The last set of my last game with the JV volleyball team was sometime in October 2015. We were playing Valley Christian at Jackson Sports Academy, and there was a record number of our fans sitting on the sidelines (like four or five parents), so the pressure was on.
A Cavalier gave a mighty underhand serve. By God’s good grace, the ball made it over. Up at the net I watched as a Valley Christian player approached the ball to set it up for her teammate so that she could slam it down on us.
Based on her teammate’s approach, I predicted that the ball would land a couple feet behind me, so I slid into position while keeping my eyes locked on the play in front of me. Junior Tori Van Vleck, a freshman at the time, had the same idea and ran to the same spot. We were bound for collision.
One of us was confident that she would get the ball under control, set up a flawless three-touch play and win the point, so she stood her ground. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that that person was not me.
Immediately after the impact, I resembled a stunned giraffe or a beetle falling and rolling onto its back. My arms and legs somehow tangled while Tori miraculously remained unfazed and concentrated.
Even though I was clutching one of her legs and my own leg was wrapped around her ankle, Tori kept her balance and was in the perfect position to hit the oncoming ball. So JV coach Kristi Mathisen yelled to me to stay down.
And that’s how Tori won the point with me strapped to her ankles.
I come from a family of hardcore volleyball players. My aunts and mom are each around 6 feet tall and grew up on a farm wrestling cows, lifting sheep, harvesting wheat with machetes and eating lots of beans. (As a girl who has grown up in the wild suburbs of Carmichael, that’s my best guess at farm life).
I did not inherit this affinity for feats of strength, or even basic coordination. My sister did, as made apparent by her nickname, “The Muscle.”
I more take after my dad – the guy whose allergy to grass forced him into joining the marching band rather than the football team.
For some reason, nobody sees me as the Bionic Woman. I’m more frequently compared to Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” on account of my posture and long fingers.
I never get comments like “Dang! Have you been pumpin’ iron?” or “Wow! You could crush a watermelon with those thighs.” More often people say, “Are you going to pass out? I’ll start dialing 9-1-1.”
I’ve heard a rumor that teachers have been instructing students to give me at least 10 feet of space at all times and that there’s going to be an updated safety seminar for teachers that focuses on the recently added chapter: “Protocol for the Handling and Maneuvering of Sonja Hansen from Class to Class.”
Every now and then I’m reminded that I’m not really cut out for great athletic achievement. A physical education teacher once told my mom that he noticed that I have “very soft hands.” When she thanked him, he corrected her and said that that wasn’t a compliment.
“Sonja needs to have actively strong hands,” he said.
Ever since then I’ve been rubbing my hands with sandpaper, attending weekly thumb-wrestling workshops, opening pickle jars in grocery stores and squarely pressing hotel elevator buttons all in the hopes of impressing this P.E. teacher and someday attaining “actively strong hands.”
In lower school, another P.E. teacher wrote, “Sonja has no athletic ability and never will” on my report card. It really killed my aspiration of becoming the next bocce ball star, but I guess it was time to get real. After all, I was 8.
(The teacher wrote the exact same thing for my best friend, so luckily I didn’t have to come to terms with my frailty alone.)
Make no mistake, I don’t consider myself a weakling. I do distance running in the Marathon Training elective, even though I’m not exactly built for it. I’ve been told that based on my height and body type, I’m more suited for volleyball or the high jump.
I’ve already explained above why a volleyball scholarship probably won’t pan out. We don’t need to go into the details of the countless other accidents that I’ve caused on the court when you could easily find those in hospital records.
As for high jump, I’ve accepted that I’m not meant to leave Earth and soar into the sky like those kids in the Moon Shoes commercials. The last time I tried high jump was in middle school when I scored a dark red stripe on my neck from running into the bar.
What do my parents say about all this? Well, recently I found them perusing brochures entitled “Ten Tips For Placing Your Child In A Protective Plastic Bubble” and “ Best Helmets For A Teen About Town.”
My parents always praise me for trying my best, but I suspect they’re just pleased that I’ve made it almost 18 years without stumbling into traffic or getting electrocuted by the toaster.
—By Sonja Hansen