The Athlete is no longer an athlete. Let’s call her Annie now. It’s a lovely name and the pseudonym only ever offered a thin disguise. Worse, it reduced a complex and complicated human to a one-dimensional version of herself. Yes she is, or was, an athlete. But she’s so much more, and I never want her to think I only value her for her sporting prowess.
Annie drove our little red car south to Surfers Paradise today. Despite having put away her weapons to focus on her studies and plan a career, she’s committed to fencing at University Games this week. She isn’t looking forward to it. Epee is her specialty but she’s expected to compete in all three disciplines. Her fellow team members are younger and very inexperienced, which adds pressure without the prospect of much fun. A week at the beach might sound alluring. But the reality will be long days in a sweaty gym far from the waves, with assessment deadlines looming and no time to get the work done. I feel her stress.
Annie surprised us this year by enrolling in a Masters of Information Technology. She has no experience in IT and is starting from scratch. She’s learning to write code and dredging through high school math memories to conquer algorithms and database concepts. Every new assignment throws her into a panic. But she’s muddling through, working hard and finding her feet. Her grades are modest but improving. She’s learning to work in groups with students from non-English speaking backgrounds, often assuming a leadership role and finding ways for everyone to make a meaningful contribution, despite the language barriers.
Lesser of two evils
The logistics of the coming week are tricky, with the competition venue a 30-minute drive from the university’s accommodation and no organised transport. Rather than rack up a crippling Uber bill, Annie has borrowed her absent sister’s car. She’s not an experienced driver and worried about the Gold Coast traffic. So I went down with her, a bossy Thelma to her thoughtful Louise, helping her find the stadium and accommodation and ensuring she felt comfortable in the driver’s seat. She did, delivering us both in one piece despite an unplanned detour through the Dreamworld car park.
After checking in we wandered the grimy Cavill Mall. I felt out of place among all the implants and tattoos and very short shorts. Still, the beach is glorious. I slipped off my sensible sandals to dip my toes in the ocean, got my capri pants wet and feet sandy, then settled in to a nearby grill for overpriced calamari and chips.
Hoping for the best
Hanging out with Annie at the beach today was bitter sweet. She’d shed her Melbourne woolens for shorts and sunglasses but a furrowed brow lingered. She’d rather spend the week at our place, studying and eating my food and persecuting her younger sister. But it’s not to be.
As the sun set I handed Annie the car keys, with final instructions about passengers and stopping at round-abouts. Then I made my way back to the suburbs via two trains and a bus, hoping for Annie’s sake that the coming week proves less stressful and more productive than she anticipates.