Saturday 19 October 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Sport has ability to make me feel so inadequate'

'Every morning heading to the slopes I'm consumed by anxiety'

Ciara Kelly

Were you bad at sports? I was. I couldn't catch, throw or accurately hit balls with rackets, sticks or bats. I only ever ran slowly with an odd flailing of my feet out to the sides of my body. I was often picked last for the team. And even when I was making what felt like gargantuan efforts to do something sporty - I still tended to come last, lose, or be generally crap. PE was a "challenge" I didn't usually enjoy.

Actually I don't know why I put that in the past tense. I'm still bad at sports.

I'm just not physically intrepid - anything that might result in my death - and indeed many things that clearly won't scare the bejesus out of me. Couple that with a level of uncoordinatedness, that I suspect nowadays might be called dyspraxia, and you get the general idea of my level of sporting ability.

So it was with some trepidation that I set out this week on a family skiing holiday. I was half strong armed into it by my kids. They like things like speed and, mild to moderate, danger. They like to be active and "do things". I see a holiday usually as an excuse to lie down most of the time. My family are not like me in this regard.

They are blessed with their father's more coordinated genes. They can do things with ease that I cannot do with hours of tuition. They are not afraid of ski lifts, snow, falling or sliding down hills at a snail's pace or many other things on the long list I am scared of.

To be honest we have nothing in common.

And I am very torn about how I feel about skiing holidays. I've been on a few (it doesn't matter - I don't develop any skills that I retain for the next trip) but on the one hand, my kids love it.

They love the thrill of the skiing, they like being out and about all day having loads of fun. They love hanging out together, eating and drinking and laughing. And from nine to 19, they all like coming!

Not a word about being bored or wanting an Xbox. And that is a great source of joy to me.

But on the other hand, I am brought back to a time long ago in school, when I, like so many other kids before and after me, felt miserable because I couldn't vault a wooden box.

Or couldn't hit a ball over a net with any reliable accuracy.

Only sports have the ability to make me feel completely inadequate. Only sports have the ability to make me feel physically scared and a bit like a hopeless failure.

It's a funny thing, too, because it stays with you. That sense of quasi shame you have in school because there is zero chance you will climb a rope or score a goal.

Failure at those things, at that young age is absorbed into your sense of self and even though vaulting six-foot wooden horses isn't a skill you have much call for in later years, the fact that you couldn't do it back when it was a weekly requirement, affected how you saw yourself.

It's no wonder we lose so many people from physical activity as they grow up.

Anyway, my point is I'm here in the gorgeous, sunny Italian Dolomites having a wonderful time with my family, but every morning as I head up the slopes, I'm consumed by an old anxiety that brings me back to being 14 and standing in line in the gym waiting for my turn.

And now as then, as I doggedly try to do the thing I'm scared of (because I'm that kind of masochist), I ask myself; A. Why I'm so scared of what small children who whizz by me are clearly not a bit bothered by? and B. If I am so scared why do I continue to make myself do it just like I did back in school? I was actually the captain of the school basketball B team, despite not being able to play!

I don't have the answer to either question.

However, as family holidays go, skiing remains one that seems to make everyone happy, so I've no doubt I'll end up back here or somewhere very like here again. Snow ploughing away for the team.

It's all downhill from here they say.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk weekdays from 12-2

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