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Soccer and Space Camp

August 26, 2010

My siblings are soccer players.  Not normal soccer players.  They are phenoms.  They were childhood soccer prodigies, athletic machines who broke every record in every school and in every fitness test our local soccer club offered.  They were hired to coach private soccer lessons from the age of 12, and were paid a pretty penny for it.  They both went on to play Division I collegiate soccer.  In the lovely Colorado town we grew up in, one might say they were legends.

Then there was me.  My only memories of soccer were the snacks at half time, the joy when the game was over, and the confusion I felt when I scored my first goal at age 5 and no one applauded.  Apparently not every net on the field is meant for your team.  Soccer and I did not last long, but my desire to be like my siblings never subsided.  I wanted to sing team cheers like they did, have a bag with my number embroidered on the side, and run under a gauntlet of cheering parents at the end of the big game.  I tried other sports, but to no avail.  I was not coordinated enough for tennis.  Instead of the ball, I spiked a teammate in the face during a volleyball game.  I was on the swim team for a year, but did not want to return on account of being too lazy to wake up for 6am swim meets.  When I was in gym class in high school, my sister lapped me on the track during the mile run, slapped me on the butt and told me to “pick it up.”  She ran off in front of me, leaving imprints of her running shoes on the asphalt behind her.  That was the lap I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I was never going to catch her.  Literally, and metaphorically.

I set out on a quest to find my “thing.”  To find that signature stamp of identity that would be what I was known for.  I wanted to be attached to something, to be as associated with my talent as my siblings were with theirs.  On a quest to reach my dreams, I ventured out into areas no one in my family had dared to go before.  In elementary school, I brought culture to my family by joining a theater company.  Then I expanded their vocabulary by making them read my children’s book series.  And in early middle school my sports deficiencies led me to pioneer levels of nerdiness unfathomable to my family. I decided to go to Space Camp.

There are no words to describe my love for Space Camp.  I freaking loved Space Camp.  I loved it so much, I went 3 years in a row.  I also had no boyfriend 3 years in a row, but that is beside the point.  Walking around in Man Maneuvering Units, climbing around zero gravity walls, performing mock shuttle missions inside mock space capsules with mock space suits on.  Ahh, the glory days.  I grew plants under ultraviolet “space lights,” drove remote control mini Mars Rovers, and ate completely dried out “space food.”  I won the “Drill and Command” competition at Aviation Challenge, and successfully helped my team build a fire during our “survival training.”  Space Camp was a world of cool for me that I realized most of the country had yet to uncover.  Its secrets were known only to a select few, and I would forever be one of them.

I left my 3rd year at Space Camp with dreams.  Big dreams.  I was going to be a rocket engineer.  I was going to design space shuttles and launch pads and work in mission control at the Kennedy Space Center.  NASA was going to be begging for me to join their team, I was sure of it.  But certainty is a funny thing when you are so young because eventually something comes along that knocks your assurance right on its kilt.  For me that thing was called Trigonometry.  Trigonometry and I started out with a smooth and normal relationship, but then he seemed to back away from me.  It seemed the harder I worked, the farther Trig backed away, and our worthless relationship gave me the first “B” I ever received in my academic career.  It was the first time I felt proud to see a “C” on a test.  No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much studying I did, Trig talked babble.  Numbers and quadratics and proofs just did not make sense to me.  It became clear that a rocket engineer would need to be comfortable with more complex math than counting fingers, and since that was all I seemed mathematically capable of, my rocket engineer dream sadly had to go.  I remember that disappointment vividly.  I was not an athlete.  I was not a rocket engineer. I was label-less.

I was reflecting on all of this while unpacking from a recent trip. I found one of my old Space Camp pins buried in the pocket of my suitcase.  I held the small nickel space shuttle in my hand for a few moments, remembering how special it seemed at the time and how much it represented.  I wanted it to be my “thing” so badly.  I felt I needed it to define me.  I fought so hard for this token that would represent who I was, only to find out later it was such a small piece of my story.  Space Camp and rocket engineering came and went as fluidly as my stints with volleyball and soccer and swimming, and it only amounted to one more fraction of the whole of the person I was trying to become.  Holding that pin made me realize that not much had changed since then.

But maybe that’s how it goes for some of us.  There are some who have their whole person defined for them by one definitive title their entire lives.  Soccer player.  Basketball star.  Cancer survivor.  But then there are some who, like me, will look back on the fragments of their lives and realize those tiny pieces are what came together in the end.  We depended on our scattered and seemingly disconnected experiences to define us.  Week at Camp.  That One Random Karaoke Night.  Hiking the Mediterranean Coast.  Reading A Poem in Public.  I used to wish I was a person who was identified by the whole, by the one definitive title as my siblings were.  But seeing that Space Camp pin made me surprisingly grateful that it was just a dot connecting all the lines of my story, rather than actually being the whole story itself.  I am okay with being undefined.  I am okay without a label.  Maybe the next time I introduce myself I should not say what I do for a living or where I am from.  Maybe I should just follow up an introduction by saying I went to Space Camp 3 times.  That’s got to be a more interesting conversation piece than soccer (*wink).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jess permalink
    August 26, 2010 9:20 am

    LKP, I love this post. It contains some very similar thoughts to the ones I’ve been wrestling with lately….such as, is ok to go from one thing to the next vocationally if you never nail down “one thing”? Is the key obedience in every moment? Anyway, that’s really beside the point…mainly your writing is AWESOME and I’m loving it!! And loving you too, of course. 🙂

  2. Amy G permalink
    August 27, 2010 9:24 pm


    Can I read this to my students in middle school? I think it would be a great piece for them to chew on. I tell them this sort of thing all the time, but you are a far more eloquent writer than I.

    Love it.

    Amy G.

    • August 27, 2010 9:52 pm

      Ha, of course, friend. Of course :-). I would be honored.

  3. Hermanito permalink
    August 28, 2010 1:37 am

    Hahahaha. Enough said.

  4. Courtney permalink
    September 7, 2010 4:19 pm

    Favorite line… “I also had no boyfriend 3 years in a row, but that is beside the point.”

    love you forever

  5. September 6, 2011 1:59 am

    So glad you linked me here – great story, so well told. And I’m glad it got shared with some middle schoolers…perfect to hear this tale of self-discovery at that age. Space camp 3 years in a row, eh? I actually think that’s pretty dang cool. But then, I am the chief of all nerds. :>)

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