26 years old.

My husband and his friend David run together. They also take up indoor rock-climbing. They invite me, but I decline, remembering how awkward I feel in gym settings. An anxiety of taking up physical space lives in my body.

They tell me that I would love rock climbing, how at its root it is problem-solving in motion. I agree with them. My rational mind agrees with them. I tell them I will think about it.

24 years old.

I still can’t name a single player on any of the sports teams my family loves. I like to watch the Olympics, but mostly for cute swimmers. When I tell people I’m from Pittsburgh, they ask if I’m a Pens fan, a Steelers fan. I tell them I’m not really a sports guy.

The older gentlemen pause, as if to say, “What’s the alternative?”

21 years old.

As an undergraduate, my boyfriend persuades me to get into running. I’ve wanted to exercise for a long time. For a while, I enjoy the runner’s high, the toning of my leg muscles. The California desert sun feels good on my skin, the smell of the sagebrush is a welcome companion. I can feel myself growing stronger, running longer. I find momentary comfort in this personal relationship between my body and me, my body, and nature.

18 years old.

I finish high school, grateful to never hear the squeak of sneakers on the gymnasium floor again. I come out to everyone. My friends and siblings are accepting. My father is shattered. My mother is supportive in the ways she can be. She tends to my father’s collapsed understanding of his son. It feels like one more disappointment in a series—it’s the ninth inning, and I’ve struck out again.

Are my sports metaphors making sense yet?

16 years old.

I’m awkward in gym class. The rest of the guys my age compete with one another in kickball, and I just don’t get it. Not the concept itself—foot hits ball, I run to first base. I don’t understand the competition, the need to show off. My friend Steph jokes about how they are all “gym class heroes,” but maybe part of me wishes my body could perform physical feats like the rest of the guys.

When the alternative is presented, I walk the track outside with my friends, mostly girls. Rumors spread in high school that I am gay. Is that what I am?

9 years old.

My youngest brother signs up for football and becomes an instant star. My parents ask me repeatedly if I’m interested in signing up—but at this point, I already have my hobbies. Reading, writing stories, playing with my dolls, walking in the woods. A quiet child.

8 years old.

A new school year and this time I convince my parents to sign me up for soccer because I hated baseball. At the first practice, I cry before my mother drops me off at the field. She asks what is wrong, and I can’t form the answer with words. Only the feeling that I don’t belong.

7 years old.

My parents sign me up for little league. At the big games, most of my teammates are able to hit a ball when it is pitched to them. For me, the coach drags out the tee, places the ball in front of me, and I swing with all my might—and still strike out.

At the end of the season, each team member receives a participation trophy. I show mine off proudly in my bedroom.

0 years old.

There’s a common myth that we’re all here because we were “the strongest swimmers.” Almost 18 years in the future, in twelfth grade biology, I will learn this is plain wrong. Ms. King will teach our class that the first sperm cells to reach the zona pellucida—the jelly-like coating surrounding the egg—arrive mainly by luck, their movement helped along by muscles in the uterus. This is the beginning of a body in motion—not born from a race but from chance.

The sport is in the re-telling—a total identification with the “athletic” sperm cell and not the egg. How we must be the champion, the victor—even before we’ve had the chance to become whole.

Robert Julius is a queer writer from Pittsburgh, PA. He is a poetry editor for Ohio State’s literary magazine, The Journal. His work appears in or is forthcoming in Alegrarsecream city reviewCrosswindsThe Florida ReviewGhost City Press, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @schumaker93.

Photo by Mike McKniff