Whether you were a captain of the football team or the kid who got picked last for gym class (or didn't get picked at all), sports were an inescapable part of the American high school experience. Here, some of our favorite actors, writers, comedians, artists and designers share their own trials and triumphs on (and off) the court or the field.
"Maybe you got away with something with your parents, but one of your coaches is going to find out."
by Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union is an actress, activist and author whose latest film, Breaking In, came out this spring.
Gabrielle Union in high school
I started playing sports when I was probably 6 or 7. I started with basketball and quickly went into softball, soccer and track. I played those year-round until I was 19, so I was always a multiple-sport athlete growing up. I loved basketball, but I was probably better at soccer. I had more fun playing soccer, but my passion was basketball. That was the sport that I came up watching with my dad and that I felt more connected to.
But where I lived in the suburbs, soccer was very big. Everyone came out to watch. You had both parents at games, and the whole family and every generation was there supporting both the guys' and girls' teams. But that's not the same all across America at all. Female athletes were very well respected in my town.
I played under coaches that my older sister played under and that my parents were very familiar with. You have generations, basically — coaches might have coached your parents, or your older sibling. So by the time you're there, they definitely know your family. It's kind of like teachers who have been around for years and years. Our coaches were given very long leashes and were strongly encouraged to be strict disciplinarians. They were basically an extension of your parents, so it's like having more sets of eyes. And because I played so many sports, I was under surveillance at all times. Maybe you got away with something with your parents, but one of your coaches is going to find out.
We would sneak out, take our parents' cars, toilet paper people's houses. Just general mischief. I remember during a tournament in Sacramento, we were doing blue darts, where you stick a lighter or an open flame near your butt and you fart and it creates a flame thrower. The thing about blue darts is that you should do it through your shorts and it creates a small flame, but we were going for maximum effect. And this girl we called Bong did it near her actual butthole, and the thing about farts is that they shoot air out but they also kind of bring it back in at the end. And it took the flame in her butt and we had to figure out how to treat her butthole burns.
We were never caught with alcohol — not to say that it wasn't happening, but we were never caught. It was more sneaking out, lying and general teenage stuff. We had tournaments in San Diego and would go to Tijuana and party with Marines.
Sports were the center of your social life. It even mattered what soccer shorts you had — for instance, Umbros were very big in my town and in high school. We were coming of age in the late eighties/early nineties, when Allen Iverson was big and The Fab 5 Michigan guys with the big shorts were the thing. You didn't want to be that girl with the short shorts, where it looked like you were trying too hard to be sexy. It was all about the bigger the shorts and jerseys, the better.
How you styled your shin guards also became a big thing by the time I was a junior or senior in high school. Some people would roll them — they would take out the thing that makes them shin guards. It became a whole thing, like how do you wear them under your socks. It became a very big deal, shin guard styling. And now that I think about it, it's super random.
As told to Beatrice Hazlehurst
"Everyone who wasn't good at sports joined track and field and every single one of us just wanted to put it on our resume for college."
by Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang is a New York City-based poet and writer; her 2017 collection of short stories, Sour Heart, is out now in paperback.
I did track for a little bit my junior year of high school. I was always very good at school and mainly joined the team because everyone started to become aware — or be told by their college counselor — that colleges were looking for a "well-rounded person" who doesn't just excel academically but is also able to multitask and handle extracurriculars. I was really bad at it because I have no upper body strength and I also think my legs are disproportionately shorter than those of people my height. I became convinced that I wasn't able to cover enough area running with my height and stature.
[My high school was very typical in that late-'90s way — it was like a less glittery and less fun version of movies like She's All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. There were popular kids like jocks and cheerleaders and there were misfits like the nerds and weird kids or the alternative kids and punks. And I remember all of the kids who were not very popular seemed to hate sports and all of the kids who were seemed to love them. And I definitely noticed certain sports seemed to attract certain personalities. The kids who were considered "weird" would do cross country and the super popular girls and the super popular dudes would all do lacrosse for some reason, which I always thought was really funny because lacrosse looks like you're mopping. I always thought the players looked like teenage janitors.
