This past weekend was about as perfect as weekends get when you are a feminist-minded fitness junkie like myself. On Saturday, I ran my favorite 10K loop around a nearby lake, then went to a pole tricks class, which I enjoy not only for the way the class challenges me but also because of the fun, positive environment at the studio (which I will have to write about one day). On Sunday, I finally hit my first 50-mile bike ride, the last 10 miles of which I did on my tri bike on the indoor trainer while watching episodes of “Roseanne” on TV Land. It was a good weekend.
These were all wonderful, wonderful things, but the pinnacle of my weekend came Saturday afternoon, when Brian and I went to the AVP St. Pete Open, which was being held in Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg. The pro beach volleyball tour had been making its way around the country, and St. Petersburg was the last stop on the East Coast before the tour heads back to California. I would have probably been into going no matter what, but the fact that world-class legendary players Kerri Walsh Jennings, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross were on the tour made it pretty much a no-brainer.
So, two years after taking Veronica Arreola’s pledge to attend at least one professional or college women’s sporting event, I finally made good on that promise. What follows is a list of observations, thoughts and feelings I had while at the AVP St. Pete Open this past weekend.
1. Our general admission tickets were only $10 a piece. We had the option of upgrading to grandstand seating for $30 each, but the grandstand was only around the main men’s court, and I’ll be frank, I had no interest in all at watching the guys. Don’t get me wrong; they’re great athletes. I just preferred to watch the women. So that meant for a whopping $10 I got to pull up my beach chair alongside a court, dig my bare feet into the sand that spilled over the edge, sip some cold beer and watch Olympic-caliber athletes play beach volleyball. About once every five minutes, I nudged Brian and whispered, “This is so fucking cool.” It really was.
2. Before we went to the tournament, I posted on Facebook that if I saw Kerri Walsh Jennings I would probably fangirl myself into a coma of happiness. Well, I did see her. In fact, she walked right past me – she’s slightly taller than me, by the way – and after about ten seconds after she’d passed, I mustered some courage and said, “Kerri!” She turned around and I waved and said, “I’m a big fan, Kerri!” She smiled and waved at me, and then kept walking away.
I was so giddy that I actually felt tears come to my eyes, and a few seconds later I was swallowed by a tsunami of shame, because what kind of grown-ass woman gets that excited over meeting a celebrity? (Even if it is a celebrity she’s admired for almost her entire adult life. EVEN IF.) I am possibly the least cool person I have ever met in my entire life, and it is clear that this is never, ever going to change. I will be ninety years old and I will be the dorkiest old lady in the nursing home. One day I suppose I will be okay with this, but for now I just find it embarrassing.
3. Being able to watch the athletes up close was really interesting, especially as someone who played varsity volleyball in high school and intramural beach volleyball in college. I could always manage to block but I could never hit the way I wanted to, which I blamed on my lack of upper body strength, but watching the pros, I realized that it’s not just your arms and shoulders, but the combined force of your entire kinetic chain that smacks into the ball. I’ve been really getting into the concept of the kinetic chain with my own training, but it’s one thing to use it for endurance athletics and another thing entirely to use it for a dynamic team sport.
4. Speaking of my own history as a volleyball player, I couldn’t help but feel a bit wistful as I watched. Team sports were never my forte – I had too many issues with full-body contact – but volleyball was a sport where I had a glimmer of ability, almost in spite of myself. I kept wondering, what would have happened if I could take the focus, drive and work ethic I have now and inject into my teenage self, so that she’d be willing to work hard AND have access to the athletic opportunities that basically stop presenting themselves after the age of eighteen. I don’t know, maybe it’s better this way so I’m not all burned out with a ruptured ACL or something. And hey, maybe this will inspire me to join up with one of the many, many recreational level beach volleyball teams in the area.
5. Okay, so I did actually see men’s teams play for a few minutes, and I have to say, the contrast between the men’s Federline-style manpris and the women’s microscopic bikinis was so stark as to be almost comical.
As long-time readers of this blog know, I have proudly declared my allegiance to the Bikini Republic, and even I couldn’t help but find the discrepancy ridiculous. I’m not saying guys need to wear Speedos while playing or that the women should all start wearing baggy board shorts, but it really is weird to see a group of athletes playing the same sport but with completely different uniforms (particularly as the women’s uniform has a tendency to bring out all kinds of gross tendencies, like photographers who focus almost exclusively on their butts).
