I’m the Most Athletic Person in My Group of Friends;  I wonder to myself

I’m the Most Athletic Person in My Group of Friends; I wonder to myself

The author is athletic and enjoys hiking and cycling.
Courtesy of Mike De Socio

  • Growing up, I was a weird kid who didn’t like sports.
  • Now I have found happiness in walking and cycling.
  • I’m the most athletic person in my group of friends – it’s weird, but I love it.

Growing up, I was the opposite of a gamer; I was an artistic kid with limp wrists.

As a kid in Little League, I was happier outside picking dandelions than going up to bat. I wasn’t good at sports and I didn’t want to be. But something shocking happened in my adult life: I became one of the most athletic people I know.

Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t tell you what a quarterback does and I’m staying away from team sports. But what began as a casual interest in walking and cycling has grown to athletic proportions in recent years. I routinely regal friends and family with tales of 50-mile bike rides or epic winter hikes.

My love for hiking started from childhood

After being considered an outcast due to my clumsiness and lack of coordination, I found incredible joy in activities that I never thought of as “athletic” but became central to my life.

How did I get here? I guess it all goes back to the Boy Scouts. I first encountered hiking as a teenager in a scout troop that felt like a shelter. While I was out of place among the high school boys in the Boy Scouts, my nervousness was an asset.

The highlight of my scouting experience was a trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I was the chosen leader of our crew for the 70 mile trek where we lived out of our packs for 10 days. I almost forgot to walk after that.

But after college, after settling in a new city with my first big boy job, I rediscovered hiking. I was living south of the incredible Adirondack Mountains and my boss at the time encouraged me to take advantage. I was mesmerized by the beauty of this 6 million hectare landscape and soon I was walking there almost every weekend. I completed the 46er challenge by climbing every Adirondack peak over 4,000 feet in three years.

The athleticism of it all—the endurance to pull a 20-mile day or the strength to climb several thousand feet—was never the real point. Apart from the breathtaking views, it was the community that kept me coming back. I loved the people I met on the trail, whether they were in their 20s like me or the lively retirees who often outran me.

This social aspect has taken a big hit since the pandemic. I still walk, but mostly alone. Weekly group trips were canceled and never fully recovered. For a while, I felt acutely what the US surgeon general called the loneliness epidemic.

Since then I started cycling

What got me out of this predicament was a still surprising sport: cycling. I started going on a random weekly social outing in my town. The ease of the conversation intoxicated me. I kept coming back and making new friends.

Here, too, something unexpected happened: I pushed myself further than I thought I was physically capable of. These new cycling friends took me on weekend bike camps where we gained more ascent than I care to take in a 40 mile day, our bikes weighed down by panniers and tents.

Like the fellow hikers I meet in the Adirondacks, this bike crew is full of kind people who always make me feel like a real, weird, weirdo. The fear I felt in team sports growing up is gone; in its place there is a real sense of belonging and trust.

Perhaps this should not surprise me. There have always been and always will be queer athletes. But I still hesitate to use the term “athlete” to describe myself. I don’t know how many mountains I have to climb to the top or the miles I have to ride before it feels right. On some level, it doesn’t matter. Not a label I’m after. I’m there for the community and beauty I experience along the way.

Mike De Socio independent journalist Located in upstate New York. He is also an author forthcoming book “Spiritually Straight: How the Fight for LGBTQ Inclusion Changed the Boy Scouts and America.”

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