I didn't care much about that world, but I did notice there was almost a class divide and people who came from families with money seemed to be on a lot of teams. My parents worked full time and often worked on the weekends, so I couldn't really get someone to drive me to meets or scrimmages during the six weeks I was on the track and field team. I definitely couldn't afford equipment or lessons or anything like that, and so there was something about a sport like track and field where all you do is run that seemed more accessible to people who weren't wealthy.]
Our track and field coach was funny — she had a curly mullet and she was very fed up with us because she had a team of runts. Everyone who wasn't good at sports joined track and field and every single one of us was someone who just wanted to put it on their resume for college. She wanted a better team than she got, and we didn't take it seriously — we just kind of laughed a lot and were very bratty. I'm sure she probably found that very frustrating. That Hollywood idea of transforming a team of runts into a winning team just did not happen.
I remember I trained for the 400 meter and there was a scrimmage with another school, and I just remember it like it was a movie. You know in those movies about sports where the music starts pumping and it's the scene where the team members are getting pumped to play another team? But in my version, instead of it being glorious, it was horrifying to me because I didn't feel any animosity, even in a playful way, towards the rival team. I just didn't care. I was rooting for everyone, including my competition, so I was doing it all wrong. I remember as I ran the 400 meter, halfway through I was really tired and started walking, which is really frowned upon. I think I came in second to last, and I was sort of proud of myself because I had wanted to quit in the middle since it was so painful. I was just happy I completed the race at least and I wasn't dead last. But as I walked past my coach, I heard her say, "Not good Zhang, not good!"
As told to Talia Smith
"We'd get up every two minutes to twerk."
by Liza Koshy
Liza Koshy is an actor and YouTube content creator.
Growing up in Houston, Texas, my entire high school life was surrounded by football, but I wasn't very interested in it at all. But I loved dancing, so I joined the drill team and eventually became the captain. I learned the game of football by sitting there, getting up every two minutes to twerk a little bit, then sitting back down cheering. By sitting in the stands watching the football games, I became interested in sports because I was doing what I Iove while seeing people do what they love.
As told to Fei Lu
"I wasn't just the last one they picked — they didn't pick me at all."
by Michael Musto
Michael Musto is a writer and journalist based in New York City.
When it comes to sports, I am an old-school stereotype.
As a kid, I wasn't just the last one they picked when they chose who should be on which team. They didn't pick me at all. Standing there like an unsightly speck of dust, I didn't even occur to anyone as a possible extra team member! They left me standing there, unchosen!
But when I heard about a kid who accidentally got struck in the head with a baseball bat during a game, I didn't feel so bad. I was alive and well, if still not athletic.
At New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, where I started in 1968, I was thrilled to get into the school orchestra because it rehearsed the same time as gym. You got out of gym! And I got to play beautiful melodies on a viola rather than do dumb exercises that hurt and were unhygienic! To me, gym equaled parallel bars, wrestling and sweat, and none of it even remotely appealed to me, since culture — even lowbrow culture — held way more sway and seemed more productive. Even back then I preferred watching show tunes and drag to watching a sports game (much less participating in one).
At Columbia College, nothing really changed. I was there to get a refined education in English Literature and the Humanities, but one of my first memories there was having to jump into the large pool, only to be fished out by someone wielding a giant pole. The whole thing would have been humiliating if it weren't so incredibly terrifying. I thought school would be a sophisticated experience in the Ivy League, but it was pretty bad, especially since, in my dorm, jocks filled the TV room, screaming over sports games. I wanted to watch variety shows.
