Unnaturally athletic: turning weaknesses into strengths

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A letter to: Anyone who has ever described themselves as “not naturally athletic”. This one’s for you.

Question of the day: should we focus more energy on developing our strengths, or improving our weaknesses?

I just left a breakfast panel hosted by Fast and Female whose mandate is to keep girls in sport, and empower them through life. The scary stats: If a girl does not participate in sport by age 10, there is only a 10% chance she will be active later in life.

This was me. I quit dance when I was 12 because the girls got mean and I was clearly not a “natural” - not the right body shape, too “big”, not flexible or agile or athletic enough. In grade 7 I was cut first round from basketball, volleyball, and badminton. In grade 8 I broke my own nose on the high jump. And so I gave up. Decided I wasn’t “athletic” (and had the external proof and scars to show it”), and stuck to the activities I had more of a natural affinity for.

The problem is, the things I loved: singing, reading, writing, performing, were largely sedentary activities. They took my time, kept me out of trouble and gave me community and a passion, but I never really learned how to love movement, or my body, or appreciate the importance of activity, beyond a 3-minute choreographed dance to “We go Together” (which was awesome, btw). And it makes sense: we lean in to our strengths. Our parents and teachers help us find what makes us happy, what we are naturally good at, and allow us to focus in that direction. If we are really lucky, they even help us access additional resources, like mine did with singing lessons and instruments and summer theatre schools and countless rides to rehearsals and weekends spent in competition or dark theatres.

So now I am 30. And I don’t know how to move. “Working out” is a chore. I never had a coach who challenged me or who believed in me. I never learned to appreciate my body and what it can do, and I honestly treated it like crap, until one day when I opened my eyes and saw that people I loved who had stopped moving, had lost the ability to move. And I promised myself then, that wouldn’t be me. And took it to an extreme. And opened a fitness studio, literally because it was what I needed.

No regrets, I found my place in my own way, and love providing a home and community for people who are seeking one. Probably if my parents had tried to push me into sport, I would have resisted it, and resented them for it. After all, stubborn is my middle name - I did take my greatest weakness and turn it into my career. But I can’t help but wonder - if gym class hadn’t been optional in high school (I traded it for band and AP Math), or if some teacher had handed me a rowing oar or pair of dumbbells or taught me how to squat with a barbell on my shoulders, would my story have played out differently?

When asked what surprised him about humanity the most, the Dalai Lama replied:

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Want to move with me? Come check us out.

businessEmily Slaneff