Article of the Month

Running Away From The Track: My Relationship With Sports And Academic Institutions

Ed Farley

It was a walk through the freshers fair that pushed feelings to the forefront. The barrage of sporting societies lined up, one after the other – each promising care, fun, and above all, teamwork, friendship and comradery. Ed Farley recounts his experience.

Now, all these promises I am sure are upheld. But I was discouraged and scared to even ask about one, all because of feelings. Feelings that were no one’s fault, not the societies, not the sports themselves – and certainly not mine. As a second-year student, only really stepping on campus for the first time this year, I recalled the space between then and now, where I had run away from a memory that affected me as I walked through that sports hall.

It has been four years since the “high school” experience – and for years I have been running away from a psychological sports injury that still hasn’t cleared up. And it flared up once more, as I walked through the fresher’s fair.

it was this place that hosted some of my peers’ favourite sports, and the one sport that I was an active participant in

It was five years in the making. A younger, innocent me would line up for P.E, stomach-turning, bolting, jolting; perhaps exercising and exhibiting moves that I would be too scared to do in the actual lesson. The changing room. I remember the smell of Lynx spray, of damp; years of water soaked in the doormat, seeping under the changing room tiles.

It was this place that hosted some of my peers’ favourite sports, and the one sport that I was an active participant in. I would get there, sweating a little bit, partly due to nervousness, and also because I already had my PE kit under my uniform. If I didn’t have it under there, I would be inside the room too long- I would have to take off my clothes, find my kit… and would hear the sportsmen as they performed their warmup.

I would be greeted with insults and laughs about my body, my personality- the way I unzipped my bag, etc. If I had the uniform on already, it would save the risk of being picked apart, being x-rayed, exhibited like I was a mound of flesh on a lazy Susan, turning around as people would laugh, point, or stare.

The only thing left in the bag would be my trainers. Replacing them, I would push my school shoes far under the bench. I once even tied my shoes together before doing so; because after all, it would be easier to find them tied together than having to find two shoes in two locations after the sportsmen hid them. I would look around, questioning why the classes’ ethos of comradery had a head start, running before I could catch up and experience it for myself.

Is this the place I’m meant to feel safe? It came to a point where the fear became too much… I pleaded with my teacher to get changed in the toilets instead. It was easier to change next to a toilet paper dispenser or an old toilet brush than it was next to a peer. It was easier for my teacher to hide me away, after all, he must have been sick of hearing complaints or emails. In the equally leaky, damp stall – I asked: why me? I would look at the… kinder faces in the group and selfishly think: why are they not bullied? Why do I deserve it? 

Why are they not being pummelled with insults (or occasional hockey balls)?

And why aren’t they helping me? 

Talking to me?

Since those moments, in any sports setting, I feel the same way. I feel like I must run… back to those toilets. The people who did it most likely haven’t thought about it since the last time it happened, so why am I still having to ask these questions? 

Is this situation applicable to the Fresher’s Fair? Would they do the same thing to me? 

Of course not. 

I was reminded just how paralysing those fears were to me

Seeing stalls of happy faces, people of all sizes, heights, genders harmoniously together, I was reminded of how my past could have been. Perhaps if I was privy to such an inviting atmosphere earlier on – before the damage was done and the scars formed – it would be different. I was reminded just how paralysing those fears were to me. Even at the occasion of welcoming new students with new promises, I was still haunted by the false ones that came and went years ago. Regardless of this, these sports societies seem like genuine places of safety and community, places that stand for all the things other iterations once missed the mark on. 

There are sports I would love to try, but even at my big age of 20, it’s a hurdle I fear I won’t overcome, and it’s just a small statement of a much larger conversation. A conversation we seldom talk about with boys – that masculine, testosterone-filled pitches of the past have effects and leave scars that we don’t think we have until they greet us at a fresher’s fair years later.

It’s still a sad thought to reconcile with, that perhaps there were other people, unable to overcome past wounds, with the same sort of experience as me. People who walked up to those stalls, only to walk away again. This conversation must be had, urgently. How can progress be made in the future, if we don’t have the space to process the issues of the past?

one way to get over the past is to look forward to better experiences that are sure to come

It’s this idea of processing that, after leaving the fair and this article, allows for a feeling of hope, amusement even- knowing that this time, sports teams linked with an educational institution won’t inflict the same sort of pain. Not to mention, a student union that holds people accountable and societies open to accountability too.

To readers sharing sentiments like mine, don’t be discouraged by my words. Yes, it’s hard to get over, but not impossible. One way to get over the past is to look forward to better experiences that are sure to come. My way of doing so is reclaiming by writing, whilst for others, it’s to make up for lost time, reclaiming enjoyment that’s long overdue.

Regardless of how you do it, if it’s a ghost that still haunts you, remember that you are not alone. University is meant to be a space to try new things, to create new memories – and sport is an important outlet to many. It’s an invaluable source to find new friends and new experiences. Good luck, go ahead and make memories you’ll wish you made once the time has passed. 

Ed Farley

Featured image courtesy of Austris Augustus via Unsplash. Image use license here. No changes were made to this image.

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