My main interest in athletics was in the heroes I was hot for—Tom Seaver, Bud Harrelson, Mark Spitz, Jim Palmer and Jim Bouton. I wanted to run all the bases with them, but somehow felt it was wrong, all wrong (a whole other story). But I did have one romance with sports. As a kid, I briefly became shockingly fascinated with baseball, basically to have something to do, but also as a way to bond with my generally distant father. He loved the Mets, so I loved the Mets. I went to pennant day and poster day and all that jazz, and even did all the work that went with it. Looking back, I can't believe I ever went through this wacky phase. I was into Diana Ross at the same time — basically to bond with my cousin — but that stuck, whereas my passion for baseball evaporated when I realized my dad and I were still potentially miles apart on the field.
But to this day, I still adore the musical Damn Yankees.
"I know who I am and that is a girl who likes costumes!"
by Esther Povitsky
Esther Povitsky is an actress and comedian who stars in Alone Together on Freeform.
Growing up, the closest thing I had to a "sport" was dance. I took tap and jazz and ballet from age 5 through college, where I was a dance major. But one year in elementary school I wanted to play soccer, which was kind of weird because I was always the person who got hit in the head with the ball in gym class. That sounds like it's a joke but that is a real person, and I know because that person was me my whole life. I was always in the nurse's office after gym because I'd got hit in the head and I was terrified. I'm still afraid to go to sporting events because, like most comedians, I'm a narcissist who believes she's the center of the universe, and therefore the ball will find a way to hit me in the head even if I'm seated in the last row of the bleachers.
So when I asked my parents recently, "Why did I do soccer for a year?" they were like, "We have no idea." In fact, as soon as I asked about soccer, they immediately just started talking about my sister. They were like, "Oh, your sister was so good at soccer. She's so athletic. She was so good at sports." I was like, "I didn't ask you about my sister! I just asked you why I did soccer. Why are we talking about my sister?" But she excelled at soccer and lots of sports and was always taller and athletic and, look, I'll say it, prettier. And I'll even say this — had bigger boobs. And was skinnier. She got the bigger bedroom too, but whatever.
My parents said that when they would come to my soccer games, I would just stare off into space. I don't think I was a bad athlete, I just think I didn't want to be good at sports. I never learned how to swim. I don't know how to ride a bike. It's scary territory for me. I also was the only person on my soccer team who didn't score a goal. Actually, I did score a goal once, and then the refs deliberated on it and they were like, "No, that wasn't a goal." Didn't exactly seem in the spirit of "let's make sure all the kids have fun out there."
Believe me, I'm all for quitting, but my parents had already paid for the whole season, and we weren't that kind of family. I feel like every single minute of playing soccer, I knew it wasn't for me, but I just had to go through the motions. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I was physically present but mentally gone the whole time. Sort of like when you're making out with a guy you know you're never going to talk to again.
But the worst and most humiliating memory of playing soccer was when one day before a game — and, remember, I was taking dance lessons then, too — I raised my hand and was like, "Umm, when do we get our costumes?" And everyone just looked at me and laughed and I had no idea why. Finally the coach told me, "We don't have costumes. They're called uniforms."
And I thought, "Well, fuck all y'all, I'm gonna go home and put on a costume and feel gorgeous and you will know nothing of that joy, and actually even if I don't feel gorgeous, because I won't develop self-esteem until I turn 28, at least I know who I am, and that is a girl who likes costumes!"
Then we lost 3–1.
As told to Vrinda Jagota
"Leotards are what it's really about."
by Amanda Seales
Amanda Seales is an actress, comedian, DJ, rapper, singer and songwriter who most recently appeared as Tiffany DuBois on HBO's Insecure.
I got into gymnastics pretty late compared to other gymnasts. I was twelve and had been a dancer, and I would always do flips and teach myself stuff. Then my dance teacher and I got to this pivotal moment where it would be determined whether I went en pointe or not, and he decided that I was not mature enough. And in typical Amanda fashion I was like, "Oh for real?" And I went to do my own shit.
There was a buddy gymnastics class my friend took me to and I was immediately hooked, and then it was just off to the races. I started off [doing it] recreationally, and then I was spotted pretty quickly by coaches in the gym who asked me if I wanted to start competing. I started at level four, I did one meet at level five and skipped to level six, and after only two full competition seasons I was training to be at level eight, which was a big freaking deal.
