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Labun Jordan: Winning Attitude

As November ends, I’m declaring the end to another season of not learning how to mountain bike. I’ve tried. I’ve tried for three years now, drawn by sunny days to explore beautiful trails in and around Barre’s quarries. Although “Mountain” is an overstatement... I don’t bike down steep trails. Or over rocks. Which can be challenging in a quarry.

Everyone tells me I’ll get the hang of mountain biking once I stop looking at the obstacles I’m trying to avoid, and start looking at where I want to go.

Profound, I think. Then I clip a tree and go down in a heap.

This is only the latest in a long list of sports I’ve failed to master.

Soccer confounds me - how are you supposed to use your feet to simultaneously run and kick a ball? Baseball outfields are no place to put day dreamers. And I spent elementary school basketball practices explaining to the coach that we’d all be better off if I spent my afternoons reading, since I’d never win a basketball game, but I was pretty sure I could win at academics.

The coach was my father, who wouldn’t let me plead high test scores to avoid physical activity. My parents had a rule that I had to play a sport, any sport, it didn’t matter which or how well.

And there’s the problem. I’m competitive. If I go to the gym I want the weights I lift to be heaviest and my jumping jacks to be jumpiest and if I go to yoga, I want to be the bendiest. But just being competitive doesn’t necessarily make you any good.

So I thought if I couldn’t be best at a particular sport, maybe I could be best at trying new ones.

I can stay afloat, so I tried water polo... where it turns out you need to stay afloat and propel yourself forwards and backwards, even on defense. I tried rugby because in certain positions, they don’t expect you to catch the ball. Sadly, you are expected to know where the ball is. I moved on to hockey.

And eventually, mountain biking.

I may not be best at any of these sports, or even best at trying new ones, but I’m well-intentioned. And, frankly, America needs more mediocre athletes carrying our mountain bikes or running around confused on rugby fields. Obesity rates have topped 35%. If there’s ever a time to give high marks for simply showing up - this might be it. The point is to enjoy being active - and after decades of being lousy at many different sports, I do. Just don’t pick me for your softball team.

Helen Labun has worked in Vermont nonprofits addressing issues in rural economic development. Today, she is Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network, connecting chefs to Vermont farmers in support of the local food economy.
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