• Meredith Whiteley

Talent or Courage?

Updated: Feb 28

I might have had talent. How would I know? My dad never played catch with me or my sister. Catch and Little League were for the brothers. One was pretty good. The other—not so much.

Dad left me and my sister to Mom. She was great, but not in the athletic department. The most she ever did was bowl, which I think she did just to be with her friends. She didn’t even send us to ballet because one of those friends bragged too much about her girls becoming future stars. Mom hated bragging and sissies.

I wasn’t one. Not after I stood up to the bully next door who lobbed a rock at my four-year-old head. I still have the scars. I ditched the dolls early on, rode my bike, and crisscrossed the school monkey bars with lightning speed. My knees were always bloody and hands calloused.

All of that changed when I was ten. There were no monkey bars on the fifth-grade playground, the bully moved away, and I became a woman. I grew a foot and my face sprouted. My still little friends hopped-skipped-and-jumped on field days while the P.E. teacher sent me and the other tall and fat girls to run around the field. Track days were for the small and athletic. Not those out of touch with their bodies.

My friends caught up by high school. Most of us opted out of P.E. for things like music and yearbook. We were the brains who envied the cheerleaders, tennis and softball stars. I don’t remember ever thinking about the future of my body.

That future hit the first week of college. Like everyone else, I never read the fine print in the catalog where it said students had to pass fitness and swimming tests and take major and minor sports to graduate. The fitness and swimming tests hit during Freshman Orientation. Twenty sit-ups in a minute. Twenty-five chair-steps in a minute. Swim and save yourself from drowning. I knew nothing about sit-ups or chair steps. I could float but not swim.

Ninety percent of the girls in my Freshman Orientation group had ballet and were certified lifeguards. I was the other ten percent. Laughing, they took pity and coached me through the fitness test but I almost drowned in the pool. Let’s just say I was the best student in remedial swim class. Most of those foreign students had never been in a pool.

The next years were a busy blur. Marriage, divorce, single motherhood. I rode my bike to work, jumped around in fitness classes, and took tennis where I was the worst student. But like my mother, I wasn’t any good at steering my daughter, Felicity, toward softball, baseball, or any other sport. I pushed school music and piano instead.

Felicity found softball all by herself her freshman year of high school. She didn’t know she didn’t stand a chance. Anyone reading this knows high school teams are for girls with talent or have at least played for eons. Girls who have made softball the center of their universe. Girls whose parents are in the stands for every game.

I had a friend whose daughter was on that high school softball team. The girl had huge talent but she didn’t want to play. The coach came by the house, talked to her mom. He said the girl had a future. College. Scholarships. She was back on the bench watching as Felicity tried and failed. Afterward, the girl told her mom and coach how she felt watching a girl who wanted to play so much fail. The girl couldn’t get the big question out of her head:

Why is talent rewarded more than courage?

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