Accidental Athlete

Michele Weldon | September 4, 2009


You couldn’t say I am a hyper fan because I am living out my own athleticism through my sons; I am amazed by their fitness and competitive verve, awed by their strength and agility. It is foreign to me, quite separate from who I am and who I ever wanted to be. It is completely unrelated to my youth of occasional swimming, hopscotch and excessive jump roping.

I was raised by a mother who was afraid to ride a bicycle and later in life swam at the women’s club, but mostly so she could take her friends to lunch there afterwards in the chandeliered dining room looking out on Michigan Avenue. My father was a runner in high school, but limited his workouts to golf as an adult, and nine holes not eighteen. Most of us in my family were swimmers growing up, but no one competed vigorously or muttered phrases like, ‘The team needs me.” Coaches never called the house.

Today I am a non-athlete who walks for exercise and wears spandex because it holds a lot in place. I am accidentally fit, exercising to fit into key outfits for special events– and sometimes if I am pushing the envelope, I walk real fast. This is indeed something my sons remind me of frequently. When asked to do a chore, explain their actions or even when I inquire about the plastic bag of ice sitting on a reddened shoulder, “You wouldn’t understand, you’re not an athlete,” is their measured response.

My athletic prowess consists of a pair of green three-pound weights and a goal of swimming 30 lengths of the pool breaststroke—all accomplished without putting my head underwater so I don’t lose my contacts. Quite unlike my boys, I have not had all that many athletic victories—maybe one or two-- in my lifetime and don’t appear to be headed for any in my future. I tried out for the gymnastics team freshmen year of high school and didn’t make it. I tried out for the modern dance team in high school and didn’t make it—you get the picture. In college, I ran, often with a friend who had to stop half-way on our mile jog for a cigarette.

But as time passed in the stands in 2006 and early 2007, especially with my diagnosis of early stage 1 breast cancer, it became evident that this sport of wrestling and this community of families cheering on sons and daughters in the sport, were helping me to raise my sons. Not that I hadn’t been doing OK by myself, I just knew how much I needed them all—and my boys needed them even more.

“I don’t have time to die,” I told my sister Madeleine when I was first diagnosed.

“No, you don’t,” she said without missing a beat. “And I’ll send over dinner. You don’t have time to do that either.”

I have been a single parent for the past 15 years, since my boys were 6, 4 and 1, a loop of time so densely packed with joy and heartache, that it seems like a hundred years. Whenever people tell me how quickly time passes and how fast children grow up, I always mutter, “Not at my house.” Alone, making every decision, paying every bill, driving to every practice, meet, party and study session, it feels as if every millisecond has taken a lifetime. At the end of every day, I always ask myself, “Was that all today?”.

But in and after season the weekends were forever filled with wrestling, and the support, admiration, friendship and affection from these other families perched in the stands. In the wrestling room and on the mats in gymnasiums across Chicago and the Midwest, my boys were not fatherless sons, they were athletes on their own. They stood by themselves but they were not alone.

And that made me happier than I had ever been.

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Comments (1)
  1. This is your passion and you have so much life to live. I think wrestling mom means more than going to watch the boys matches. Wrestling mom encompasses life experiences. That is how I see it. Your writing is so vibrant and it’s almost like I’m experiencing your life right along with you!

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