5a. This is not to say that I would not have chosen the bikini, and indeed, they actually looked very stylish and comfortable. Plus I have to give the designers props for making bikini bottoms that actually manage to stay in place. Never once did I see an errant wedgie out of all the women’s volleyball I watched, which is not something I can say for, say, Rafa, who spends forty percent of his time on court yanking his manpris out of his crack. Maybe he should try wearing a bikini bottom next time he plays tennis.
6. ALL THAT SAID, anyone who showed up to watch women’s beach volleyball with the sole intent of staring at women in bikinis is not only a simple-minded tool but also missed out on watching some incredible athleticism. That’s the problem with looking at women solely as sex objects – you miss out on the fact that a lot of us are actually really good at a whole bunch of other things, many of which have nothing to do with sex! It’s a fascinating concept called “being a human being.” I know, that’s some crazy shit, right?
7. While I’m sure there were some creepers in the crowd, my perception was that most of the people who were watching the matches were actually there to watch the matches. Because this is another fascinating concept: you can find someone sexually attractive and still appreciate all of the other abilities and talents they may possess. Did I just blow your mind there or what?
8. I wasn’t the only lady there who was totally fangirling out over Kerri Walsh Jennings. The young lady sitting next to us kept handing her phone to her boyfriend, then she’d sit on the edge of the court facing him so he could take a photo of her with KWJ in the background. (I ended up stealing her idea for myself, as you can see below.)
Behind us stood a row of girls in their late teens who, when they weren’t talking about their own beach volleyball league down in Gulfport, were also fangirling over KWJ. It made me feel a little less silly about my own moment of fangirldom because it reminded me that the woman we were all excited over is one of the most dominant players in the whole world in her sport and that we were getting to watch her in action. That’s a really fucking special thing, and again, i can’t believe I got to see her play about ten feet away for about the cost of a movie ticket.
9. KWJ wasn’t the only amazing volleyball player, though. It’d be hard for me to pick out just one player because I thought they were all fantastic, but I have to say that I thought Kaitlin Nielsen, who along with Sarah Day played against KWJ and Whitney Pavlik, was so fun to watch. She had this amazing jump serve and she could spike the ball so hard.
Obviously spiking the ball isn’t the only skill required to be a good volleyball player – in fact, one of the best things about watching KWJ was seeing how intelligent she is when it came to ball placement, hitting the ball hard sometimes and tapping it lightly other times – but good lord, is it fun to watch. I’d never heard of her before but I was so happy I got to see her play.
10. Which brings me to something I observed about a lot of the players and their bodies. In the past I’ve been critical of the way six-pack abs have basically hijacked our cultural definition of fitness, specifically the way so many people now act as though someone cannot be physically fit if they do not have washboard abs. I could write a whole post about why I think this is ridiculous, and I probably will one of these days, but for now I’d like to just make the point that out of all of the women we watched, only a couple of them had what would be characterized as washboard abs. Most of the women are quite lean, no doubt, but those highly defined abs that are a mainstay of Pinterest fitspo? Only a couple of women on the court had them (And in fact I saw a couple of players with midsections that I’m sure some of the more critical-minded members of the fitness community would have described as “soft.” Those players also happened to be extremely good, so I’d like to pre-emptively invite the “soft” haters to suck it.)
It would seem to me that these women – who, remember, are elite athletes – are incredibly fit and strong, even if you can’t see every line and ripple of their abdominal muscles. The belief that the only way to be physically fit is to be ultra-lean with rippled abs needs to really go away already.
10a. The irritating thing is that by most real-world standards, the “soft” athletes were still very lean, but because I have spent so much time immersed in what I am coming to realize is the fairly extreme world of professional fitness, my expectations have changed. It’s part of why I was more than happy to ditch the magazines, blogs and Facebook fan pages that purport to be all about women’s fitness, because I realized they were skewing my expectations about what fit female bodies look like.
11. During the last match that we watched, I noticed that Brittany Hochevar had painted her nails an almost fluorescent coral, which made a really cool contrast against her tan skin. So, on Sunday night, while waiting for Breaking Bad to begin, I painted my nails fluorescent coral. (My toes are now hot pink.) Just as I thought, it looks really cool against my hands, which have been tanned by hours on the bike.
12. When we left after three-plus hours of volleyball, I was positively buzzing from having the opportunity to watch professional female athletes playing a sport I loved, without having to travel long-distances to do so. I really hope AVP comes back to St. Petersburg next year, because I will be there, beach chair strapped to my back and beer in hand, ready to watch those magnificent women throw down again.