Dear Teen Me from Author Pip Harry (I’LL TELL YOU MINE)

Hey there, you! Teenage Pip, rowing a boat like you’re in crocodile infested waters! Slow down! I need to talk to you!

Teen Pip!

If you’ll just stop lifting weights, running and rowing for a minute I want you to know that you’re doing it all wrong. Right now you treat exercise like a punishment. Why do you do that?  It’s not meant to be done until you feel sick and you’re struggling to breathe. It’s supposed to be FUN. Yes, that’s right, fun.

You don’t have to pound out 10 kilometres of running to feel like you’ve earned a workout. You’ve won already just by moving your body. You can stop (stopping doesn’t mean the workout is ruined) you can walk, enjoy the sun on your back. Smile. Hang out a bit. Relax.

You don’t have to time yourself or judge yourself against your teammates all the time. And you don’t have to think about training from the moment you get out of bed. If you skip one session – it’s really no big deal. Don’t stress out about it or do extra the next day. Or fall face first into a cheesecake because the whole day is ruined now, so you might as well.

You don’t have to obsessively count everything either. Put down that training diary. A swim is still wonderful for your body, even if you don’t do exactly 2 kilometres at a breathtaking pace. And yoga isn’t just lying there wasting time when you could be sweating. If you stayed for the class you might have actually uncovered a spiritual, peaceful side to your personality. It’s there – under all that false confidence and bravado.

Teen Pip, second from the front in the boat.

You won’t know this for a few years yet, but you’re not actually going to be a champion anything. You won’t win that national title you’re training like mad for. You’ll come a respectable, but unremarkable third place.  You won’t get picked for any more state crews or go to the world champs or the Olympics.

Fact is: you won’t be very good at your chosen sport of rowing. And you definitely won’t be as good as your Dad – the world champion – and that’s okay by him. Really. He’d rather you just be happy and healthy than force yourself to compete in a sport you’re not quite the right shape for.  Let’s be honest – look around – the other girls are far taller, long limbed and leaner than you. You are NEVER going to beat genetics.

But you’re so pigheaded you won’t listen right now, will you? You’ll flail around for awhile in different crews, even in a single scull.  You’ll run endlessly up and down the river – desperate to make that transition up to the senior crews. But you’ll struggle to find a coach to take you on and you’ll eventually quit in a year’s time.

Grown-up Pip, with her daughter Sophie.

You’ll be overweight, angry and disillusioned. You won’t even be twenty yet and you’ll feel totally washed up. You’ll search for that feeling of belonging in other team sports like water polo. You’ll suck even harder at waterpolo than you did at rowing. You’ll quit that too.

Right now you think your life means nothing without coaches, training schedules, team uniforms and winning regattas. But in fact, your future has nothing to do with boats or ergometre times or crew selection.

Adult Pip! (Photo by Sergio Dionisio.)

In the future, Pip, you will do sports that make you feel amazing – like skiing, surfing or swimming in the ocean….even lying on a yoga mat and breathing in and out.

You’ll still be competitive – I wouldn’t want you not to be – but you’ll go back to your first love, swimming. You’ll be a pretty decent open water swimmer in your 30s. But you’ll realise that not every race has to be won, and you’ll just love being out there in the salty water, challenging yourself and making friends in the sport. You’ll even stop in the middle of a race you’re winning to watch a pod of dolphins swim past.

You’ll see a little bit of the athlete in your own daughter, Sophie (yes, you’ll become a Mum!) and hope that she find that sport that makes her heart soar, but secretly, you’ll hope she’s more like her own father – laidback in the extreme and able to go for a walk without breaking into a run or timing himself with a stopwatch.

University of Queensland Press, March 2012.

Author and journalist Pip Harry writes features for lifestyle magazines and lectures on journalism at universities. She has been a section editor for NW, TV Week and Woman’s Day and has published short stories in the UTS Writer’s Anthology and Wet Ink. I’ll Tell You Mine (UQP, 2012) is her debut young adult novel. Pip also co-runs the relationships website, Reality Chick She lives in Sydney with her partner and gorgeous daughter. When not at a keyboard, she can be found squishing playdough, searching for the perfect flat white and competing in ocean swimming.