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Catching 101

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It’s been with me, this flaw of mine, for eighteen years, or at least of what I can assume by observing the current severity of this disability. Once a problem, always a problem, right? It has grown with me, evolved into an aspect of my life that I can count on at the appropriate times. I hold it fully responsible for a miserable kindergarten soccer experience, gym class kickball games being a nightmare, and beach Frisbee more than just a simple game of catch. This little imperfection is somewhat genetic. Mom and Dad handed it right on down the DNA ladder, dubbing me, without a doubt, Captain Butterfingers. It’s quite simple really, I honestly believe that I was born without reflexes or sense of grip. In plain terms, an object is thrust into the air, my mind reacts ever so slowly, and the object flies right on by. Chicken Little could run and tell me the sky is falling, and I would have no hope of catching it. A future lover may ask if he falls, would I catch him? My answer would depend on my hand-eye coordination ability rather than expressing how deeply I care. And yet, despite this cruel handicap, I’ve managed to live my life in a relatively normal manner. As I said before, social situations involving a ball of some sort were a challenge, but since entering adolescence, I have come to terms with the disability.
The acceptance is essentially reflected through my choice of athletic activities. I stick mainly to sports with little to no equipment involved, completely avoiding those that involve any catching or throwing whatsoever. As much as I dislike kicking a soccer ball around or shooting hoops outside before dinner, I still consider myself an athlete. High school consisted of cross-country and swimming, and college has started, and hopefully will end, with the crew team. I am an outstanding participant – I would never deny that – in the sports I choose. My arms and legs work swell and there is no limit to my team spirit. Granted I have never been interested in the fine art of cheerleading, but I am a poster making pro and a “you can do it” extraordinaire.

My condition limits the most unexpected aspects of everyday happenings, even in situations that I would not expect to experience difficulty. There are just as many good days as there are bad, yet I know I must have missed the day in pre-school with “general motor skills” as the daily focus. There is one specific instance, however, that stands out as my weakest point. I remember the bright neon lights flashing and the bells, hidden somewhere in that ridiculous machine, ringing constantly. My sister encourages me to up my score those last ten points we needed to beat the Anderson sisters. “Come on, Kelsey!” she squeals, “You’re so close!” One of my favorite pastimes of summer vacations in the Cape, the Pinball Relay game helped to not only make the days go by faster, but empty my mother’s pocket clean of nickels and dimes. Today marks the semi-finals, a race between two sets of partners to vie for a lucky spot in the upcoming finals. It is my sister and me versus neighboring Lizzie and Hannah Anderson, whose pinball machine reads a score that is nearly identical to ours. We are both required to beat a certain high score to be named champion, and, as I am up second, I carry the most weight to lead our pair to victory.

It has been a pitiful round since I’ve taken over, lasting nearly twelve minutes and consisting of the four legal “redoes” thus far. Seeing as though the ball has dropped below four times, the fifth time is considered an automatic loss. In other words, the pressure is ultimately on. It’s bases-loaded-tied-score time, and I am up at bat. I know that competing head to head with Hannah Anderson is a direct test of my hand-eye coordination, a skill that doesn’t quite mark number one on my list of talents. Although I am slightly discouraged after letting the ball drop numerously between the two clickers, my mind still moves quickly, following the small silver ball carefully as it twists and twirls about the pinball course. I do not allow the blinking lights or buzzing alarms to distract me, focusing all of my thoughts onto preventing the ball from dropping off. I dictate my strategic thoughts quietly to myself: left thumb press hard, right thumb ever so gently now, left thumb quick. Today is a good day, I think.

