Column: Life as a black sheep

'I lacked the most important trait in any sports athlete: passion to play a sport.'

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Column: Life as a black sheep

"After I gave up sports, I realized my true passion is to be a storyteller."

Valerie Benzinger

"After I gave up sports, I realized my true passion is to be a storyteller."

Valerie Benzinger

Valerie Benzinger

"After I gave up sports, I realized my true passion is to be a storyteller."

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I step up to the three point line with sweaty palms and shaky legs; the weight of the basketball feels like a bowling ball in my hands as I stare at the small orange ring that appears so far away. I let the basketball fly from my fingers toward the hoop holding my breath as I watch the ball soar through the air. I knew it wasn’t going to go through the hoop as soon as the ball left my grasp. When I heard the loud thud of the ball slamming against the backboard I knew this isn’t going to be the last time I would hear that noise again. This was the first of many failures I experienced throughout my sports career.

I tried out for the Louisiana community basketball team when I was 7 years old. I was excited to try out for an actual sports team. I thought it would be fun because all three of my brothers played sports and they said it was enjoyable to play for a team. My older brothers first played football and basketball when they were at the age of 7 and have continued to play ever since. So I decided to be like them and try to be an athlete as well. I wanted to be athletic and cool, just like them; I also wanted my father to be proud of me like how he is with my brothers. I wanted him to look at me with the same look of accomplishment he gave my siblings.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t nearly as athletically skilled as they were; I missed every shot and had no hand-eye coordination, so I couldn’t hold onto the ball when I did have it. I was so terrible that I wasn’t able to finish tryouts before the coach told me I didn’t make the basketball team.

I feared my father would be ashamed of me for not being as athletic as my brothers. When I went home from the tryouts I was shaking because of how nervous I was to tell my father I didn’t make the team. When I told him, he asked me why I didn’t make it, “because I wasn’t good enough to be on the team.” I waited for him to tell me I was a disappointment to him and he wanted nothing to do with me, but he told me he was going to help me improve by practicing with me every day after school. I was happy he was going to spend more time with me but I had no idea what I was about to go through.

Every day for the next four years I would run laps up and down the football field to increase my stamina. After that, I would dribble a basketball through an obstacle course my father set up. To wrap it all up, I would shoot from the three-point line until I could make 10 in a row; it would take me hours to make 10 in a row so I was exhausted by the time I was done with practice.

I was 12 years old and my skill in basketball had gotten better, but it wasn’t enough to make me a truly skilled player. I lacked the most important trait in any sports athlete: passion to play a sport.


 

I entered through the double doors into the gym of my middle school with my twin brother determined to redeem my younger self by doing the absolute best and proving to everyone I could be just as good as my brothers at sports. Unfortunately my young mind couldn’t grasp the fact I couldn’t play any sport no matter how much I tried. I just lacked the physical prowess needed to become an athlete like my brothers.

When I didn’t make the team I was so depressed that all I wanted to do was go home and sleep until I was 20. My twin brother made the team but he didn’t rub it in my face because he knew how much it meant to me to make it onto the team.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. You just have to keep practicing.” I wanted to believe his words, but deep down I knew the real reason why I kept failing at every sport. I wasn’t naturally gifted with athleticism like my brothers, which made me resent sports entirely.


 

After I gave up sports, I realized my true passion is to be a storyteller. I love movies, books, comic books, video games and even TV shows that had interesting plot so I decided to create my own stories. I always thought to myself about creating my own characters with powers and I would think about how they became superheroes or supervillains so I decided to start writing my own comic books.

I wrote every single chance I received. Few of them were good, but there were many failures I wished I never attempted. Still, I loved writing and creating stories. I was afraid to show my family my work because I thought they wouldn’t like it, or worse, they would be ashamed of me. I saw how much my father loved to talk to my brothers about sports and how he would spend countless hours playing with them and helping them improve; I thought he wouldn’t understand or care about my passion in storytelling, so I decided to keep it a secret for a year.

I only showed my twin brother my work and he thought they were amazing; he suggested I sell my comics at school. So I did at school, and to my surprise I had a large demand for my work. I loved having my friends come up to me and tell me they loved my work and wanted to see more.


 

I eventually showed my father one of my comics and with shaky hands as I waited for him to finish reading my first real comic.

“This is really good son. I can’t believe you made this.”

I was shocked to hear him say that. Usually he wouldn’t care about anything other than sports, so hearing him say that he was interested in my work was a first for me.

“Really?” I asked in disbelief. “I thought you would be ashamed of me for not being an athlete like my brothers.”

He looked me straight in the eyes and gave me the longest hug I have ever received from him.

“I practiced with you because I thought you wanted to play sports, but after a few years I knew you really didn’t like sports and was only trying out to make me proud of you. Son, I will always be proud of you regardless if you play a sport or not. Never think I am ashamed of you.”

I couldn’t believe he knew all along and I felt relieved because he was still proud of me. I no longer felt like the black sheep of the family; I finally felt accepted.

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