From my perch on the treadmill at the local rec center I watched her, alone, in the gym below me. She stood out, a young person, maybe late 20s, when most everyone around me was likely retired.
I watched her slip off her fleece jacket, exposing toned arms and a tattoo wrapped around her bicep. I watched her pick up a basketball, walk over to the free-throw line and take a shot. I watched her chase after the ball when she missed, walk back to the free-throw line and try again. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I was captivated — not by her athletic body but by her courage to shoot baskets. Especially to shoot when people, like me, could see her. And then I put my 50-year-old self in her shoes and thought “never.” I felt anxiety rise in me. “What would people think, a 50 year old, shooting baskets?”
Back in the late ’70s, I played basketball for Roosevelt Junior High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We played six-on-six basketball with three forwards and three guards. Only forwards could shoot and they had to stay in the front court while guards stayed in the back court. When we had the ball, we could only dribble twice and then we had to shoot or pass the ball.
I was a guard — a scrappy one, I might add — so I never really did develop the ability to shoot the ball. My basketball “career” ended in high school when I quit after just a few practices, certain that at 5-foot-2 I would get little playing time.
I shot baskets with my kids when they were growing up. From time to time I’d pick up a basketball at the YMCA while working there as a marketing director from 2002-2006. That’s likely the last time I launched a basketball into the air.
Recently a friend posted on Facebook that when she feels a twinge of terror when considering a risk to take or stepping out of her comfort zone then she knows those are the things she must do immediately. And that is how I felt on the day I watched the young woman shooting baskets. I knew because of the level of “I can’t” that rose up that I absolutely must go down to the gym and shoot baskets.
And so I did. I finished my workout on the treadmill, walked down the stairs, across the gym and took a basketball off the rack. I tried out a couple before I found one with a good bounce to it. Then I dribbled a bit, walked out to the free-throw line and took a shot. It actually went in. I shot again and again, sometimes making baskets, but mostly missing.
I didn’t stay long, maybe 10 minutes or so, but it was long enough to walk through my fear. No one stood on the walking track above me laughing. No one shouted, “Silly woman! You’re too old for that! Go home!” Most likely no one cared or even noticed. Or maybe I inspired someone else to walk down those stairs and take a few shots, as the young woman had inspired me.
All I know is I felt better for having done it, for not letting fear win.