A guest blog by Nick Cherryman, EveryBody champion
I hate sport. Well, hated it.
I feel like I need a record scratch at this point and a ‘you’re probably wondering how I got here’ voice over, but to save you the embarrassment of imagining the levels of cringe involved in trying to recreate that I’ll just tell you a bit about myself.
I was (am) the stereotypical gay boy. I hated sports in school, and the most dreaded lesson was of course PE. I was (am) effeminate, couldn’t (can’t) run, and my mum would allow me to write extravagant self-penned excuse notes to get out of PE. ‘Nick has injured his little toe doing a triple somersault with a double pike on his trampoline’ is a genuine note I handed in, written in my handwriting that I forged my mum’s signature on, with her blessing, written on the school bus on the way in (I used to do it so much she would just tell me to sign things from her). I don’t like ‘typical’ sports either. I don’t do running. I loathe football. Rugby is fun from afar or only if I’m close enough to watch the scrums.
At some point in all of this mixture of sport hating and university, I was strong-armed into helping a friend pad out numbers for SCUBA diving ‘try dives’ for Warwick University Sub-Aqua Club (WUSAC). I loved it and got involved in SCUBA diving. From that I got sucked into trying Underwater Hockey – something else I avoided with a passion for ages because: Ew, Sport. It involved getting into swimming costumes, no shirts (!), strapping on waterpolo hats and stupid gloves, and standing next to people who were objectively fitter and better looking than me - the team captain was in a Warwick Rowers calendar for heaven’s sake… I think that’s a hard pass from me, thanks.
Anyway, after a whole year and a term of nagging by my friends (‘give it a go’, ‘you’ll love it’, ‘you’ll be good’, etc), I gave it a go in January 2019 and to my surprise… I loved it. My biggest fear – that I would be self-conscious of my body and crap at it – was blown away. I’m not amazing, but I’m not bad at it, but more importantly, it’s done wonders for my body image. The way I see this, admittedly odd, sport is that it’s a sport that actively requires different body types and strengths, and all of these types must work as a team for the team to win. Being slim, toned and quick doesn’t help much when you’re up against a big stocky player who can comfortably out-muscle you, but being big and stocky doesn’t help when you face a small agile woman who can swim circles around you (yes, it’s a mixed sport!), but at the same time being agile means nothing if you can’t get to the puck before the quick swimmer can! It’s like a body type Rock>Paper>Scissors. No-one is privileged over the others, and everyone has their place. This collaborative stance has blown away some of the stereotypes about sport that I held – and made me feel much more comfortable with my own body.
Now, I am not the regular sporty looking person, I am average build, no visible muscle, etc. I used to spend ages dreading the changing rooms, and dreading the swimming pool. I always loved swimming growing up, but when I got in the pool, I’d see loads of men who were not only attractive but represented a completely unrealisable ideal – not one that I wouldn’t, but one that I couldn’t achieve. This has changed. The difference in me now means that I am not upset that I will never be in a Warwick Rowers calendar, but I am happy enough feel like I don’t have to be anymore! I don’t have that body… and that’s ok. I’m fit, I’m healthy, and I am finally comfortable with my body. In short: although I was supportive of people and their bodies, I wasn’t with myself.
But now I have found a whole community in sport that has changed the way I feel about myself – and it’s something I am grateful for. It’s been over a year getting used to my body and engaging with it in a way that I am happy with. In accepting all the limitations that this has had on me, I now embrace the changes I feel, and not only am I much more open about myself and my own body, but also about all the ways that other people find self-love through sport, activities, and relating to their body. Not everyone will look the same, and that’s ok. Find the sport or the activity that lets you be you.
I guess I was worried when writing this that my experience would be unique, so asked around if anyone else had any similar experiences. They did. To quote another member of the team, who has also experienced a change in the way they view themselves: ‘When I first started coming to Underwater Hockey, I had to spend an hour looking at myself in the mirror, preparing myself for being shirtless in the swimming pool for that long, but nobody ever made an issue about how I looked and over time I spent less and less time getting ready before sessions. Now I feel comfortable about my body in a way that would never have happened if I hadn’t started playing this sport’.
I’m now on the exec of WUSAC. I still SCUBA dive, I still play underwater hockey, and now play underwater rugby as well (that’s a whole other experience I would recommend!). If you had told me 2 years ago that I would eventually be on the exec of a sports club I think I would have either laughed in your face or assumed you had some sort of drinking problem. Well... Here I am now as Club Development Officer, and I have found WUSAC, in particular, to be one of the most welcoming environments for those struggling with their body and body image. Over the next year, coronavirus permitting, I’m hoping to work with other SU sports/social clubs and local groups to build on this body positive feeling, with body positivity swims and sessions – and I hope to see you there. So, if you’re struggling to be body positive… come along: “Give it a go. You’ll love it. You’ll be good.”