Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #57 // Translations by Gabrielle Bellot

When I rode a skateboard, hope seemed to live all around me, seemed to twinkle in my hair like fireflies. I was younger back then, and I had not as yet released the woman inside me, the girl I had long known I was but had felt I must deny to live, but I still existed in a world of pure hope, sometimes, when I got on my board. I would find a deserted place on my college campus in the United States, a sea from my home in the Caribbean where I had grown up hearing that skateboards were ‘for white boys,’ and I would try to become a ballerina of the pavement. I could hardly even ollie, the most basic trick in street skating, but what I wanted more than anything was to be able to freestyle on the board like Rodney Mullen. It seemed beautiful, the lyrical-made-physical, to do the strange tricks my friends who skated did not think to attempt, the primos, truckstands, walk-the-dogs, manuals. I disappeared from past into present while I practiced and I believed I could learn any trick if I kept trying—even if, ultimately, I was wrong.

Later, I would go skydiving in Tallahassee after a bad breakup. I had not come out as yet, and I remember how afraid and awkward that dive was, the way my tandem dive instructor had to nudge me out along with him because I wasn’t moving where I was meant to in the plane seven thousand feet above the ground. Two months ago, now living as a woman, I went back to the same place, and I skydived once again. I have skydived in two genders, in a way, and the second time, which was exhilarating, felt like a way of using sports to help correct the present by translating the past. Ironically, now that I present to the world as a woman of colour, I realise that those nights of skateboarding in deserted patches of night are doors less open to me, now that I have lived the danger of being alone at night in certain spaces as a trans woman, but they still call out to me all the same.

There is a form of translation that can exist in certain sports, a way of making mind and body, past and present, connect. When I learnt, some weeks ago, how to snowboard, the dream of a relatively snowless upbringing, I was overjoyed not simply at the exhilaration of shooting down the mountain with such speed that it was as if I had blown out the candle of the past and was briefly in a space of pure now, a dream of Bergsonian duration, but also at the fact that I was doing it as a woman, rather than still living a lie. I had translated an old dream into a new reality.

For Haruki Murakami, a baseball made sport and literature coalesce in his world; Murakami says he became a writer, as if from some muse of the diamond, at a baseball game. For me, the pages of texts and the pages of the world that open when we push ourselves past our boundaries through an activity we love and fear are similar: both can lead, like Joyce and Breton saw in different ways, to epiphany, to ecstasy. There is a sort of living poetry in the motions of so many sports; for me, there is a rapture in finding meter and freedom alike on a board on the pavement or down the powdery side of a mountain or while stepping off the edge of a plane.

By taking a step into a new world, be it from the thousands of feet above the ground in a plane or from the top of a powdery slope with a board strapped to your feet or on a patch of grass that has become an afternoon’s glorious cricket pitch, you get a chance to write the book of your life—and with such exhilaration that you may not know what you wrote until you leave that wonderful space of pure now.


Gabrielle Bellot is a staff writer for Literary Hub. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Tin House, Slate, Guernica, Huffington Post, The Toast, Lambda Literary, The Normal School, Small Axe, VIDA, Autostraddle, the blogs of Prairie Schooner and The Missouri Review, and other places. She is working on her first novel.

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