Breaking a sweat (sort of)

I made it through the Olympics. It was really intense, watching those powerful, amazing young women run 400 meters in mere seconds – and still manage to keep their makeup and hair perfect. Seriously. Not one French braid askew. And pole vaulters catapulting themselves 15 feet over some kind of limbo pole. Fifteen. Feet. They were all, like, ho-hum, please pass the nail file. Meanwhile, here at home in TV land, I worried about stepping over a 2-foot doggy gate to get to the fridge during commercials.

Now football season is approaching, which always gets me worked up about the gender gap. Yes, yes, I know all about female football. Heck, I spent a week looking it up, between checking Facebook, emails, YouTube, emails, Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. Actual time researching its history: 13 minutes. Enough to know women’s football in America started in 1926 as half-time entertainment during men’s games, and that attempts to keep women’s football “serious” were largely unsuccessful. Hard to believe, with names like the Los Angeles Dandelions and the Tulsa Babes.

Of course, the NFL takes women seriously, evidenced by including 20-somethings in bikinis, commonly known as cheerleaders. True, we have the Maine Rebels, which is cool, because Rebel is the name of my ferocious 10-pound Cairn terrier. Plus, the Rebels posted their yard sale on Facebook. Even cooler. They’re probably in a big ol’ huddle somewhere right now, yelling “hike!” and fighting over dates for next year’s sale.

All of this leaves me confused and frustrated.

My early role models included my elegant grandmother, Estelle. She spent every morning in bed on the phone, setting up luncheons and bridge games. Phone dialing and lifting said Princess phone to her ear? Feel the burn.

And my mom’s rudiments of exercise? Bet you think I’m going to say walking to the car to go out to lunch. Yes. But also, she carried a bathing suit with her everywhere, rain or shine, summer and winter, in case she found herself near a pool or lake. For years, she kept up a hotel pool membership, driving 45 miles each way. She’d take a quick dip, fusing her core for a full 8 minutes, then we’d have lunch, fusing our mother-daughter bond over chicken salad and fudge cake. Talk about your workout.

In childhood, my siblings and I played street games, including touch football. At age 12, when the whole boob thing got started, I quit, and began putting on neighborhood plays about Archie and his Riverdale pals.

Somewhere, in my preteens, I saw a 9-by-11 framed picture of my older sister in a real football uniform. Football…football…

I recently became obsessed, asking everyone I saw whether they’d known any female football players.

They all said the same thing: “Uh, I think I knew someone who might have known someone whose friend could have played….” – like some weird kind of Extreme-Six-Degrees-of-Separation-Gone-Wild video. When I asked a stranger at a gas station, he just looked at me and winked. Creep.

My Starbucks barista promised he’d put me in touch with his football-playing female cousin. He plied me with cafe? mochas and pastry samples until finally confessing she’d moved to Europe. All in all, considering all the free treats I’d consumed, it was a good outcome.

Then the phone rang. It was my grown daughter.

“Sally,” I said, “Know any female football players?”

“Well, my good friend knows someone who bowls professionally.”

Ugh.

“But,” she added, “remember in third grade, my friends and I wanted to play tackle football with the boys at recess and the principal told us we weren’t allowed?”

“Really?” I asked.

“But we played anyway.”

That’s my girl. Tough. All 5 feet of her.

“Our teacher fought for our rights,” she said.

How had this momentous challenge escaped my memory?

“And finally, he gave in.”

Oh, yes. That innovative program she was in – bright kids, less-traditional atmosphere.

“Then we lost interest,” she said. “We were just doing it to push the envelope. We finally went back to the usual – walking, chatting …”

“Those were the days,” she continued, “when my friends and I started our ‘Milky-Way Club.’ We spent a lot of time coming up with criteria. Like how to keep certain people from joining.”

Sally kept the fight and determination she tapped from third-grade football to use in the Peace Corps, and now, as a special education teacher.

The football photo of my sister? She was in costume for a high school play. But she’s used her spirit, strength and endurance to work in theater in New York, no small feat.

And me? I’m just trying to figure out an easier way to hop over the doggy gate.

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