On my way to work this morning, I listened to a Ted Radio Hour podcast about transformations. The talks were given by a transgender supermodel, a climber who lost his legs and continued climbing, and a drug-dealer/murderer who learned how to live in peace. My story of transformation is not nearly as exciting, heartfelt, nor…well, transformative. But it’s a story nonetheless that I would like to document. It’s about my slow progression into exercising.
Part One: Middle School
Like most scrawny and nerdy Asian schoolgirls, I was not an athletic child. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was consistently picked last in PE (even in kickball for Christ’s sake) and my average mile time was 13 minutes. There was no need to be athletic. All my friends were bookworms so we spent our breaks in the library studying for the SATs. Yes, this was still middle school and yes, I regret most of my childhood.
In my mind, sports were for the genetically gifted and typically tan kids in my class who played outdoors and didn’t have to practice piano after school. Although I never considered myself an athlete, looking back on my middle school years, I realize now that this was when I became the best I would ever be in a sport. And it was all thanks to my Dad and my uncle’s Toyota Previa.
One Saturday morning, my Dad went out for his weekly trip to Yard Birds, Ace Hardware, or Home Depot. My parents worked on a lot of home improvement projects, so this was just a typical weekend chore. Instead of returning home with sandpaper and four-by-fours, he came home with a huge ping-pong table strapped to my uncle’s white pill-shaped van.
Nearly every night for the next two years, I practiced ping-pong with my Dad in the garage, which ranged from 40 degrees to 95 degrees, depending on the season. My Dad is a pro in any sport he played as a kid, and ping-pong was his favorite. Naturally, he tried to train me into his prodigy. This only worked halfway though. See, in any sport, you actually have to learn many different moves in order to be considered good. I, on the other hand, learned one and only one move: the forehand drive. I would smash that tiny ball with all my might and as much spin as the sticky rubber on the paddle could produce. And my Dad, with his impeccable hand-eye coordination, would return the ball to me in the same exact spot. And then I’d do it again. And again. And again.
Attempting to practice backhand or any other move only resulted in picking up balls. This was no fun, so eventually we’d return to rallying. To this day, I can only play ping pong with people who play like my Dad. Coincidentally, these people happen to be other middle-aged Taiwanese men.
We stopped playing ping pong when I got into high school. I lost any hint of athletic ability when ping pong training was replaced by chemistry and calculus lessons. Thanks, Dad.