I loved playing basketball. I enjoyed being part of a team and exercising for a purpose. Since I was changing schools at the end of my ninth grade year I was not sure that I would be able to play in 10th grade. I had moved from a small town middle school to a big city school. I went from being one of 300 to one of 1,000 students in my class. I was not so confident that I would be good enough to play. I was actually quite surprised to make the team. Mrs. Sands was our coach and was also my Spanish teacher. She was good about teaching and coaching. I liked her better as a coach because there she actually spoke English!
As I played on the team I was aware that I was not the best on the team. I was the last one to finish the running drills, the last to be put in to the games and often the last to be taught the new plays. No matter, there was something in me that loved the game. I somehow felt like I could play better than I actually performed. Mrs. Sands called me to her office one day. She had called each player in and it was my turn. She said, "Janie, you are a good solid player and I believe that you would like to play varsity next year. Is that true?" "Yes, it is. I would very much like to." "Well," she continued, "there are a few things I would like to see you improve. You need to improve on your speed. If you lost weight you could be quicker on the court." I started to cry. I was surprised at the tears. I never cried in front of Ms. Sands before. She was really sincere and kind but tough. She was no one I would want to cry in front of. I cried because it was not the first time someone had said something about my weight. Somehow, it was out there. It was not some problem I could hide. Other problems: home life and family stuff I could hide and escape from but this weight just hung on for everyone to see my body. Had they been watching me, naked in the shower? My boobs had grown so fast that year and I didn't have any sports bra. Was that it? She had named it out loud. I was overweight and now I was no longer hiding it. Mrs. Sands saw my tears but did not respond to them. I was thankful. She went on, "I notice that you are the last one to finish laps at the gym, the last one when we do suicides and the slowest on the court. I believe you can do better." Something inside me believed what she said. I really wanted to believe her. "I think that if you lose some weight and work at the running you will improve. I would like to see you on the varsity team next year." I was still crying, truly unable to keep it together at all, embarrassed that a teacher and coach would notice my overweight body. But I left determined to work at the things she spoke of. I decided to give up dessert. Anytime there were desserts I said no. The lunch line at school had been one of my victory spots. It was a simple decision to skip the desert. But I also worked really hard and before long was finishing in the top three during sprints and first on several occasions when running laps. One day Mr. Beard, the Girls Varsity Coach, walked through line right behind me. We knew each other because my Junior Varsity team would often practice with the Varsity team. He stepped back, looked me up and down with a smile and said, "Janie, you have lost weight. I bet you are nowhere near the 160 lb. mark you were before." I was devastated. How did he know my weight? I knew that we weighed in at the beginning of the season but... Had Mrs. Sands told him of our talk and even how much I weighed? I was so embarrassed. I felt so ashamed of the small effort I had made. It really didn't seem like enough in the moment. I just wanted to go eat dessert.
Through Story Group Exploration:
I came to see that there is good in this story, 'Out of 1,000 students in my class, I made the girls basketball team and that it is possible for me to work hard and achieve victory!' However, these are some of the lies I came to believe:
If I am over 160 lb., I'll be 'cut from the team'
If I go below 160 lb. people look at my body
I must finish first to stay on the team. Those who finish last are dismissed.
Not just being seen my coaches, but basketball is king in Indiana. To step out on that court, meant being seen by several thousand. My bind, I wanted to play so bad, but didn't want to be seen.
The Truth: There were reasons for my weight. I often ate to try and make myself feel better from the brokenness, anxiety and fear at home. It provided a fleeting comfort in my world where there was none. My coach or teammates knew nothing of my home life because I didn't want them to know. As a bonus, this story also rekindled my love for basketball and even my desire for coaching a team. Exploring this story was a significant step in my freedom from shame.