Working out little and often over the long haul – my sporting career

I have spent most of my adult life playing various sports and engaging in exercise. In early primary school, I was short and asthmatic and slow at running for my age, and I was also a year younger than many of my classmates. The hurdles were like high-jump for me, and there were no lower ones to learn on. We weren’t really a beach family so I didn’t learn to swim well, nor were we a netball family, so I didn’t play team sports. While I didn’t do a lot of formal exercise, I did walk 1 km to school every day, and I always arrived an hour early so I could play on the play equipment – various horizontal bars and monkey bars of different heights and some ropes. I remember my first blisters and callouses on my hands on on the back of my legs from doing spins on the bars, and I remember the joy of doing the “top flip” from successively higher bars and walking around my back yard on my hands. Unfortunately, I never went to calisthenics or gymnastics to learn how to do those movements in a technically correct way. And while it is not something that I seemed to be aware of at the time (somewhat strangely in hindsight), my dad, who was very sporty, was being treated during this time period for TB contracted during the war, so he really wasn’t in a great state to play with us kids.

The thing that kick-started my sporting career was the school rounders team (rounders being a modified version of baseball). I wanted to play on first base, but I couldn’t throw accurately to third base (in reality I couldn’t even throw to third base inaccurately … it was too far). My friend Francine and I decided to learn to throw like the boys, so we got our tennis balls and used the brick wall of the two-storey school building as our training area. The rules were that we threw the ball overarm, the ball had to hit the wall below the first storey line and come back to us on the full. This was my first progressive training program, self-designed in Grade 5 at the age of 9 or 10 years old. Initially, we had to be very close to the wall but eventually our bodies figured out how to throw the ball to generate power, and we ended up being on the far side of the netball court and aiming for specific bricks. That early deliberate practice got me the first base gig on the rounders team, and laid a foundation for good fielding skills and wicket-keeping in my 15 years of playing cricket.

I attended a private girls school for my secondary education – this school had quite a broad range of sport options on offer, and while I was sent there for the academic and musical opportunities, it was at school that I was exposed to different sports. We could play a different sport each term for our “house” although formal physical education classes ended in year 9 for those taking an academically focused program. I played softball (using a baseball, but underarm pitching), table-tennis and cricket, and also discovered that there was an active women’s cricket competition in Melbourne, with a club in my local area. I joined the local cricket team and walked the 2.5 km to and from training twice a week and again for games on Saturday. In all the time that I played sport, our training involved a warmup (running laps of the oval), a few random stretches and toe-touches, and then drills or simulated play. We batted and bowled in the nets, and we practised catching the ball. There was no strength or conditioning, and any specialist training was purely in terms of the technical aspects of the sport.

Meanwhile many of the girls on my cricket team loved their Australian Rules football, and we often played kick-to-kick before or after training. One day, we were kicking the footy around and were invited to train at the local football club. There was great excitement about the possibilities of actually playing football (in 1974!) until the recruiters realised that we were actually girls – and then, no dice! While girls could not play Aussie Rules footy, it was actually possible to play soccer, but my father was not at all supportive. I wanted to be a goalie, and his verdict was that I was too short … a fairly accurate assessment if I was aiming to be an international star, but probably not a good reason not to try out a youth sport.

By the time I went to university, I was pretty dedicated to my cricket training, and trained during the winter, including running and net sessions at an indoor facility. In trying out different clubs and societies, I joined the Karate Club, which I think was Shotokan style, and while I was keen to learn, the instructor was not impressed with having women in class. After a few weeks of training, the requirement to stay training was being able to do 50 pushups on your knuckles on the wooden floor – not something that most women can do without any prior training for it. He also had a habit of walking along the lines and punching people in the stomach to test whether their abs were tight – again something that should probably be taught before it’s tested. While I didn’t persevere in martial arts in that environment, it stayed in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do. While my mother was an out-and-out pacifist, my father learnt karate under the Japanese during the war (so, like bush camping, not something he then wanted to do for “fun”) and was an avid Muhammad Ali fan, and made me watch Ali’s fights with him while he gave a running commentary on them.

During university, I continued playing cricket, travelling across town to play with a top level team rather than staying with my local club. I also regularly went bush camping with friends, in my early twenties finally learnt how to ride a pushbike. My mother had decided that cycling on the road was too dangerous for young people, so I had never graduated from my tricycle to a bicycle – so when I bought my first bike, I decided to buy a good one, and to ride to and from work every day, rain, hail, sleet or snow (the latter two of which were highly unlikely in Melbourne – if I’d known better, I would have specified headwind or 40 deg heat as my extremes!). If after a year of riding, I decided I didn’t like it, the bicycle would have paid its way. For my first ride from Mont Albert to Monash University in Clayton, I selected all the back roads I could find, and it took me more than an hour and half to ride the 15 km, via streets I now know were the hilliest option I could have found – up past a water tower in one backstreet detour. I persevered and within a few months I was arriving at uni in well under an hour feeling quite invigorated despite my ride being consistently against the prevailing winds. Because of my late start in cycling, I always consider myself not a cyclist, but it turns out I’ve been cycling reasonably consistently for 40 odd years now, so that’s probably longer than many.

