Things are impossible until they’re not. Dreams are only crazy if we remain fast asleep.”
My father was athletic. Ridiculously graceful and lanky, he moved with a spindly and fluid flow. He passed on those genetics, which meant my brother and I joined the legions of ‘beanpoles’ in the world—people with bodies that stretched like atomic matter about to slip over the edge of an event horizon. When it came to physical activities, he loved golf and tennis more than all others, excelling in two of the “whitest” sports at the time. Like the Road Runner, my father’s legs took him places while those long arms covered an insane amount of territory. Those natural gifts he passed on through DNA are why he pushed my brother to play golf…and insisted tennis would be my game.
I first picked up a racquet in the era of Lendl, Becker, and Agassi. Sampras was being crowned king while Graf, Sánchez Vicario, and Navratilova took turns being queen. Lindsey Davenport was about to make waves as Kournikova, Hingis and Clijsters came up through the junior ranks. And a pair of sisters were honing their skills in California—six years away from exploding onto the scene.
Although the memories are vague, I recall going with my father to the local tennis club. The smells and sensations resonate with me more than the visuals. Aroma of newly unpacked balls. The feel of asphalt under my feet. The gratifying smack of yellow fuzz—resonant and buoyant—as the ball hits the racquet’s sweetest spot. For hours I’d swing around my arms while he settled old scores on centre court. I must have been good enough because I attracted the attention of club members and coaches, people who gave up some of their time to help me improve my backhand or perfect my volley.
But, despite the time and effort invested, tennis never stuck. Things changed. Relationships deteriorated. We moved a lot. I grew into other sports I loved more. Thinking back, I likely didn’t have enough confidence and drive. I also felt like a big fraud since there were barely any female players who looked like me on the tennis circuit.
The thought pattern probably went like this: How can I do well when there are no girls like me on the court? If you’ve ever stuck out like a sore thumb you know how daunting it can be to stand your ground and take up space. “Different” results in being bullied or attracting unwanted attention. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know then is beating the odds is possible—more common than not, in fact. But we have to take part in the things that bring us joy. We advance when we embrace our uniqueness.
And celebrate our bodies, standing as tall as we can.
Last week I came across a Nike commercial that put to rest a couple of old insecurities. The ad pays homage to Serena Williams’ return to the 2018 US Open. The corporate giant did what it does best and created an ad that could rouse Snow White from a century of slumber. In it, footage of a young Serena training with her father is spliced with contemporary scenes of her working over opponents like nobody’s business.
I gave the win to Nike after a single viewing. I welled up a bit as I felt the fire start under my ass. Granted, I spent a few minutes wishing for a time machine. Imagine if I’d had the Williams’ brand of tenacity, support and resolve at their age! No wonder Serena and her sister, Venus, have killed it for more than two decades in a sport where they were, for the longest time, brandished as outcasts.
But while we know we can’t turn back the clock, the attitudes, drives, and desires of others can inspire us. The Williams sisters succeeded despite the taunts and rejections.
They cleaved to a vision and leaned on their tribe as they shattered one glass ceiling after another.
There isn’t enough time to sit around and lament why circumstance put you here and not there. Why spend all your precious moments bemoaning something that didn’t work out or an item you didn’t receive? Life can be unfair and unjust. That’s the nature of the game, Kids. And constant complaining is utterly boring. You’re better off finding (team)mates to embrace—people who will lift you up without being asked. Do what you love. Go where you’re wanted.
Try out as many things as possible and adhere to those you excel at.
The four-minute mile. An undefeated season. Consecutive grand slam titles. Record-worthy career assists. Things are impossible until they’re not. Dreams are only crazy if we refuse to wake and remain asleep. And though I still have a lot to learn, I know we limit enjoyment and opportunity if we wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting. Whatever it is, know that yes, you can. Someone out there has your back. There is no finish line.
Just get out there and f***ing do it.