“You are the Emily Dixon of sports,” an old friend told me.
Emily Dixon is a mutual friend, who lives her passions fully. She once took up Rubik’s cube, and rose rapidly to become one of the UK’s fastest female solvers. That not being enough, she learned to solve it with her feet. She is now about to embark on a leg of the Clipper race, despite hanging off the side of a boat for weeks with seasickness on a previous voyage. Emily is one of the most incredible women I know. The comparison is a flattering one.
I recently joined a badminton club. With only a single court in the hall, we always play doubles. I am more hindrance than help as I become an obstacle for my partner, who has to reach at least 90% of the shots. I’ve also just signed up to a netball team for the new year, having (of course) never played netball before.
In 2010, though I was initially incapable of hitting the ball, I played ping pong every single day (except when on tour). It took 6 months to win my first game. Like a gambler, each and every time I was sure I’d simply been unlucky, and the next game would be the one- not realising the odds were stacked against me. My skill level went from abysmal to slightly above average… and then I stopped playing.
There were other reasons why I didn’t go back to track training after this summer’s World Championships- but there is definitely a part of me which wondered if continuing for another year would have brought any progress. Having made some big improvements in 2017, there was significant risk of stagnation. By throwing it away and starting over again, I can once again play the “I’m new” card. I can roll my eyes at missing shuttlecocks well within my reach, knowing there’s no reason that I should be any better than this. In track and field, my newness was wearing off, and as newer members asked for my advice during competition season, I definitely realised I was losing it.
It was certainly tough last winter- it felt like it went on forever. But realistically, I cannot compare one season of self-inflicted hardship to the difficulty of returning year after year, trying to keep making minor improvements after the steep part of the learning curve is over. This was a huge problem in my acrobatics training- perhaps best shown in the show, Box Of Frogs. It’s all fun and games, until you’ve been working on the same trick for 3 years, and it’s not going anywhere and you still don’t want to take the safety harness off.
I never got the “beginner’s kudos” in circus. I did it the easy way- I did gymnastics as a kid- but then struggled to cope with the pressure of continually improving. These new sports that I’ve taken up- people say things like “oh, you’re so brave. I’d never be able to do that.” I thrive off that. But really- starting out is the easy part. It’s sticking it out that I can’t manage.
Image: Screenshot from Mark Morreau’s video of Box Of Frogs by Stumble danceCircus