their girls the rules of the game and the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't get myself to care. I'm finally feeling more comfortable in my ability to teach these girls to love the game, and, if I'm lucky, to teach these girls to love themselves. That's not the goal of the league. That's my own personal goal.

"I'll be the guard on this team," I announced, pointing toward Katie and one other girl. Katie's by far the least skilled player on the team. She can shoot as long as no one is within ten feet of her to break her concentration. In other words, not at games, not at scrimmages. The other girl is a great ball handler and knows when to pass, but when it comes to making baskets she's not quite as skilled as the other two girls who were playing against them. I decided to get out on the court and help them out. Show the girls, especially my girl, some moves.

"Yeah! Coach is playing!" they all shouted. These girls are in third grade. They're just barely not babies anymore. They don't seem to care what we do as long as we do it together. I'm constantly amazed at parents who buy their children expensive gadgets to keep them occupied when so often kiddos would be just as happy if everyone just set down their devices for a bit and played a round of HORSE together.

"OK, girls! Watch out! The coach is IN THE GAME!" I shouted and smiled like a crazy person. The girls squealed with delight.

I manged to stay in the game for about five minutes, just long enough that I was starting to feel pleased with myself. I was thirteen again. The sweat tricked down my body and captured the breeze as I flew down the court, spinning around to avoid the other girls with their greedy hands. This ball is mine. This is my shot! I'm a star!

That's when I lost control of the ball. I could feel it all happening in slow motion. Just like last month when I twirled down a snowy slope as we made our way to our car after a ballet performance. I could feel myself falling, but I couldn't stop it. Is this going to be something else I get to look forward to in my forties, along with headaches? Am I going to need to start wearing a bracelet that pegs me as a "fall risk"?

Just before I fell, I knew I was running too fast, as if my inner momentum was saying yes, go forward but my outward body was saying nope, time to stop! My shoe caught funny against the carpeted gym floor. I fell down. Hard.  

My immediate thought was to place the blame on someone else. Who the hell puts carpet on gym floors? It's the carpet-layers' fault, not mine. But then I laid there for a moment, staring at the ceiling. Nope, I just got too cocky and it was time for my inner dork to sub into the game. I started to laugh.

"I'm okay! I'm okay!" I shouted from the floor. I heaved myself up, smiled and announced, "OK! Now, that was a demonstration on how NOT to do a layup."

We all broke into hysterics. It took several minutes for the girls to stop giggling. We're lucky no one peed on the floor.

I got back up and into the game. We played a few minutes more, and then it was time to go home. Katie and I were the last to leave. As we walked out the gym doors and into the hallway and headed toward the doors to the parking lot, I felt alive. I felt good. I could feel the blood pumping through my entire body and my headache was completely gone. In fact, despite my fall, I felt euphoric.

I'd missed it so much, that feeling you get after a good game of basketball. Like runners get their highs and lovers get their blissful drowsiness. If this isn't moving my body in pleasurable ways, I don't know what is.

The euphoria lasted all night til I woke up the next morning stiff and creaky and in pain. Oh yeah. I really am a short, fat, middle-aged librarian. No longer a basketball all-star.

But you know, so what? I'm not gonna quit this time. Get the ice packs and Ibuprofen and get back to bed! I slept like a teenager for the rest of the day, ignoring my responsibilities except for one: resting up for the next game like an all-star.