In elementary school, I was the tallest and the strongest. In 5th grade, I was the only student awarded the Presidential Physical Fitness medal. By sixth grade, I was 5’8,” with size 10 shoes.
By high school, I had crushed all contenders in arm-wrestling. I didn’t see the need to get stronger. But my best friend needed to be able to do a single pull-up in order to make it into the Air Force Academy, and she needed a friend to support her – literally. Every morning before school, I held her up under the pull-up bar in our high school gym until she gained enough strength to manage a pull-up on her own. When it was time for her AF physical, she actually did TWO whole pull-ups and we did about fifty girly squeals together afterwards.
While helping my friend get all buffed up, I lifted some weights, too. After all, it was gratifying to watch the guys come into the gym as we were leaving. More than one beefy white boy strutted past me to the leg press, did a double take at the weights, and tried to surreptitiously remove a few without his friends noticing.
Whereupon I hurried back over, loudly apologizing, “Sorry, dude, I shoulda re-racked those, lemme give you a hand.”
Similar incidents happened in college weight rooms, and then when I joined a gym. Watching incredulous male faces was always fun, but taking credit for it seemed wrong. Muscle strength is mostly genetics. Sure, I lift weights and do cardio on a regular basis to make up for chocolate consumption (with varying degrees of success), but my mighty quadriceps are a fluke.
Strength – especially quads – came in handy for pot-stirrer spins the dance floor, though. When my husband and I retired from competition, I became obsessed with volleyball, playing recreationally, then in a league. My quads served me well once again, especially when it came to blocking. Seeing the shock on a male hitter’s face right after I stuffed him was always delightful.
Like Badminton Becky, I hounded better players for lessons, did drills, and played whenever I could. I played too much, straining my right quad during a tournament. I shrugged it off. I’d had a few muscle strains before, a boatload of stitches from various dogs and windows, and had even survived flipping a car 3 times without a scratch. I foolishly considered myself semi-indestructible. I took a few too few days off, then went back to volleyball practice.
But when I jumped to spike a set, the ball didn’t go down.
My right quad finally failed me. I fell in a heap on the gym floor. The smallest move sent shooting pain through my whole leg. I crawled to the side of the gym and tried not to throw up while my teammates called my husband and told him to pick me up.
My husband did pick me up, but not literally, because I’m not a small person and Andy has compressed discs in his back. When tiny little Veronica broke her ankle at volleyball and tried to hobble out, her husband scooped her up in his arms and carried her out to applause.
My husband is not so foolish. He draped my arm over his shoulder and told me to lean on him. I did. He winced, and recruited another player to help us out to the car, saying, “Take as much of her weight as you can.”
I made a mental note to make sure Andy and I did leg weights together once I recovered. Maybe he’d get stronger. Maybe he’d be humiliated. Win-win.
Later that day, the orthopedist confirmed what I suspected. By stupidly jumping on a weakened quad muscle, I’d torn it. I’d be on crutches for weeks. After that, I could look forward to months of physical therapy before I could play volleyball again.
“That long?” I wailed.
“If you’re lucky. It’s a pretty bad tear.” The doctor shook his head at me and said, “I’ve never seen a woman with a torn quad before. It’s kind of a rare injury.”
“Because it’s usually massive football players who decide to play some basketball and they rip their quads doing jump shots.”
I never could decide if that was a compliment.