Mi Papi, a natural athlete, influenced my love for sports. My favorite memories of DR are riding in the front of his motorcycle, my long braided ponytail catching wind as we zig-zagged the city… I grew up a daddy’s girl. Attached to his hip. Where he went I went and since he always went to baseball games, I went with him.
Whenever we would enter el play (Dominican word for baseball field) everyone would greet mi Papi with respect and admiration. Let’s face it, the dude was the best. His defense was on point; his passes flashed like lighting from shortstop to first base. I watched eagerly through wired fences while he was at bat, his posture relaxed and full of swagger. He would swing at fastballs, which crashed up against the furthest parts of the field, sending his teammates to run the bases and the crowd to their feet.
There were no tutus or ballet slippers in my house, perhaps a leotard or two during my short stint as a gymnast. (Side note: It was rumored on the island that gymnastics could stop little girls from growing, so he took me out. I could’ve been doing splits and shit at age six! He was doing his best, though).
In the States, I spent the majority of my teens wearing high tops and respectfully ignoring Ma’s request to wear a skirt or anything that had to do with becoming a señiorita. Before my freshman year of high school, I had watched so many Olympic volleyball games and so admired the queens of beach volleyball, Kerri Walsh and Misty May. I was hooked and I wanted to play. Who better to coach me than mi Papi, who also played volleyball (are you surprised? The guy’s a natural).
I worked my ass off pre-season. Running drills, learning how to pepper, bump, set, block and my favorite – spike. Guys, I’m 5’6, taller then the average Latina but not taller than the average outside hitter. I was jumping high enough to block. I was serious about the game and when I made captain soon after, it was on! My goal was to have a championship banner hanging from my high school gym. I wanted one so bad! I knew that it would make my dad proud and validate all my hard work. But that could only happen if you actually won a championship…
My junior year, we got a 5’9 exchange student from Spain whose name was also Diana. (Come on! Two Dee’s?!) It was magical. The net was a sacred place that no other team could touch. Having an all star on the team made us all better. We made it all the way to finals that year and I could see my name on that banner… I will never forget that game. My serve was an Ace every time. It was ‘bump, set, spike’ all the way to the end. The scoreboard had been controversial all night, with the other team adding points they hadn’t made and our few family members that came to support, called out their mistakes. The gym was loud and distracting, exactly what our opponents wanted. They played dirty and we were at a disadvantage since it was their home court. In the end we lost by a point. Turns out they had an ace too and this time she served right on the line, my coach tried to fight it but it was no use. We lost and it was over. I cried on that bench like Monica did, when she fouls out of the most important game of her life (if you don’t know this Love & Basketball reference, we can no longer be friends).
I sometimes miss fifteen-year-old Dee. She was fearless. Sure she had the usual teenage angst and insecurities outside of her extracurricular activities but she didn’t have self-doubt and under pressure, she shined. Sometimes I ask myself-where did that part of me go? Or is it still there underneath all the adulting.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Tapping into our younger version of ourselves as we navigate our adult world can be rejuvenating. Julia Cameron talks about this a lot in one of my favorite books, The Artist Way. So you’ve stopped doing (insert here something fun you loved to do as a kid) because you’re too busy or whatever your excuse is – but there’s something truly magical about revisiting that activity. For me, re-living my I’m-so good-at-sports-can’t-nobody tell-me-nothing-15yr old-attitude when I run a 5K or when I’m in a dance class (and the 60 yr. old lady is more flexible than me), or at an audition, pushes me to work through my current fears. It reminds me of something my dad used to say, his life lessons always embedded in baseball analogies, “all it takes is stepping up to the plate y pa’lante.” 😉
Pa’lante*: contraction of “para adelante” meaning to go forward. I didn’t make it up. It’s a term of encouragement that some Latinos use. Translation, step up to the plate and “go forward, don’t look back, go get’em, you got this”.