At the same time I was a child actor, so I was doing movies and TV. My mom always reminds me of the day I went in to audition for Nickelodeon's My Brother and Me, which has become this cult classic that I was on. I was really fighting her on it because I was invited to go work out with the level eight [gymnasts] and that was a big deal, so I was crying like, "I don't want to go to an audition!" She, being a mom, was like, "This is way more valuable." If you miss one day of practice it's not going to be a big deal — though for gymnasts it is that big of a deal. And gymnastics was my obsession.
What's not to love? You're literally defying gravity. It's like you're a superhero. To be able to swing around the bar — you're utilizing physics in a way that most people can't even fathom. It's the same thing that drew me to comedy. You just feel like you have superhero powers when you're able to make people laugh, and it's something that a lot of people aren't even able to conceptualize. In gymnastics, it was just so cool to be a part of this exclusive group of girls who know how to manipulate their bodies in a way that allows them to do extraordinary things.
I was always a fan of gymnastics, from Nadia Comaneci to Brandy Johnson to Dominique Dawes, so there was always that element of wanting to emulate the thing that you really love to watch. And there's the dance aspect and the flair — and we can't forget the leotards. For gymnasts, leotards are what it's really about. I used to make my own leotards at one point, just so I could stay ahead of the pack. They're expensive, so it was cheaper for my mom to just get me a sewing machine and for me to learn how to make my own than it was for me to keep buying new ones. I was like, "I'm not playing around with y'all. Imma be up in here flavorful on the regular basis."
At the time of my doing gymnastics, it was so rare to see other young black girls doing it, and it's been such an incredible thing to see the growth in terms of diversity. You see Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas and Laurie Hernandez, and just a really fantastic movement forward for giving young black girls another space to expand and to show their athletic ability and to learn discipline in another field. I was the only black girl for a long time.
After Dominique Dawes rose to stardom, that's when we started to really see a change in that. Simone Biles and Gabby are direct descendants of that influence and parents being like, "Oh, this is another option outside of dance class or basketball."
It's a dream of mine to be a commentator at the Olympics for gymnastics. I have encyclopedic knowledge of gymnastics on the women's side and I still love the sport. I can also still flip.
As told to Claire Valentine
"We were known as the Chong Brothers."
by Tommy Chong
Tommy Chong is a comedian, entrepreneur, activist and foremost pot enthusiast.
I played football in high school. I was a linebacker, but I had bad eyesight. I had a lot of heart but no eyes. And I grew up in Calgary in Alberta, Canada, so half the season we played in snow and ice. It was like a mix between football and ice skating.
I first started playing football in my neighborhood growing up. We'd have pick-up games and the good players would go around the streets recruiting people to play. My brother and I were known as the Chong Brothers and we'd get recruited. There'd be 40 guys on each side and it was a free-for-all. No pads, no helmets. You just wore a lot of clothes so you wouldn't get hurt. It was crazy.
My brother was three years older than me and he was in the jock crowd. But I was a greaser. And being a greaser, I used to party quite a bit. I was like Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But as soon as I got turned onto pot, I quit school. I realized it was a waste of time for everybody.
As told to Abby Schreiber
"The way they look in those britches... it's fucking crazy!"
by Isaac Mizrahi
Isaac Mizrahi is a New York City-based fashion designer.
It was a disaster trying to play baseball as a kid. I remember going to sleepaway camp and attempting softball and being just so terrible at it. After the first week, I would avoid playing by running into the woods after breakfast. I would stay in the forest and read till it was time for dinner. Anything but baseball.
But later in life, I got into the Yankees. I had a boyfriend who loved them and he would take me in his fabulous car to their games. It was so glamorous. We'd show up and they'd whisk his car away (he had city government connections.) We'd eat fries and hotdogs and drink beer — it was so fun. And the Yankees, the way they look in those britches, darling…It's fucking crazy. Actually, all these attractive men everywhere. And the day-for-night lighting, which make all the colors especially bright and obnoxious, it's like being on acid.
