Middle school wasn't difficult enough for me. I had emigrated from Nigeria to the United States in the 5th grade and was ahead of the curve. The concepts I was learning were things I had done three to four years prior. That being said, I just naturally assumed the rest of my schooling would turn out that way. So when the time came to apply to a high school, I wasn't very particular about where I was going. Truth be told, I'd never heard or researched any of the schools I put down and was choosing my future purely based on word of mouth.
Was that reckless? Probably.
Did I care? Well, no. I was fourteen and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life.
Regardless, I sent in my applications and a couple of weeks later, I got into my first-rank pick and although I didn't know it at the time, it was one of the top high schools in the country, Townsend Harris High School. I was pretty ecstatic for a person who had no idea what she was getting into. In fact, I remained ecstatic all through the first week of school, but then things took a sharp turn.
See, I was used to cruising through middle school like a two engine plane on little to no actual effort. Then suddenly, I entered high school and my work resembled a blown engine, my grades were in rapid descent and the only thing seemingly keeping me in the air was the fact that I excelled in gym class. As ridiculous as that notion is, it became the one thing I could cling to.
You may be thinking, “No one sucks at gym class, you are the rule, not the exception.” However, that isn't quite true. Townsend Harris believes in the strengthening of all muscles, including but not limited to: Your brain, your hamstrings, your glutes, your abs, your calves and basically every other part of your body. Hence, a gym class like no other was born. Gym class was essentially a 45 minute, five-day-a-week training session. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It began on day one of freshman year with my gym teacher throwing me out on the track in 80-degree heat and telling me to complete a mile, and ended with my gym teacher throwing me on the track in 80-degree heat on the last day of class, senior year and telling me to complete a mile and a half.
It was multiple variations of torture under the guise of physical education. It was so intense that the Fitnessgram Pacer Test was a day off. The goal was to instill the basics of health and exercise into our daily routine as a take away for the rest of our lives. It may sound bad, but it worked. Slowly and steadily, I began to adopt the exercises, then I built my own workouts for use at home and eventually, I even joined the track team. My physical health was peaking like never before. Unfortunately, other parts of my life were reaching lows comparable to the Mariana Trench.
High school made me feel stupid. I walked into math class wondering if there we secret formulas written in invisible ink on the board that everyone else saw but I was oblivious to. English class made me realize that my writing had somehow reached a level below subpar. History class put my memorization skills to the test. The sciences? Let's not even go there. As a result, I was failing spectacularly. My plane had crashed on a deserted island and I had no hope of getting anywhere, so I made do with what I had. In reality, I overcompensated for my less than stellar grades by working harder to prove myself worthy physically.
At the time, I wasn't thinking, “If I can't make it into college academically, maybe I can become a sports star instead.” It was more of a form of deflection. For instance, if I failed a history test, it was because my track meet had run late and nothing at all to do with the fact that I didn't read up on the bourgeoisie and the Russian revolution. And if I forgot to put my homework in my bag, it was OK because it wouldn't have fit alongside all my track equipment. Those were my excuses up until junior year, when I got injured.
I was warming up to practice, jumping the hurdles, when I over-extended my legs in a split. Something shifted in my hip bones and I knew something was wrong. I called to my coach and he gave me the day to go get checked. It turns out that I had displaced my femur slightly out of its socket and felt it pop. My doctor slotted it back into place, but to prevent a more serious injury, he recommended I refrain from movements that could cause it to dislocate again, such as running, jumping, skipping, hopping, stretching... basically all my track events. I was essentially banned from practice.
I still went to practice regardless, but only to give encouragement to the other girls and teach freshmen about events they thought about picking up. I still got home late and with little to no time or energy to do my work. But sooner rather than later, I realized those were just excuses. I was running in circles without accomplishing anything, metaphorically speaking. I was using my involvement in track as an excuse not to come home and face the music. I didn't want to come home and face the schoolwork I didn't understand. At that point, I was too far gone, but what other choice did I have but to get it together in hopes of getting into college? So I picked up my flare gun and took a shot into the sky in hopes that someone would see that I was stranded and in need of help, meaning I rose my hand in class. Previously, I had remained quiet while things flew over my head, because the embarrassment of being the only one not to understand something in such a fast-paced environment was the equivalent of social suicide. How could you not understand anti-derivatives? Logical fallacies? Trajectories? Especially after a solid 10 minutes of explanation.
Eventually, I realized, I wasn't the only one stranded on that island. My flare gun had attracted others and we all agreed that we were sincerely lost. Luckily, it wasn't too late to get my act together. Through all of this, I learned that you can't get help if you don't admit you have a problem. I had a problem and I was too embarrassed to ask for help so I dismissed it. From that experience, I know not to make the same mistake as I transition into college.
Lead Image Credit: Jamie via Flickr Creative Commons