Saturday, 20 February 2010

Try hard with a cringe-ance

I'm no stranger to embarrassment. In fact, so many embarrassing things have happened to me that I think I'm almost immune to the familiar feeling of self-conscious shame. My blush-inducing repertoire goes right back to my childhood, but one of my most cringeworthy public shamings was in my awkward teenage years.

Every year my secondary school would have a PE awards ceremony, with an entire double period dedicated to recognising the sporting achievements of each year group. The fastest sprinters, the highest jumpers and the top goal scorers were all presented with shiny statuettes which they proudly paraded at school for the rest of the day and took home that evening where it undoubtedly took pride of place on the family mantelpiece for the next 12 months.

But there was one award that nobody wanted. The Effort Award. I can see what my school was trying to do with this particular accolade; to recognise the consistent endeavours of a pupil who tried hard, in order to send out the message to everyone else that winning isn't everything:
"Look, kids! You can still be a winner even if you don't cross the finish line first! All you have to do in life is try your hardest!!!"
It goes without saying that, sadly, the award definitely did not carry with it this well-meaning sentiment. The 'winner' of this award was labelled a clumsy loser, who - despite unashamedly trying hard - was basically rubbish at sport.

I think you know where this story is going but I shall persist with my tale, as my trying spirit is obviously still intact.

I remember the day vividly. Year 9. I was 14. Walking to the school hall with my gaggle of girly friends, sniggering about who was going to be the unlucky beneficiary of the Effort Award this year. Feeling a bit excited because this year the Year 10s were in the same ceremony and we'd be able to nose at how the older girls had done their hair and try and catch the eyes of the older boys.

The Effort Award was always the last award to be presented. The teachers seemed to somehow think it was a special award that deserved a big build up. For some reason as the moment approached I got a sick feeling in my stomach, as if I knew what was to come. You see, I really enjoyed PE. I was a competitive soul in team and individual activities, and no matter how much I hated running long distances I always had a sprint finish in me. But I never came first, always second or third, much to my annoyance.

My PE teacher started to explain why this yet-to-be-named Year 9 had been selected for this year's honour. The word 'she' prompted all the Year 9 boys to breathe a sigh of relief. I could feel the tension building and, gradually, as the kind words continued to be spoken people slowly turned to look at me. They knew. I sodding knew.
"And this year, I am delighted to announce that the PE Effort Award goes to HAYLEY DUNLOP!"
Oh. My God. Please swallow me now, I pleaded with the ground. I somehow made my way up on to the stage (yes, a blimin' STAGE!), grabbed the statuette from the hands of my beaming PE teacher and ran back to my seat as quickly as possible. I had never been so embarrassed and I had never been so red in the face. AND ALL IN FRONT OF THE YEAR 10s!

When I got home that night the trophy didn't go on the mantelpiece because I was too ashamed of it. It stayed in the cupboard in the study for the next year until I had to take it back into school ready for the next unlucky recipient.

But, looking back, I now realise that I should have been proud of winning that award. I can't remember specifically what the teacher said before she announced my name because the noise of the blood rushing to my face seemed to drown lots of it out, but I can remember that she said that the winner was a team player with a strong competitive spirit. In hindsight I think my teacher felt I deserved to win something because of the, well, effort I put into everything. I won that award for all the right reasons, but I couldn't see that at the time. I'm not sure many 14-year-olds could. But now I feel I should finally embrace my Effort Accolade, so thank you, Teacher, for that award. The embarrassment gave me a realistic taste of what life would throw at me and helped to thicken my skin. And thank goodness for thick skin.


Siany said...

Once, I got a certificate for getting !005 on a geography test (I was a swot, OK?) and all I had to do was walk up and get my certificate. Somehow I knocked into the wall of the hallway, lost my balance and fell into the lap of the boy I had a crush on.

In front of the entire school.

Siany said...

Heh. That was meant to say 100% :-)

hayjane said...

Goodness, that *is* embarrassing!

Siany said...

Yeah, it wasn't the finest moment of my childhood.