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IN THE MIDDLE: A non-athlete finally gets an athletic moment

Ilene Olson Ilene Olson

Growing up, I was a slender kid, believe it or not. But, sadly, I’ve never been athletic. I was often the last girl to be picked for a team to play anything in PE classes — softball, volleyball, whatever.

Looking back, I can’t blame my teammates. I just wasn’t an athlete. I didn’t come from an athletic family — in fact, my dad viewed athletics as a distraction from academics and not worthy of our time.

But it was far more than that. I simply have no athletic talent. I wasn’t blessed with coordination or speed. My arms and legs are short and stubby, and I am just plain clumsy. My PE teacher in high school made me retake a timed relay test because my score wasn’t even on the chart. Unfortunately, the second attempt merely confirmed the original result.

So, predictably, during team sports I would be the one to strike out, drop the softball, fall when running to base, trip over a teammate, let the volleyball fall to the floor in front of me or knock it out of bounds.

Growing up didn’t solve the problem. My sister-in-law Anne still laughs about the time when I tried to use her rowing exercise machine. I sat down and leaned forward to buckle my shoes into the foot straps, and as I did, the seat slipped backward on its tracks and shot out from under me, and I toppled sideways off the machine.

I never had a chance to ride a horse as a kid, so I was excited years ago when my sister Valerie invited me to ride with her at a friend’s ranch.

Unfortunately, I ended up on a horse that didn’t want to leave the barn, and he was very aware that he had a novice on his back. We would get a little way along the trail, then he’d turn around and head back to the barn, no matter what I tried to tell him to do. Determined, I’d turn him around, we’d start off again. Finally, on about the fourth try, we made it quite a bit farther from the barn, and I began to relax and congratulate myself on finally getting the horse to do what I wanted him to. I was starting to enjoy the ride, and Valerie and I began visiting about the great adventure we were having.

That was the moment when I let up my guard, and the horse took full advantage of it. He turned a fast 180 and ran full-speed back toward the barn. He now was in full control, and it was all I could do just to hang on and keep from being thrown as he galloped back, while taking some interesting detours and jumping over a small fence along the way. When he got to the corral, he made a sharp left turn, ran inside and stopped dead in his tracks, leaving me sitting sideways off the right side of the saddle.

Not surprisingly, that was the end of my horse-riding career.

With that kind of a background and some other physical challenges, I’ve never felt physically brave, so I’ve pretty much kept my distance from adventures such as snow skiing, motorcycling, bungee jumping, rock climbing and snowmobiling. I admire and envy people who can do them; I just know I’m not one of them.

So, when I learned last month that I’d won a sports helmet during the Powell Rotary Club’s Tennis Ball Drop, I greeted the news with some incredulity, and a lot of laughter.

The Tennis Ball Drop was a joint fundraiser between the Rotary Club and the Powell Medical Foundation to raise money for a new ambulance for Powell Valley Hospital.

The grand prize was $1,000, and there were a bunch of smaller prizes. I bought five tickets, making it clear I considered it a donation, since I never win anything.

After the ball drop, Terry Collins, who sold the tickets to me, called and said, “Remember how you said you never win anything? Well, you won something this time.”

I didn’t for a minute think I had won the $1,000 prize, so I asked what I did win. Laughing, she said I’d won a Polaris sports helmet. She said everyone got a big laugh when my name came up associated with the numbered tennis ball that landed next to the flag for that prize. They obviously were as aware of the incongruity as I am. But I laughed right along with them; it really was funny.

Terry said she wanted to see a picture of me wearing the helmet. So, a couple weeks ago, I posted a picture on Facebook.

That started even more fun.

“Very flattering, Ilene. I’m looking forward to seeing you wearing it Sunday!” joked my friend, Jackie.

“What on earth? Thought you were the Cubs’ new catcher!” commented my neighbor, Ruth.

“Now you can go sky-diving!” my sister JoLynne said.

“I’ll think about it,” I said. But that didn’t take long.

“It looks good on you!!” said my (diplomatic) brother, Bruce.

“Fun! It looks like you were preparing to be under the ball drop!” said my friend Wendi.

My friend Linda commented, “I thought YOU were going to do one of those crazy bungee jumps or rappel off a tall building.”

I assured her that wasn’t happening anytime soon.

In my post, I noted that the helmet isn’t something I’m likely to use, but I got a fun picture and a good story out of it.

My friend Joan agreed. “You did win something!” she said.

Yes indeed, I did.

I’d like to pay that win forward. I’ve donated the helmet back to the Powell Medical Foundation, and it will be included in the silent auction at the annual Mardi Gras fundraiser in February.

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