A Geeky Mercury This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

In the world of literary fiction, stereotypes have blossomed. The characters of bookworms, for example, have been maligned the most. Characters like Hermione Granger and Cornelia Englehart serve as sufficient proof to justify this conclusion. Hidden behind an aegis of exceptional knowledge and supreme intellect, these characters shun the world of physical education and athletics, and when they do embrace it, it is to dawdle far behind their more capable classmates. However, at some rare times, so-called “bookworms” can somehow fine-tune their athletic ability and eventually compete at the same level as that of their equals. This is about a time when I, an A+ student and a complete bibliophile, was ranked competent enough in my PE teacher’s eye to pursue even a slight career in junior varsity track and field. In short, I somehow managed to receive a mile time of 8:30.

I was ten years old, then, and I spent most of my time helping teachers and spending the better half of my lunch recess in the library. In my school, we were not coerced into participating in rough-and-tumble sports many boys used to play. Girls were recommended to stand on the sidelines and were viewed as tomboyish if they did participate, a comment most of them casually shrugged off. Needless to say, I was one of the only ones standing in the sidelines, assigned the often tedious job to recover stray balls and thus earn the grateful appreciation of my often lazy classmates. It became so different after it changed, however. Our school, through fundraisers and other penny-pinching methods, employed a new PE teacher, one that scared the wits out of some and was the object of practical worship of the others. A giant of a man, Mr. Sullivan was the dual recipient of our district’s Old Glory track and field awards, and placed fifth in long jump competitions. Ostensibly, his main goal was to cultivate young minds resplendent with the virtues of sportsmanship, but I always thought he liked sees us suffer in the unmerciful heat. The second day of PE, after various stretching exercises, he made us run what we called the sixteen oh-nine relay or more commonly, the mile. It was hard, it was a test of stamina and endurance under the blazing Los Angeles heat, but somehow, I made it. Collapsing feebly on the mottled grass, with a time of 8:30, I consoled myself on the fact that Phidippides had it harder.

The praise of my teachers and classmates is ambrosia to my ears. For a few weeks after the incident, that is exactly what I received for my peers and instructors. That a mere girl with an eccentric taste in books should become one of the top milers was deemed unconceivable by the majority of the 5th grade. Soon, I became branded as a well rounded person, which is what colleges truly want, but I was too young to think about college then. Invariably, my PE grade increased, and my self-esteem increased as well. During recess, I was no longer standing on the sidelines, gazing longingly at the seemingly perfect playing moves of my classmates. For once, people I have never knew or noticed invited me to play with them, and since I knew, in my heart, that my mile time was based on forty percent exertion and fifty percent luck, I usually refused them to keep up my naïve facade. All events in life cause both good and, for lack of a better word, bad things to happen. For nearly a year after the incidence, I was the object of the green-eyed monster amongst my less well-meaning classmates. One particular girl infuriated me so much during sixth grade that, even though she “begged” forgiveness for atrocious behavior, I no longer awarded as much as a look at her nor did I acknowledge her petty comments. This, along with the expectation that I would soon excel at every mile, made PE a practical torture chamber. Coupled with Mr. Sullivan’s boot camp like exercises, PE extinguished my already diminutive affinity for exercise, something especially important to the Spartan lifestyle I usually live.

The old adage “When you look good, you feel good” now applied to me. I began to feel good both physically and emotionally. Yes, PE was hard, but now every step I took, every frantic breath I exhaled, now had a reason, whether it was to live up to the ever-rising expectations of my peers, or to the demanding perfectionist ideal to myself. In short, I was happy. I had broken perhaps a centuries old stereotype. Yes, bookworms could become athletic geeks! Yes, academic subjects and PE could be changed indeterminably! Yes, you could play dodge ball while reading! I was free. It was too bad the mad hysteria lasted only a month, though. The hype about pedometers in our new elementary school exercise program became an issue not about who had the most stamina and endurance, or even agility, but who had contact with terra firma and their feet the most times. I was tempted to shake the pedometer many times since I strongly believed mine was broken. However, since that went against my ideals of my personal honor code, which I fully developed, I did not attempt to do it. Even though that put me in the low middle ground when compared to the rest of my peers, I no longer cared. The euphoria I felt during and after my 8:30 mile overwhelmed me to extreme degrees. Though I soon developed a mature and well rounded persona, combined with a hefty chunk of high self-esteem, I came to the point where I brazenly stated “Enough is enough.” I had started to become a sideline-lounging bookworm again.

The incident fueled my ever-dying internal fire of self esteem. Even then, I quietly compared myself to others, wondering what on Earth they had that contributed to their success that I clearly lacked. My life became a question of “How?”, not “What?” or “Why?”. My infamous mile made others, especially like-minded bookworms, love me, and that, naturally, made me love myself. I was no longer that clumsy girl the last to be picked in PE. I was loved, I was appreciated, and teachers dumped praise on me like clouds pour rain. Did I tell them explicitly that I was lucky that day and that I just concentrated on getting a drink of water to soothe my parched throat? No. Did I tell them that I could run very fast if and only if I was motivated to do so, but I did not because I saw no tangible evidence in PE? No. It is no use trying to feebly extinguish an already blazing fire, I said to myself. Instead, I just accepted it with a hint of blush and said thank yous and I appreciate its all day long. I began to view myself as a very unique person, and I knew that I could accomplish anything I wanted to. My self-esteem amplified so much that I doubted if my already large ego could fit into a room. It all ended, however, when we moved.

In one way, I was satisfied. Moving back to the Bay Area would cool my shattered nerves. I would no longer need to worry about my reputation , and thus, I could just concentrate on being myself. My new school was a bit more demanding, and so I received a smattering of A’s and A-‘s on my report card, which lowered my self-esteem to a reasonable level. I had learned however many new things after my 8:30 mile. Though it might seem a trivial thing to fast runners, to us otherwise athletically challenged, it was a dream come true. I learned, most of all, that breaking a stereotype can quite disturbing, and if you are the kind of person who values peace and quiet above all, it will even be a nerve-wracking experience. Silently, I promised to myself, never to break society’s oldest foundations unless I am fully prepared to deal with the effects on my fragile and brooding mind. Though it was a particularly hectic time of my life, now I believe that experience and everything I have ever done or experienced, positive and negative, combined to form one unique person: me.





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