When I look back at my high school experience, if I’m being completely honest, it did not start out so well.
Mine was not a name that was whispered with hallowed reverence in the hallways. At just under five feet when I was 14, I quite literally got lost in the crowd. The transition from grade 8 to grade 9 was mostly awkward, a little painful (getting pushed into lockers = #notfun), and completely, utterly anti-climactic. There was no magical transformation—I was obsessed with really bad teen movies like She’s All That but hadn’t yet read bell hooks—and so I trudged along, doing my best to make friends.
If I hadn’t had my beloved books, Alanis Morisette, and TLC…well, grade 9 would have been a complete bust…but there was one saving grace.
Let me be clear here: Not once during my youth did I ever think, “Javelin…yes, that’s my thing.”
I grew up playing sports like hockey and softball, but high school sports try-outs were starting to really get me down. By spring, when the track season started, I was scared that unless I had a sudden growth spurt, maybe I would need to find a less physical activity to fill my time after school. But, a sister of a friend (it’s a small city I live in) told me spots were wide open on the field team. They needed throwers. And best of all, no try-outs!
It turns out, javelin was just my speed. Practices were outdoors, rain, shine, or snow, and we did lots of strength and flexibility training. I had never before felt so strong and agile. For somebody whose stature was often the source of amusement or teasing, knowing that I use my speed to throw a spear really far was a powerful moment. I stopped wishing for a growth spurt and began to appreciate my body for what it was capable of. Also, throwing a spear with gusto is both awesome and, when everything runs smoothly, poetry in motion. I felt like I could take up space.
Allow me to tell you all the reasons why javelin is great. First of all, you get to be a catapult. You take a running start, build up momentum, and release your glorious spear before you get to a marked line at the end of the runway. The throw is measured from the line, as long as it either sticks in the ground or, if it bounces, lands point first. Everyone gets three throws, and from there, the top eight competitors have another three throws. So straightforward!
But my favourite part about this sport was the friendships that formed. Competing was its own form of community. There were lots of opportunities to chat and encourage each other between throws and each thrower pitches in (pun intended!) leading up to their turn by helping retrieve spears. After feeling really shy and uncool at school, suddenly it was so easy to make friends! Within this community, there were lots of different bodies, which was cool to see, too. I came to appreciate that this idea of an ‘athletic build’ has little to do with actual athletics, and everything to do with harmful body ideals that are not accurate. Sports, I saw, are for everybody and every body.
That said, when it’s your turn to throw, it’s you. Sometimes standing on the line waiting for my turn felt lonely and nerve wracking, but other times I felt so brave and excited. And then, of course, it’s ultimately you who faces that disappointment or success. One of my most vivid memories was at a track meet where, after a season of personal bests, I didn’t qualify for provincials. I stepped on the line after a great throw, so the distance wasn’t measured. I was thatclose. But, it didn’t work out.
I was really sad and really annoyed with myself, but after some time passed, I realized that this experience didn’t need to define me. In the end, this was one of many track meets and like everything in life, this sadness was impermanent. The important things—like my relationships, my love of javelin, my health—were still intact.
Now that it’s been a decade since my javelin adventure, I often look back at this time in my life with fondness and can’t help but wish that daily adult life mirrored the best parts of this sport more. That we can see past competition to appreciate community; that we come to know and love our bodies for their myriad forms and abilities; and that we take leaps of faith and discover new personal bests along the way.
So, thanks javelin. 14 year-old Meg wouldn’t be the same without you.