It was a balmy day in November and gym class was being held outside. Tag football was on the schedule, and I stood a little nervous among 25-fourteen year old girls, all of us clad in maroon colored shorts as it was decided which team we would be playing on. Each captain carefully chose their players, and I noticed my stomach tightening as each name was called. I was hoping my ability to throw a perfect spiral spoke louder than my inability to understand the rules of the game. Those fears proved unfounded when one of the captains quickly yelled out, “Martini!”
The game began and I was to play a running back, which was great, because I was not very big and blocking was kind of scary to me. Athletic and spry, I could run; I could throw, but my problem was in understanding who was who and what I was supposed to do once I had the ball in my hand. Undiagnosed with dyslexia until the age of 17, I never understood why I was always confused. Being the most agile daughter out of a package of three, my dad had me out in the yard every weekend playing whatever sport was seasonal. There wasn’t anything I didn’t know how to do from golf and bowling to baseball and football. I could even fish, skeet shoot and use a bow and arrow. The quintessential tomboy, I did pretty well at everything I could do solo. When it came to group sports, however, there was something missing. I never felt “so stupid” as when I tried to play on a team.
It was the third quarter, and the game was moving along well. I was managing to stay out of trouble, making sure not to get in anyone’s way and staying as open as I could. I was feeling pretty confident, and began to get a little more aggressive by looking for opportunities to get in the plays. It was at the tail end of that third quarter when I got my chance. The other team’s quarterback threw a long pass to her wide receiver, and I was right behind her in line for the catch. It was one of those beautiful moments when you can do no wrong; the body is in total agreement with the mind and both decide to go for it. I picked up speed, and at just the right second, became airborne. Reaching for the football with both hands, it came to land right in between my cupped palms. You couldn’t have drawn a picture more perfect! I clutched the ball to my body, just like my dad always taught me, and began to sprint full speed. I felt the freedom of running and a “goose bumpy” kind of excitement as I heard my teammates screaming out my name.
Elated, I ran for the end zone. I was hyper focused and determined to get our team a touchdown. As I closed in on that white line, adrenaline started to heighten my awareness. Suddenly I was able to hear what my teammates were actually saying. And then it came—the most embarrassing moment of my life: “Marteeeeneeeee! You’re running the wrong waaaaaaaay!”
It was quite some time before I lived down that event, but truthfully, it didn’t dissuade me from sports. Thank God for my 12th grade shorthand teacher, Mrs. Monroe, who formally diagnosed my condition and gave me my self-esteem back. Up until that point, I thought I was stupid, un-teachable and abnormal. When she said the words, “I think you have dyslexia,” my entire persona changed. I now had a reason for my criss-crossed mind and constant confusion.
Dyslexia may have made me self conscious in earlier years, but understanding the traits and behaviors of the dyslexic mind, along with the coordination and balance issues, helped me excel in everything I did later on. Instead of getting frustrated with what I couldn’t do, I worked around and with what I could. And since everything I ever learned was a huge challenge (I was also left-handed, making it even more difficult), after a while, nothing seemed like a challenge. That meant nothing stopped me from trying new things, and essentially, I became pretty fearless.
Sports, more than anything I have ever done besides solitaire, crosswords and jumbles, helped me re-organize my dyslexic mind as it coordinated my imbalanced body. To this day, I enjoy coaching learning disabled children, especially teaching them yoga. Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing a dyslexic kid’s self esteem rise above the floor as their feet raise in a perfect headstand. It’s a beautiful thing. DM