My mom is also into the Yankees because she and her brothers were originally Brooklyn Dodgers fans, and in the 1950s when the Dodgers moved to LA, just to get revenge they all became Yankees fans. She and I would talk about the Yankees and their prospects, and through the years we'd sit on the phone during the big games. We still do it now occasionally.
I remember my agent booked me on The Apprentice — I didn't know what it was at the time, because it was the first season so the show hadn't even aired yet. It was an episode wherein the contestants were supposed to be working for me, and that woman Omarosa couldn't even pronounce my name. There I was at this really important Yankees playoff game, this perfect day at Yankee Stadium, and I had to leave in the middle — at which point we were winning — to go to that fucking Apprentice taping. I was furious only 'cause I hated Donald Trump even then. And when I checked the final score, we lost, and I always took personal responsibility for that. Had I stayed, who knows, my juju might have been just the ticket. We might have won that day and gone on to win the World Series that year.
That's my big sports story.
As told to Mickey Boardman
"Tennis was my life."
by Tinsley Mortimer
Tinsley Mortimer is a socialite and television personality, most recently appearing on The Real Housewives of New York City.
I was fortunate and grew up with a tennis court at home and a private coach. I actually went away to Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida and went to school there. It was kind of like going to boarding school, but it was heavily focused on tennis. I went to school half day and all of the classes were packed in. Then I went to play tennis five hours a day.
I was down there with people like Monica Seles and Andre Agassi and Anna Kournikova and Jim Courier — all these major players who were so talented at tennis — so it was really cool to be in that environment. I grew up in Virginia and had a very sheltered, privileged life, and Bollettieri was so eye-opening because I was going to school with all these people from all over the world and from all different backgrounds, and the common thread between everybody was tennis. It was just such an amazing experience for a little Virginia girl to be able to have.
After Bollettieri I went to Lawrenceville boarding school and was the captain of the tennis team there, and from there I went to Columbia University and played tennis. It's Division 1 and Ivy League so we were playing against all the major schools — Harvard, Dartmouth and everything. I was ranked nationally and was at one point Virginia state champion — it was my life.
Tennis taught me fairness. You're on the court and you're calling the line in and out. It also helps you to have confidence and not be intimidated by others. It teaches you focus, hard work, discipline and all these other things that you really can apply to your life. It gave me structure growing up — I wasn't just going to school and hanging out at the mall — and taught me sportsmanship. You shake your opponent's hand and sometimes you lose, but you're judged on your achievements.
The time I spent playing tennis was stressful and it was a struggle and I remember trying to get into a good college. But looking back, I can see that the things that I've done in my life and the accomplishments I've had are because of playing the sport growing up. I wouldn't change it for the world. It was a lot, though. Every weekend you're playing tennis and you're not hanging out with your friends, but I'm so grateful my parents let me do it.
I feel like when I look back at my biggest tennis achievement, one of my proudest moments was at Columbia. We were playing Dartmouth and we were down to the last match. We had to play indoors because it was raining and we didn't have any courts to use, so everybody had already played by the time my match went on. We were totally tied and then in the third-set tie breaker, I won. My coaches literally straddled themselves, hugged each other, grabbed me. I was lifted up, everyone was cheering, it was awesome. That was my biggest moment. I never intended to be a professional, but Division 1 tennis at Columbia is something I'm very proud of.
I keep telling myself that I want to get back out there and play. It's fun — now it's fun. It wasn't fun for so long because you were so competitive and you're trying to have it help you get to college and all these different stressful things, but now I think it'd be fun. I envision myself being married, dropping the kids off at school and playing tennis for a couple of hours. But I'm nowhere near that right now. Maybe one day I'll get there.
