Earlier this summer I had this obsession with learning how to play basketball. I grew up in Jamaica, where basketball wasn’t really that big. It was all about football (only people in the US call it soccer. Literally everyone else calls it football, and the name makes way more sense) and that old colonial throwback, netball. But, being a complete beginner in my 30s, it is hard to find venues where one can learn to ‘ball. Beginners basketball clinics do exist, but they’re more geared towards guys who were laughed out of gym class in high school and feel a deep personal need to rectify that experience.
I was about to give up the search when a friend suggested volleyball. And it sounded great! I imagined myself in the summer time, in a bikini, spiking a ball in slow motion on a beach somewhere. I signed up for a class at the Y.
I arrived 5 minutes early only to find I was the only person there. The instructor waited around for a few minutes before approaching me apologetically. “You know, in the summer time most people just play outside because the weather is good. But you can try the class at the Park Slope Y, it usually has good attendance.” So I headed home and waited for the class at the Park Slope Y.
When the day finally came I showed up early again, and I was the only one… again. The instructor — a white woman in her 40s with very powerful thighs — told me she would still teach the class. When I told her I’d never really played volleyball before her eyes twinkled. “Hang on a second,” she said.
She got on the phone and called a friend. I overheard the words “She’s new!” “Yeh” and “Get over here!”
She ambled back to me and began teaching the basics. How to stand in a ready position (with my knees slightly bent and my hands up), how to move from side to side (kind of like a crab) and finally how to hit the ball.
“You’ve got to make your forearms like a flat surface,” she said, turning my arms out so they were parallel and facing up. And then the balls came. Slapping on my forearms at top speed. Making a hard “plunk” sound as they bounced away. Hurting like holy hell.
“Um, is this nomral?” I asked the instructor.
Hundreds of tiny red spots had emerged on my arms. I would later learn these were popped blood vessels.
“Yeh, you just have to play through the pain!,” she insisted. “You’ll get used to it!”
I was about ready to make a bullshit excuse for having to leave when her friend, a good-natured Bajan guy, arrived. Well, good-natured up until he saw my form.
And look I don’t know if no one new ever shows up to this class, but they took my performance way seriously. Like taking sidebars every few minutes to discuss my form while looking concernedly in my direction.
At this point I was in agony. In my fantasy, the volleyball class was sexy and fun. In reality I was hot, sweaty, heavily bruised and alone on the far side of the gym with two over-serious instructors my arms pulsing with a pain that was going from stinging to numb.
I skipped past the bullshit and told them the truth.
“I have to stop because my arms hurt like hell.”
“What do you me–?”
“My arms. They hurt like hell.”
“But that’s norm–”
“Maybe it is but I have to stop. Like now.”
They paused for a moment and looked at me. “You know you have a lot of potential.” said the instructor, “You’ve got to keep coming back. You’ll keep coming back, right?”
I looked into her hopeful eyes and told her what she wanted to hear.
“Oh definitely. My arms just have to get used to this. You’ll see me next Thursday!”
That was 3 months ago.
The bruises stayed for another week. Turning from red to bluish-greenish-grey before finally disappearing.
Kudos to those of you who played volleyball in high school or college or beyond. I truly salute because I know that initial pain threshold has to be high. As for me I’m going back to the elliptical.