I’m 24 years old, and I can’t catch or throw a ball. When I was in elementary school, I tried participating in after-school soccer and basketball and other sports like gymnastics, karate and dance, but never with positive results. My gymnastics teacher even asked me to drop out after four years of being enrolled in the class because I never advanced past the first level. During physical education at school, everyone was required to play sports, so I would try, even though my foot hardly ever made contact with the soccer ball and Frisbees always sailed way over my head no matter how high I jumped. Consequently, I was always picked last for every team sport – which was the single most humiliating thing I had been through as a first and second grader.
When I was seven, my parents took me to a physical therapist, which is where we figured out that I have gross motor delays. This means that I have difficulty performing basic motor skills, like running or catching and throwing a ball.
Gross motor skills refer to the skills used to move our arms, legs, and torso. Gross motor delays are one symptom of dysfraxia, which affect about 10 percent of toddlers in the U.S. For some people, like myself, these delays stick with them throughout childhood and sometimes into adulthood.
After my diagnosis, I started attending a special “adapted P.E.” class after school two days a week, where we would practice catching a very large foam ball from two or three feet away or see how many consecutive times we could jump over a rope. Because of the classes, I was then exempt from team sports during P.E. – but it meant that I had to hang out on the sidelines practicing throwing a basketball through a hoop or kicking a soccer ball through a goal by myself. This continued into my freshman year of high school.
All children want to feel like they belong. Even the kids who like being a little different (like myself – I never read Harry Potter solely because everyone else did) don’t want to feel like a complete outsider. My gross motor delays made me feel nothing but extreme alienation until I was halfway through my freshman year of high school, when I switched from a big public school to a much smaller college preparatory school, where P.E. wasn’t required. Since then, the only team sports I’ve played have been when I decide to throw a Frisbee around with some friends at the beach or play a game of tag with kids I’m babysitting. This has helped me to embrace my gross motor delays instead of feeling ashamed about them. I’m loud, I have freckles, I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, and I can’t catch a ball to save my life. It’s all just part of who I am.