As told to Claire Valentine
"I knew I'd rather eat a knee brace than spend four hours in practices."
by Jill Kargman
Jill Kargman is a writer and actress whose TV show, Odd Mom Out, just wrapped its run on Bravo.
As a black-clad native New Yorker, when I was cut-and-pasted into my Connecticut boarding school I stuck out like a sore middle finger. Not because I was a pale Jewess in a sea of blonde Barbies, not because I showed up in a Trash & Vaudeville motorcycle jacket while the other girls looked like Lilly Pulitzer had vomited on them, but because I sucked at sports.
For most kids from, say, Greenwich, CT or Duxbury, MA, or basically any throw-a-dart town across the U.S.A., sports are not just a hobby but a way of life and a part of a kid's identity. When I got to high school, everyone seemed to be shat out of the womb with a tiny lacrosse stick or squash racket. There were so many athletes showing up for preseason, the school didn't just field Varsity and J.V. teams, but also something called "Thirds" and, in some popular sports, "Fourths." Oy to the vey!
I'd heard of parents hiring private coaches and witnessed them screaming at the hockey rink as I'd casually stroll back from aerobics. I rolled my eyes at the grunting chants and weird cult-like rituals. And even though I knew I'd rather eat a knee brace than spend four hours in practices and away games every day, I secretly felt like a total freak.
My Mexican standoff with sports began as a child. If this were the movie montage of my trials, you'd see my parents shove me in a tennis clinic with the yellow neon ball flying by my head. In soccer, I'd kick the ball into the wrong goal. In basketball, I was the terrified skinny chick (who at one point in the un-P.C. '80s was called "Ethiopian" by classmates) and cowered as Amazonian girls charged my way. Even Danny Zuko fared better than me — while he "lettered" in track, I huffed and puffed like an emphysema patient, barely making the hurdles.
But at my boarding school, you had to try a sport one of the trimesters. I always did a play during the other trimesters, but there was a rule that you had to be on a team once, not necessarily to excel skills-wise, but to know the camaraderie of spirit and learn the importance of teamwork. It's funny, I always remember Phys-Ed teachers saying, "There's no I in Team!" and while other kids nodded, transfixed, I sat there wondering if these idiots knew there was an M and an E.
When I saw the movie Trainwreck, I experienced a seismic jolt of being understood. Amy Schumer admits to Bill Hader's sports-medicine doctor that she doesn't know any teams and doesn't really give a shit. She made me feel less alone in my not knowing the difference between a down and a touchdown. Whenever I say anything like, "Sports are dumb," people give me dagger eyes. Is my heart made of stone? Have I zero home turf spirit? Well, actually, while I detest watching games, I do always root root root for the home team, because my love of New York eclipses my hatred of sports. And for someone who loathes athletics, I have a shocking revelation for you: I am weirdly obsessed with the Olympics.
I shit you not, even fucking curling. I love the triumphant John Williams theme music, the global pressure, the weeping parents, the victorious fist-bumps, the anthems, the flag capes, the broadcasters' elation. I guess what I respond to rather than the competition is the human emotion. I love tearful shared joy and raised medals. And the stakes: The Olympics are the best in the world. If the athlete's passion got them there, then great.
But what about a mom screaming in thirteen-degree cold for her seven-year-old's baseball game where so-and-so's shithead son fouled and chucked the bat and the town's all talking about it? It's all too much. My friend was complaining about the insane parent scene at her kid's recent game. Her kid doesn't even like it! I told her my philosophy on the subject: Quitting is underrated. You've already wasted your money, don't waste your time! Life is short and do the things you enjoy, why force someone back on the field? So many Americans do something because they think they're supposed to. Fuck that.