While at uni, I made the most of the extensive sports facilities, reasonably regularly playing squash badly, going for a swim (and fighting the water all the way), very occasionally even venturing onto the tennis courts for our short-lived Friday afternoon pre-drinks lab tennis game. Given that I did a PhD and then became an academic, I stayed on various campuses for quite a long time, and eventually began my soccer career in the Queens University post-grad women’s soccer team. We graduated to the local comp (quite a diverse demographic) and on returning to Australia, I joined the Monash University Soccer Team in a serious attempt to become a good goalie. Sadly, after three games, I was accidentally but forcefully kicked in the ribs by a much bigger opponent (the joys of mixed ability recreational sport – no violent intent, but a complete misread of play) and spent the next week or so in hospital recovering from broken ribs and a punctured lung. Given that I was mother to a young child and had just started a new job, I decided that maybe soccer was a bit risky for the moment, and went back to playing cricket.

As my kids grew older, it seemed that it was time to start them in the sports they might want to participate in rather than continue to play formal sport myself – so I retired from cricket, and started taking the kids to gymnastics (for fundamental movement skills) and swimming (for basic safety – not negotiable until they could swim competently). The kids variously tried netball, soccer, racquetball and rollerblading, but eventually gravitated towards indoor soccer and taekwondo, both of which I also joined in on. Partly it gave me something to do while waiting between games and training, but more so because, while I liked to watch the kids play, it was very difficult not to step into a coaching mode or to be that parent that cared more about the game than the child playing. I started both sports around the same time, and I was also commuter-cycling around 150 km per week along with training for events like Around the Bay in a Day (an annual 210 km bike ride). I really enjoyed sharing sport activity with my kids – I did two Great Victorian Bike Rides with the family when the children were very young and were carried (variously in a bike seat, in utero, and in a trailer) and then again twice with my daughter riding her own bike.

Indoor soccer was a year-round activity for 10 years – the time it took for my son to graduate from his grade 5 team through to playing in the parents-and-kids mixed indoor team until finally all the kids from the various families had moved on. Over 10 seasons, the parents-and-kids team only missed the finals for a couple of seasons (there were three seasons per year) and we were regularly on the winners’ podium. This team began as a parent-kids team focused on a couple of families who knew each other well, and I was a bit of a ring-in as my son was allocated to “their team”. Over ten years, a cast of thousands moved in and out of the team, and the glue that held the team together was the social connection around playing sport with family and friends. It was quite revealing to me how stoked some of the fathers were to be playing sport not only with their children, but also with their partners, who may not have played sport ever, or at least since primary school. I love the fact that my biggest collection of medals and trophies comes from the one sport I have participated over a consistent period of time that I never trained for – I just showed up and played – it seems that the awards and medals I have are inversely proportional to my skills, merit and care-factor in both academic and sporting endeavours. I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson there.

Taekwondo became an interesting contrast with indoor soccer. I started them at the same time, but I am still training in taekwondo, and from Day 1, I took taekwondo seriously and worked very hard to acquire skills and knowledge. I also built long-lasting friendships, and those have endured beyond taekwondo. I trained taekwondo with both of my children and there have been challenges over time with there being such a close family connection and connection across generations in terms of friendships and associations. The complexities of such levels of interaction can create challenges, but overall I still think of as a real bonus. My interest in taekwondo began at a time when I was very actively involved in designing, developing and supporting online teaching resources, and in using the internet myself, so I blogged quite a bit about taekwondo and academia. My personal website at Wisebytes.net was first established in 2002, and I wrote reasonably regularly for around five years. Sadly, in that time, the internet moved from being a space for sharing ideas and content to a place for selling ideas and content, and all of a sudden, what people said as private individuals online might begin to intersect with how workplaces or organisations viewed their brand. It seems so strange to be writing these words – probably for most people, the internet in 2021 is all about brand, and all about curating personal and professional image.

So while I’ve continued on in taekwondo to the point of being a 4th degree blackbelt, and competing in two World Championship competitions and winning a gold medal in my veterans sparring division, and I’ve spent the last decade dabbling in strength training, initially in the interests of avoiding hip surgery and later to prepare for, and recover from, a total hip replacement, and I’ve recently also started to learn boxing, I’ve tended not to post about my training or my academic work. There are so many options of where to post things, and as it turns out, I have a poorly curated presence on Facebook, very limited activity on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter (pretty much none at all other than having a profile) and a half-baked attempt to create appropriate spaces for academic, sport and personal sharing. It’s coming more and more to my attention that the lines between different spaces is becoming more and more blurred, so the only realistic way to curate any internet space is to keep it all in one spot. Which is here.

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