I am not a jock. Even though I was on cross-country skis as soon as I could walk, even though I was a competitive swimmer for a decade, even though I was on three high school sports teams (XC, swimming, track), even though I’m a pseudo-pro triathlete, I’m still not a jock. I can only marvel at the fluidity of movement, the effortless mastery of sports, the raw physicality that define a jock. Sticks, bats and skates become extensions of their limbs, physical awkwardness is a foreign concept and hand-eye coordination comes as naturally as breathing.
Are you a jock? If you need to ponder this question the answer is almost certainly no. Still not sure? Take this simple test: if someone suddenly throws a ball at you, your reaction is:
My dad once referred to my ineptitude at catching and throwing as his greatest failure as a father. One baseball game in grade 9 gym class will forever be seared into my memory. I had buried myself deep in the outfield where I hoped to be safe from any action. The bases were loaded when someone hit a fly ball. The ball described a lazy arc high above the field. I watched in disbelief, then with growing fear, as the ball homed in on my position. Rather than attempting a catch—bound to be an embarrassing and dangerous failure—I did the only sensible thing and stepped to the side letting the ball fall to the ground. This delay cost my team the game. I noticed the gym teacher shaking his head taking notes on his clipboard.
Gym class was a perennial black mark on my otherwise immaculate report card. Although I did show a surprising aptitude for swing dancing during the brief unit. I even got to dance a number on stage at a school assembly. Another nail in the coffin of my jockhood.
In primary school, I was one of two boys in my class who did not play hockey—borderline heresy in smalltown Canada. This deviant behaviour aroused the suspicion of my peers. I tried to fit in. I faked my way through mini-stick hockey and touch football at recess. But even the fat kids got picked before me. I briefly wore a team baseball cap like the other boys until I failed to name a single player on the team when questioned.
I have trouble matching teams with their respective sports and home cities, let alone their players. Occasionally someone will ask if I saw “the Game” last night. “Um… yeah… that game…” This is often followed by a stream of gibberish about blue lines, tight ends and bottom innings. They might as well be speaking Quenya.
Jockdom is more than a subculture; it is an exclusive club to which endurance athletes need not apply. Endurance sports are the last stop for the rejects of mainstream jock-dominated sports: the uncoordinated, the socially-challenged, the oddly-proportioned, the slow. What lunatic would suffer through triathlons if he could kick ass at hockey? or chess boxing or toe wrestling or bog snorkelling? Endurance sports grant the non-jock masses what mainstream sports never could: a taste of athletic success.
You don’t even have to do well, you just have to finish. Unlike jock sports where success is measured in wins, standings, points, goals and touchdowns, simply completing an endurance event is considered an accomplishment in and of itself. With the rise of this “compete-to-complete” mentality, athletic mediocrities can engage in a kind of jock role-playing. All endurance athletes—from the overweight and undertrained to the elite—are playing out a latent fantasy of being a jock, a fantasy born of childhood envy of schoolyard jocks. But let’s not kid ourselves, we’ll never be jocks!