This sports curmudgeon figured she'd never find the right guy. One ex-primate would scream at The Dorian's television, another would check scores under the table as I sat there rotting by candlelight. But lucky for me, I found the one straight guy who never watches anything with a flying ball or puck or whatever the fuck. Harry Kargman is a unicorn. All of my friends' husbands are often glued to the tube while they deal with the kids, then they wind up hearing them yelling at the TV, or worse, find them in a sour mood if the favored team lost. Horrifyingly, someone recently told me there is a spike in domestic violence after the Super Bowl because all the XY chromosome shithead dudes whose team tanked get shitfaced and beat their poor wives who spent the whole day making their goddamn nachos.But while sports can obviously have a euphoric, positive effect on many lives — the lessons of sportsmanship, the inspiration to persevere, the remarkable concept of a comeback — I still don't get the spark that fires people up so much they'd pay 100 clams for a jersey with some guy's name on the back. But if sports help inspire kids to work harder and dream big, I'm all for it. I'll just be the one you laugh at when I ask what a down is or how many periods in a hockey game. And tuning in only for the halftime show. And commercials. And not being able to tell you who won at the water cooler the next day. Even Danny Zuko chucked the letterman sweater for his motorcycle jacket; I just never even took mine off in the first place.
"There's something about the speed matched with the sense of control — it's a thrilling sport."
by Uzo Aduba
Uzo Aduba is an actress who appears as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black; you can also see her in The Wiz Live!, Candy Jar and many more.
I figure skated until I was 15 and I did countless competitions. There's something about the speed matched with the sense of control and the wind against your face — it's a thrilling sport.
Why did I stop? I was really progressing pretty quickly and I would skate in the morning from 6–8am, then go to school, and right after school I would go to the rink and skate until 7pm. Hours didn't exist anymore. I needed to be homeschooled or needed to be leaving school even earlier. And my family was like, "We did not immigrate to this country for our children not to go to school. They are not going to do that and they are also going to go college." It was not part of the conversation. It was a very expensive sport so that also meant training more, and my parents already had two kids in college. My younger sister was doing every form of ballet, jazz and modern dance, and my younger brother was playing hockey, and what was meant to be an after-school activity for me started to take over our entire family's life. That just really wasn't the trajectory that my parents wanted life to go in. I don't think it ever entered their mind that this was a career path or anything other than something that I liked to do. I started to excel in it and a choice had to be made.
I was so sad initially to leave it because it was such a big part of my life, but now I obviously have adult vision. Of course I made the right choice. We're going to do everything for this one child when we have five children? Something has to give here. In the moment, though, I was very sad, and that's actually how I started running track. I was home and my mom was like, "You have to find something else to do. You can't just be home hanging out all day."
I started running track spring season of my freshman year of high school, and I ran track all the way through college. I ran the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4x100-meter relay, and did the long jump. Running track changed my life because I loved it. Skating and track are both individual sports, but at least when you're running a 4x1 you have the element of teamwork. In a grander way it changed my life because I ended up getting a full ride to a Division 1 school for it, so that was huge.
Now, I run for fun and meditation. I was a short-distance runner, and now I run longer distance on my own. I'm not running timed or anything — I'm just running for release. I've also been looking at ice skates because I do think I would like to skate again. I'm just going to go into a skate shop and try on some stuff, see what the blades look like now. I've been checking out the rinks in my area. I think I would like to do that.
As told to Claire Valentine
"The senior girls hated us because we were freshmen and so much better than them."
by Petra Cortright
Petra Cortright is a Los Angeles-based artist working primarily in digital media.
Soccer was a huge part of my childhood in Santa Barbara, California. I started playing when I was 4 or 5 and did the whole AYSO [American Youth Soccer Organization] thing with the orange slices and the Capri Sun. When you're little, it's really sweet — if you lose, no one is too upset and you're just running around. I started making the All-Star teams when I was about 9 or 10 years old, and though it was still pretty light-hearted, it got a little bit more serious. Then I started playing club soccer when I was 10 for the Football Club of Santa Barbara, or FCSB. My coach had come over from England and he was more serious, the team was more serious. I could definitely feel that. Whereas anyone could play AYSO, you had to try out to make the club team, which was the big difference.
