Partners.

I arrived at the Austin airport ridiculously early this morning and ran into Alicyn, my doubles partners from my days of junior tennis. What are the chances that I would run into Alicyn on my way to New Haven, where I am going to visit my doubles partner from my boarding school days? Those sorts of coincidences make me think I’m doing the right things with my life these days.

Heading out to see Sarah and running into Alicyn totally got me thinking about my days of playing tennis. I spent hours and hours, both before and after school on the tennis court. I was living in Corpus Christi at the time, and Mom and I travelled constantly on the weekends for tournaments in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, McAllen, Wichita Falls and eventually to California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and elsewhere, as I became a national player. We were always on the go. I regularly packed and unpacked, always hoping I hadn’t forgotten anything important, like my tennis racket, shoes or bloomers. (Yes, I wore skirts and, therefore, had to wear bloomers. Tennis clothes weren’t terribly cool back in the day.)

I realized that, in many ways, I’m still living that life. I workout before and after work. I travel lots across the country, and many times, Mom still travels with me. I’m constantly making lists so I don’t forget my bike shoes, gloves, race belt, lucky hat, or lucky socks. The differences are that I’m doing triathlons and running, rather than playing tennis. I’m making the plans instead of playing whatever tournaments Mom signed me up for. And I’m competing only with myself. (The clothes are still pretty uncool, except for the finishers’ clothes. Those are super cool.)

I wonder if I would have embraced the races I do now if I hadn’t been an athlete as a little kid. I’ve always juggled my activities. I’ve always loved being physical in some way. I’ve always enjoyed working hard and then putting my feet up with a good book. As a kid, I put my feet up in the back of the car while Mom drove me home from tournaments. These days, I’m putting my feet up in hotels.

Then and now, I’ve made incredible friends through my sports.  In my youth, tennis was about Alicyn, Sarah, Michelle, Teri, Anne, Heather, Jennifer, Tina, Ericca, David, and others. Today, triathlons and runs are about Jeanie, Erin, Malinda, Robin, Catherine, Kerry, Poppe, Jenny, Fred, MJ,  Judy, Betsy, and so many more. My tennis trophies are in boxes in my garage. I suspect some day, my race medals will be too. (Maybe not the Ironman medals!) But the people I met along the way remain in my heart as the best part of what I did then and what I do now.

I remember being in Hurst-Euless-Bedford are playing a match with Alicyn. I had just screwed up a point, and we stood at the back fence trying to rally one another’s spirits. I stood with my back to the fence, and I got so angry at myself that I banged the edge of my racket against the fence behind me. Little did I know that we stood right by a pole. I heard the crack of my racket when it hit the pool. Oops. That broken racket would be a tough one to explain to my mother. At that point we laughed so hard. I don’t remember if we won or lost the match, but I remember that we laughed.

That I recall laughter that took place more than twenty-five years ago tells me that I was doing something right then. And that I see my friend today and still feel the same warmth towards her that I did when we were kids trying to find our way on the tennis court tells me that what came out of tennis for me was not a skill or a drive to athleticism. I ended up with sweet and wonderful friendships. Lots of sweet and wonderful friendships.

I remember the day Jeanie called me in 2007 and told me to log onto ironman.com. I remember the cheerleading she did. When I reminded her about the size of my ass, she quickly assured me that it was the size of my heart that mattered. I remember the shock and the joy of registering for that first Ironman, and I remember all of the laughter and the occasional tears shed along the way as we trained that first year. I remember the race, but mostly, when I think about Coeur d’Alene in 2008, I think about Jeanie, Erin, Malinda and Robin and the friendships that grew out of that race.

I’m so grateful for the people I’ve met along the way. I’m so grateful for each and every partner through my adventures. Then and now.

Go Dance.

My dance instructor thinks I’m a complete idiot. I think he does, anyway. In fact, I’m so confident that he does that I would bet Bread and Butter on it.

I’m taking swing and two-step lessons right now. I started one month ago and have taken eight group classes and three private lessons. There’s a lot I can do now that I couldn’t do four weeks ago. I can do turns and spins. I can get into and out of what they call a “shadow” position. I can modify my three-step swing movements into a jitterbug. I’ve learned a lot of mechanics, but I’m not terribly smooth at them because I have no balance. I have no rhythm either, but my instructor tells me that I don’t have to have rhythm. I only have to worry about the lead’s rhythm. Balance, on the other hand, is my responsibility.

So tonight, we worked on balance, which meant we spent much of the hour doing “simple” pivot turns down the dance floor. My instructor is incredibly graceful at them. Me? Not so much. I can’t keep straight which foot my weight is supposed to be on and which direction I’m supposed to turn. I kept having to ask.  Our conversations went much like this:

Taline: So which foot am I supposed to be on?

Instructor: The Left.

Taline: Which way am I winding up?

Instructor: To the Left.

Taline: So I’m turning to the right?

Instructor: Yes, to the right, over the right shoulder.

Taline: So what we’re doing now is the opposite of what we just did?

Instructor: No. It’s exactly what we just did. It’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the last half hour.

Oy. What am I doing? Why am I putting myself through this dance business? Why am I subjecting myself to the embarrassment and subjecting my instructor to the torture of dealing with a complete incompetent on the dance floor?

Because I have to. I have got to get more comfortable in my own skin and learning to dance is the only PG rated way I can think of to do that.

I remembering being a kid and taking tennis lessons from a coach who didn’t understand me one bit. One night, Jack and I were working on my serve, and he demonstrated what he wanted without tossing the ball and without actually striking anything. He just demonstrated the motion. Then he told me to show him the motion he’d just shown me.  I stood there for at least a half hour refusing to pretend to serve, and he got more and more frustrated with me with each passing minute. What he was asking me to do was quite simple. But I couldn’t do it.  What Jack didn’t understand was that I wasn’t comfortable enough in my own skin to mimic a motion with my body while he watched.

That’s what dance feels like to me. Sober, I don’t feel the music, and my movements feel artificial and forced. So it’s hard for me. Anytime there’s dance involved in a social setting, I spend much of my time sitting on the sidelines while the person I’m with gets more and more frustrated with each passing minute.

That needs to change. I want that to change. So I’m taking lessons, and I will get comfortable on a dance floor. I will get comfortable in my own skin. It might take me months or years. It will most certainly take a ridiculous amount of patience on my poor instructor’s part. But I will get it eventually. I know that because I’m an Ironman, which means that I don’t quit and that anything is possible.  And maybe I’ll even manage to convince my instructor that I’m not the idiot I initially appeared to be.