Suddenly, amidst the chaotic atmosphere of the neighborhood arcade, my eyes begin to glaze over. It grows harder to relay the swift path of the ball from mind to hands. My sister detects no change in my performance however, as she claps furiously, egging on my poor thumbs. I can sense the hand-eye coordination rapidly failing, my reaction time getting slower and slower. Keeping in mind that I am not allowed any more balls to play with, I survive several close encounters of the clickers tapping the ball just as it is about to plummet to its doom. Just as my score is about to reach the winning numbers, the ball bounces off of the side bar, gaining speed as it races down towards the clickers. One more hit, I prepare myself, and we win. The ball grows closer, my tingly hands clammy. My thumbs react unexpectedly, pressing the clickers hard, just as the ball sails right through the open left corner. We’ve lost. No more chances. No more opportunities to prove that I’ve beat my disability. Damn, it’ll just have to be next time.
Flashback to eighth grade gym class, nearly six years ago, but a vivid memory all the same. This particular snapshot begins with a Friday afternoon in mid December, the air is sticky and stale inside the old gymnasium, snow falling steadily outside the large glass plane windows. It is the day in which Mrs. Cooke, our grumpy physical education teacher, will use various strength tests to find our personal fitness score. Since performing sit up after sit up as sixty seconds pass and clenching a cold metal bar until I can no longer feel my knuckles, I am in no mood to learn that the next test is a direct dig that is meant to expose my disability. Cooke towers over the first row of bleachers, hands placed defiantly on her tiny hips, as she describes our final task.
“Take one of those there,” she notions over to the large basket full of volleyballs, “and bounce it back and forth off of the wall.”
She strides over to the basket, removes a ball, and shows us precisely what my nightmare had been the night prior. Feet planted three feet in front of the wall and eyes focused straight ahead, Cooke extends her arms, thrusting the volleyball into the wall. It bounces quickly off and straight back into her awaiting palms.
“That’s one,” she explains, “Just do as many as you can and you’ll be set. Simple.”
She glances back and forth across the row of girls and her gaze lands on me.
“Let’s have Kelsey up first,” she suggests. I have no choice but to uncross my legs, rise from the wooden bench, and wander over to the wall.
“Good luck, Kels,” I hear a friend call from behind. When I whip around, she is grinning madly, fully aware of my lacking skill.
“Thanks,” I grunt back, positioning myself three feet in front of the wall.
“Alright, you may start in three…two…one…go,” Cooke commands. I immediately snap into full concentration mode, thrusting my arms out just as our model had done minutes before.
One bounce. Catch. Two bounce. Catch. Three bounce. Catch. The fourth bounce zigzags to the left, but I react quick, a surprise to my peers and me alike, shifting my body to meet the incoming ball. I officially am in the zone after the seventh bounce, my mind focusing on where the ball is going after each hit, and matching my arm strength with just how hard the ball should meet the wall. By the tenth bounce, fifteen seconds have past and I in a confident haze. It comes nearly automatic as I increase the rhythm of how often the ball is hitting. I can do better, I think. Eleven bounce. Catch. Twelve bounce. Catch. Thirteen bounce. My eyes dart to the flying white object, arms graciously wide open. Suddenly, the ball tumbles to the floor, but I pick it up swiftly, and start again. Fourteen bounce. This time I dive to meet the ball halfway, but it soars over my head. Where has my lucky streak gone? My disability has resurfaced ever so predictable as it is, like an annual visit to the dentist’s office. After I return from receiving the ball, which has rolled nearly halfway across the gymnasium, Cooke calls out,
“Ten seconds left!”
I race to bounce and catch the ball eleven more times for a grand total of a measly twenty-four hits. When Cooke reads the scores aloud – highest to lowest – my name does not get called out until the end. Utter disappointment for the umpteenth time.

Living my life without hand eye coordination has not been easy, but I realize the trait is not what existing on this planet, despite all of its horrid gravity and magnetic pull rules, is all about. There’s gourmet cooking, charity walks, and bird watching. A hand eye coordination loser like myself can occupy her time with harvesting maple syrup, TiVoing, and trying on every shoe in the clearance section as DSW. I am a nice, caring person who is not judged based on my lacking volleyball skills, but rather on living life to the fullest in situations that do not involve the combination of my hands, eyes, and the act of coordination.





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