It was the final leg of the relay at our annual family reunion. Everyone was cheering. We were in the lead. I’d just passed the baton to my mother-in-law, who took two steps, tripped and fell to the ground.
“Get up! Get up! We’ve got this!” I screamed, suddenly realizing everyone else had grown quiet. I glanced around to see people staring at me with a look of disgust. My mother-in-law was 78 years old.
Okay, I admit it, my first reaction should have been one of concern, and it probably would have been a nice gesture to make a move to help her up. But how did I know if touching my teammate would get us disqualified?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m too competitive. Well I wasn’t always that way, in fact, I was the opposite. I’d always assumed when they were handing out the competitive gene, I was in another line getting seconds of sensitivity or irritating humor.
It’s not that I never competed. Track and field and team sports were mandatory in school. I won countless ribbons for running and high jump, however it wasn’t due to my competitive nature. I loved to run and could run fast. I could jump and jump high. It helped that I had legs that went all the way to my armpits.
I wasn’t much into team sports. I hated basketball mainly because, being tall, everyone expected me to be good and I wasn’t. I dreaded volleyball. Teammates would yell, "Call it!" and when I did they’d dive in front of me anyway. While pretty good at flag football and floor hockey, I was a girly-girl and still felt out of my element. I remember once after I scored two goals, the captain came over, raised his hands in the air then turned them over in front of me, waiting for me to do something. I felt awkward, so I just looked at him and said, “I don’t do that.”
It wasn’t only in sports I lacked the competitive gene. When we got assignments back, everyone would run around asking, “What did you get?” I’d turn my paper over and reply, “I did okay.” Always a straight-A student, I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t need a shrink to tell me where that feeling stemmed from. It began with my kindergarten class photo; tall for my age, I was the only girl in the back row with all the boys. All I wanted was to blend in.
They say opposites attract and that was the case when I met my husband. He had enough of the competitive gene for both of us. He excelled at sports and loved competing at anything. He didn’t mind the limelight and was very much in it, working as a television news reporter.
We’d only been dating a short time when I was invited to spend Christmas Day with his family. We ended up getting storm-stayed for three days. It became obvious that his entire family had the competitive gene. They loved to play games.
On my second day of captivity, I snuck in a phone call to my mother and pleaded, “For the love of God get me out of here. They’re not done playing one game and someone’s asking what we should play next.” Trivial Pursuit, cards, darts; the fun never ended. For someone lacking the competitive gene, it was three days of hell.
When we had children, years later, it became obvious my daughter was following in her father’s footsteps. He encouraged her competitive nature early on when trying to get her to eat dinner. “I bet I can beat you at cleaning my plate,” he’d challenge her. Never a fan of the game, I was sure they’d develop ulcers from eating too quickly.
When she became a competitive swimmer my husband would tell her to go kick some butt, whereas I would tell her to have fun. Although I was thrilled when she "kicked butt" all the way to the national level, I was equally thrilled when she got out of the pool and her opponents ran to hug and congratulate her. She managed to have a killer competitive instinct, but in such a goodnatured way even her rivals couldn’t fault her. When she played basketball it was great when she scored, but even better when she passed the ball around. I liked the camaraderie of sports, not the competitiveness, and I always cheered for the underdog.