By Alison Vincitore
Today The Three Magazine is excited to feature the fourth part in an essay series by guest contributor Alison.
Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
Unfortunately, I’d like to take you back to January 2020. I had just started a new job, I had a ClassPass membership I was finally not using exclusively on spa treatments, and I was going to commit myself to reformer pilates.
That only lasted until March, when famously, everyone stopped doing everything.
I went home to Maryland for two weeks and accidentally stayed for over a year. I tried to keep the momentum, but the first pilates video I did may or may not have caused a total breakdown. I don’t remember for sure, so I’m gonna stick with no. I need to keep some dignity. Or maybe I say yes, because I am a rule-follower and this essay needs to have a time I cried in an exercise class. Final answer: probably.
I did fall victim to Chloe Ting’s “2 Weeks Shred Challenge”, which was trendy at the time. I was very proud of myself for accomplishing it, despite opting for all of the modified, jumping-free versions of moves out of “concern” for a “recurring ankle injury.” Unfortunately, I developed a trauma response to the background music, so I probably will never work out again.
When I finally moved back to New York, I signed up for an adult beginner tennis clinic. Two sessions completed, and I have yet to cry. Knock on wood. Well, to be completely honest, I almost cried twice.
When I signed up for the class, I figured if it was anything like the classes I’ve written about and not really a beginner class at all, at least I had a bit of experience with badly playing tennis. I also knew it would feel more straightforward than trying to get my brain to process the complex body contortions of yoga and gymnastics. After all, even though I struck out almost every single time I was at bat from tee-ball to 14-and-under softball, I was consistently told, “you’ve got a great swing.”
What I wasn’t prepared for was the elaborate maze of nets and tarps hanging from the ceiling of the giant dome enclosure splitting up the two rows of four courts. A printer-paper sign saying “this way to courts” led past the port-a-potties stationed immediately next to actual indoor plumbing-style bathrooms and spit me out onto the front row corner court. There wasn’t a pathway between any of the courts to get to the back row, and every court was in use.
What is the etiquette here, I wondered in a panic, having a flashback to getting yelled at for rolling the ball at the same time as the person in the lane next to me while bowling once. I was running late, of course, and had already been overwhelmed with suspense.
If you’ve ever found yourself stuck on a stage, trapped in front of the curtains, trying to find the opening, it was a lot like that, but there were also dozens of athletic New Yorkers hitting tennis balls in my direction. I felt a pit in my throat begin to form and tears start working their way toward my eyes. I wanted to leave.
But instead, I remembered I was an adult and this was a very silly thing to be panicking about, so I asked someone for help finding the court and they just walked right on through the other games and lessons to get me there. Really one of those situations where you realize just how much harder you’re making something than it needs to be. I made a mental note of my growth.
The instructor was a nightclub promoter with a sassy business card who in the first class yelled “Attagirl!” at me and in the last class tried to convince me another court he held classes at was “one of New York’s best-kept secrets.” I spent days thinking about that. Why would a tennis court be a highly protected secret and exclusive venue? Are there really that many people clamoring to play tennis in New York?
I have spent something like 8,000 words in this series complaining about how “that beginner class wasn’t beginner enough” or whatever. But to my surprise, this one was. I walked away from that first class beaming with the joy you can only get from learning and understanding fundamentals. It was happening. A real beginner class! Finally!
The next week or two continued to focus solely on how to grip and swing the racquet. I said to myself, I am not going to take this for granted.
More weeks went by with little change in the scope of the class and I laughed to myself, Be careful what you wish for.
In the final weeks, I thought to myself, Okay maybe this is a little too beginner, a little too slow. I mean my god, am I learning anything at all?
Too beginner! Can you believe that?!
In the second-to-last class, I asked the instructor if I should sign up for the Advanced Beginner level in the next session.
“No,” he said. “You should take this level again.”
I didn’t cry, but I did feel the crushing weight of 8,000 words coming back to bite me. How would the next instructor know I had already taken a session, and I knew how to hold the racquet, and I knew the difference between a forehand and a backhand? Was I going to be stuck in “I’ll toss it right to you” purgatory forever? I guess I willed this to happen. Surely, there must be at least one class in the world that is the right mix of introductory and still progressing at all. But how many classes will I have to Goldilocks through to find it?
In the last five minutes of the last class, the instructor said something like, “What if I went to the other side of the net and we tried to hit it back-and-forth?”
Play tennis, you mean?, I thought as if I were a forgotten Williams sister, About goddamn time.
When he went to the other baseline (hell yeah, vocab), it was like the court cartoonishly extended to become miles long. He hit a ball to me and I reacted like a cat in a bathtub. Everything I learned flew out the window. I couldn’t figure out where the ball was going, how to adjust for the height of the bounce, or even how to adjust my eyes so I could tell what was happening at all. He screamed at me from across the net for trying to avoid hitting backhand.
I think the sporty terminology for what happened to me might be something like: I choked.
And then, the class ended.
This several-weeks-long class just ended with me failing. I didn’t even fail with dignity, I failed in a panicked scramble. Out of frustration and disappointment—in the class, but mostly at myself—I welled with tears.
I am not going to cry. I have come this far!
I shook it off, but it was a close call. It’s not even that I want to be particularly good at tennis. It’s one of the few sports I don’t have Olympic aspirations for. But I wouldn’t mind feeling athletic for one hour a week. I don’t know why I was surprised that I didn’t feel athletic, I never have been athletic. So, I tried to pick my spirits up off the surprisingly dirt-like clay floor and reminded myself, You already paid for the next session.
I’m glad I paid in advance, because my next instructor brought me a renewed sense of confidence when he told me I was coordinated. Coordinated! No one in my life has ever told me I was coordinated! And they were right not to! I am not coordinated! But my god, was that so nice of him to say.
This class was different. Had I not taken that class so strongly and painstakingly rooted in the fundamentals and technique, maybe I wouldn’t have felt the same. The drills were a bit closer to actual tennis than having a ball lightly bounced to you at the perfect height and distance from a couple feet away, so I felt like I was actually taking steps toward being able to play a nice, slow, scorekeeping-free game. I was thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, this was the Goldilocks class.
But then, he said one of the most terrifying sentences ever uttered:
“I am the King of Cardio.”
Somehow, I managed not to cry. Not even a little.