Let’s just get this out there: I am not an athlete.
At face value, that’s not that unusual of a statement, but what I really mean in that short sentence is that I have the motor control of a toddler suffering from perpetual vertigo, the body awareness of a drunk yak, the speed of a sloth during hibernation, and the strength of a European big man going up for a block. The only activity that registers above average hand-eye coordination is my jungle cat quick cupcake-to-mouth reaction time. And although in my mid-20s I’m in what many people consider the physical prime of their lives, I’m fairly certain that my Zumba class-attending mother could best me in nearly any endurance test.
Heck, I’m even lousy at pseudo-sports. I’ve had friends look on in disbelief when darts I’ve thrown managed to miss not only the target or any one of the board’s twenty sections, but also the entire wall from which the board was hanging. A couple weeks ago I bowled three gutter balls consecutively, or what my house church affectionately called a "snowman." Really, the only thing I excel in is self-deprecation, in which I lead the league in both volume and frequency.
In truth, the reality of my physical ineptitudes has sometimes been a hard pill to swallow. While I can participate in activities that downplay my clumsiness, such as running or hiking, there is a limit to how far I can fight my innate inabilities before I wind up silently writhing in pain because I’ve pulled an armpit muscle buckling my seat belt after attempting to lift weights (true story).
There have been plenty of times when I’ve thought to myself, “If only I could play a sport that didn’t require me to use my body…” But that’s the same as someone wishing to be a musician if he doesn’t own an instrument. I figured it simply isn’t possible.
Enter go-kart racing.
Last month, I went with a group to F1 Boston to celebrate my friend Dru's birthday. Prior to that afternoon, my exposure to racing started and ended with Nintendo's Mario Kart (I'm terrible, for the record) and a classy little film called Talladega Nights. Now that I think about it though, maybe I should have tried go-karting earlier. I've always been a little bit of a speed demon, and, to the excitement/chagrin of some passengers, there are occasional instances when my driving maneuvers veer on the outskirts of legality. Case in point: during a bumper-to-bumper trip between Austin and Dallas in the midst of a Red River Rivalry weekend, I drove my Civic Coupe off the freeway, through a grassy median, and onto the feeder to avoid traffic. Three times. Compound those tendencies with nine months of experience navigating the non-grid labyrinth known as Boston alongside aggressive drivers (trust me, they're not called Massholes for nothin'), and you've got a racer in the making.
We signed up for the package that included three back-to-back 10 to 15 lap races in which we racked up points based on our times to determine our position in the final 18 lap race. After watching a brief safety video and pulling on racing uniforms that included a jumpsuit, neck brace, helmet, and ninja mask, we were turned loose on the track. The cars were a little smaller than I expected: shorter than a twin-size bed in length. I think the highest speed we reached was something like 35 mph, which doesn’t sound all that impressive but felt much much faster because we were so close to the ground and in a door-less, roof-less vehicle. In my adrenaline-overdosed mind, how tightly I held onto the wheel somehow directly correlated to how fast I could make the car go, so the next day, my arms and shoulders were sore (as if I had, you know, worked out or something) from gripping the wheel like it was the last cupcake in the world.
I didn’t have a strong showing in the first race. And what I really mean in that short sentence is that I T-boned my friend Jason when a passing attempt went awry, then slammed into a wall when my too-large helmet slipped over my eyes several laps later. Thankfully, after getting that out-of-control recklessness out of my system, I figured out where to accelerate, brake, and safely pass people so that I could be intentionally reckless.
I posted strong enough times in the next two races to overcome my abysmal initial race and start in the number three spot in the winner-take-all finale. After all was said and done, I finished second. Now, I know Ricky Bobby would say, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” but for a girl who has almost never placed in any sort of physical event, number 2 felt pretty damn good.