Growing up, reading and writing were my avenues of escape from a life I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Not even my worst enemies. And, believe me, I have a few.
There were what I call “honeymoon periods” when everything seemed normal, everything felt right with the world, and I was happy. But they never lasted long with an unpredictable father, who, when he was actually home instead of gallivanting who knows where with who knows whom, was downright cruel, and an impossible person with whom to coexist.
Those days long since have passed. Not so my escapes. It was an unending hunger for reading that opened a new world for me – one in which I could be anyone and do anything – and it was exhilarating.
My lifelong love of sports and the many personalities associated with them, however, began well before that.
I was the quintessential tomboy, still am to this day. But my fellow sports fan of a husband doesn’t mind, never did. He accepts me for who I am – always has – and that makes all the difference.
I was raised an Alabama Crimson Tide football fan right out of the gate and avidly started cheering for the New York Giants later on in 1979. I would recap games with anyone who would listen and I intimidated most boys because they just didn’t know HOW to take me. Little did I know that rehashing college football games with a colleague at my first paying newspaper job many years later also would land me my first gig as a sports writer. Talk about being in the right place at the right time WITH the right person.
Backpedaling to the past …
I went fishing almost every day with an always-drunk father during my early childhood, was one of only two girls who played intramural soccer with all the boys for several years at one of my grade schools and any kind of femininity completely was lost on me having grown up in an all-male household. I remember all too well a pack a girls calling me a savage because I didn’t know how or who else to be but ME. That same group tormented me for failing first grade because, ironically, I didn’t know how to read.
So, when I finally got the hang of reading, I hid within myself and turned to books as solace. I have that same biological father of mine to thank for that, but only because he didn’t want me underfoot.
He would dump me off at the public library in my hometown of Huntsville, Ala., first thing every single morning during the summers when I was 13 up until high school and wouldn’t come to pick me up until it closed, but I didn’t mind. I gravitated toward anything related to sports, and my passion for them only blossomed as I gleaned all I could about them.
I read nonstop about horses at first. Yes, you read that right. Horses. Such majestic, breathtaking creatures. I wish everyone appreciated them the way I do.
I had already read all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, a fictional series about a boy jockey and his racehorse, as well as Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind and Black Gold. So I moved on, mentally devouring all the information I could about the Triple Crown, the origins of horse racing and its rich history thereafter.
I inhaled any fictional series books I could about football, many of which were geared toward juvenile males my age at the time, but that didn’t stop me. I often envisioned myself playing on the gridiron alongside the characters in the books, and in my own mind, I was courageous and brash and … LOVED by my teammates, by everyone. All the things I was not when I had to rejoin the real world after finishing each book. I’d immediately start another so I wouldn’t have to dwell on my life, such as it was back then.
From there, I graduated to the nonfiction section. Some of the earliest titles I read in that genre included Brian Piccolo: A Short Season, I am Third and Even Big Guys Cry. All were about football players (Chicago Bears teammates Gale Sayers and Piccolo and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras) and, truthfully, it was the first time I was able to visualize athletes as, well, MORTAL. Their stories resonated with me and still are among my favorites to this day.
So it wasn’t much of a stretch when I started writing poetry anytime I wasn’t reading. I still write poems when the mood strikes, but the youthful angst that spurred me to put pen to paper on so many occasions back in the day substantially has quieted since I went out into the world, made my own way and finally figured out that I really was capable of so much more than I ever thought possible.
I think delving into my own mind and making sense of it helped me figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my days, even if I never got rich in the process. Sure, I earned a living at it for 11 years, but I don’t miss writing with a deadline looming over my head.
My husband asked me just last week if I enjoyed it, this newest foray of mine into blogging. Of course, I do, I told him. I can write about whatever I want rather than having something assigned to me by an editor, not that I ever minded doing it in the past. That was my job. It’s just so much more enjoyable NOW because I have the freedom to write exactly what’s on my mind. Unfiltered, uncensored and, sometimes, very much biased.
One of my proudest moments long ago was writing for my hometown paper, a goal of mine since reading a high school football story in the Huntsville Times back in the mid-1980s that, quite literally, consumed me with its poignancy to the point that reading was no longer enough for me. I HAD to write. That lone story about a heartbreaking loss COMPELLED me to do it.
Ever since, I’ve done all the things I set out to do, all the things my own father told me I could not. Except write for Sports Illustrated. Hey, a girl still can dream, you know.