I played right back. I always liked to play on the outside because I loved to run and there was more space to do that. When I was younger I would play mid-field or forward, but for the club team, my coach wanted to convert me into a defender and a right back, but an attacking right back. It's the most running out of any position but I loved being on the outside, because if you're in the middle, you have to have really good ball control. And you're under pressure a lot because everyone is in the middle, so you have to be really quick. I just wanted to be away from everyone and have all this space to run and do longer, bigger movements.
In high school, I joined my school team at Santa Barbara High — the Santa Barbara Dons — so I was playing on that team and my club team. I made the high school varsity team as a freshman along with my other club teammates from FCSB. The senior girls hated us because we were freshmen and so much better than them. I didn't like that. I remember thinking, "We're so good and we're on your same team!" But I wasn't too intimidated because I had my little group of club teammates. We supported each other and stuck together so it was fine. Ultimately the older girls ended up just being happy for the team to be better.
We had to practice on the football field, and the football team would practice before us. We would always mess around and throw the football with them. The volleyball girls were kind of our nemeses. They would wear these tiny volleyball shorts that were short and tight and they were the really pretty, popular girls in school who wore barely any clothing. They would call us lesbians because we wore baggy clothes. It was a totally different vibe.
Freshman year I broke my shoulder — the only injury I ever had. I was really little still — I was skinny and tiny and weighed only about 85 lbs. I went up for a header and I was marking a girl that probably had 40, 50 lbs on me. She was just older — she was probably 18 and I was the tiniest 14-year-old. I jumped up in the air, headed the ball and she hip-checked me mid-air. I was just so light that she flipped me 180 degrees in the air and I landed on my shoulder. It completely cracked in half. When I was flipping in the air I remember the audience's big gasp and then I blacked out for a second. I was just rolling on the ground and I couldn't move my arm.
My mom was watching, and she came out onto the field. She drove me to the emergency room where the doctors did an X-Ray, gave me a soft sling and some Vicodin. I had never had Vicodin before that and I remember thinking, This feels great, but I also want to throw up right now.
The biggest thing I weirdly remember from that time is when my mom had to take me to a department store to get button-up shirts because I couldn't put a T-shirt on over my head. I remember I cried in the store because I thought I looked like a weird secretary. At the time, I wanted to wear a soccer T-shirt or a Roxy surfing T-shirt, and a button-up shirt wasn't California cool, especially in high school. My style had to change and I just felt so dorky.
I ended up being out for the majority of my freshman season.
But I played all sophomore year. It began to feel a little frustrating, though, because my high school team wasn't as good as FCSB. This was also around that time that I started doing the Olympic Development Program stuff and I would do private training lessons with my club coach. I got by for a pretty long time because I was fast, and I was getting taller. That was also when I started getting more anxiety about things. All of a sudden there was something at stake or something on the line. I had made it past the first few cuts at the Olympic Development Program and watched my other teammates not make it. It made me sad and it made me feel lonely because this was something I was supposed to be doing with my friends, and I always enjoyed playing with my friends and ultimately just playing for fun. I ended up doing it for a few months and making it to a mid-level in the Olympic Development Program, but I never made any national team.
At the beginning of junior year, college scouts were looking at me. But I had to stop playing at high school because it was too low of a level to play and my club team didn't want me getting injured. At this point, soccer became this very serious thing. I could no longer skateboard, snowboard or surf, or do any other California kid activities I loved to do. At some point I also had permission to leave school early because of practice. Every weekend during my junior and senior years, we'd drive to San Diego, which is a 4-hour drive for games that'd start at 8am.
It was very clear that if I wanted to do soccer in a serious way, I had to focus on that and I couldn't have interest in other things. I had a massive interest in art and wanted to be a graphic designer. I had done a pre-college program at California College of the Arts up in Oakland the summer between junior year and senior year. They had offered me an early scholarship to go to that school and I basically had gotten into an arts school that I thought was so cool, even before my senior year. So I quit soccer cold turkey the first semester of senior year.
As told to Abby Schreiber