In a perfect world, people are nice to one another, with behavior upstanding and nary a shadow of conflict ever threatening to pounce on the tranquil society. In a perfect world, there exists no arrogance, jealousy, or spite. People go about their days with all the wholesomeness of a Norman Rockwell painting, exchanging pleasantries as they pass each other on their way to work, and helping one another without expecting recompense. In a perfect world, there is no intrigue, gossip, or corruption. Yes, kiddies, the perfect world is pretty boring.
Lucky for us, the perfect world will always be as elusive as the fountain of youth or a graft-free government. Our lives are filled with trials and tribulations that either shape us into better people or break us into multiple jigsaw pieces that can sometimes take years to put back together. In the world of sports as in real life, we too struggle against varying odds, both long and short. And sometimes, it’s the people we meet along the way that either help or hinder our confidence, our pace, and even our success.
Enter a unique group of characters that I call ‘The Keep Aways.’ This breed of individuals is the perfect addition to your otherwise moribund training or competition day, as they provide comic relief, unnecessary stress, and/or unwarranted advice when you least expect it. They can either turn your already grey morning pitch black or provide that lone ray of sunshine, that pick-me-upper if you will, depending on the reception you give them. Their presence at the pool, pitch, court, or roadside can surely add color to your day and raises more than a few eyebrows with their irrepressible brand of drama, comedy, or both. Conventional knowledge advises us to best keep away from them (hence the name); but like an oncoming train wreck that’s almost impossible to look away from, the majority of us posses neither the resolve nor common sense to simply step aside and avoid momentary or extended exposure to these individuals.
From a rogue’s gallery of the nettlesome and annoying, I’ve chosen just six outstanding characters to profile, and have given them names that are easy enough to remember, should you actually run into them or personally know them already from previous and recent encounters. The genders are purely for literary purpose, as you are wont to find that they exist on either side of the fence. Now watch your step and follow me as we begin with…
She’s the one who’s quick to volunteer (without anyone asking) a ready excuse for her unexceptional/exceptional performance, just in case anyone would care to know. The very public abdication could come before, during, or after a training/practice session or actual race. Sample disavowals include: “I’m really not feeling well, but here I am”, “See, I was able to finish even with this injury,” “Am still recovering from the flu, so that’s probably why I didn’t do as expected.” After which she expects to hear an admiring “Gosh, you are really strong to be fighting through that cold/cough/injury” or a sympathetic “No wonder you looked kind of pale out there. You should just rest.” Well, expect Ms. Disclaimer to throw in every excuse there is to anyone who ever bothers to listen, if only to gain even a smidgen of sympathy or admiration for her otherwise questionable showing.
Some people have the audacity to behave as if they deserve certain privileges that are obviously beyond their boundaries. They waltz into the venue and act as if they were paid to be part of the training program or race, asserting themselves while confidently taking their places and helping themselves to exclusive area/items obviously set aside for only deserving individuals. The Entitled like to believe they are automatically part of a group because of the company they keep, the places and activities they commonly frequent, and because no one has had the nerve to tell them off. There’s a more common term that’s known to most people, which best describes this class of Keep Away: Gatecrasher. Okay, ‘social climber’ might be a bit harsh, but I’ll throw that in as well.
No, this KIA is not a brand of Korean cars, nor does it represent a casualty classification (Killed In Action) used by the military to describe members of their forces who have died in the face of battle. KIA stands for one of the most irksome species of Keep Aways that you might best want to avoid: Mr. Know It All. Mr. KIA is the self-anointed (fill in specific sport here) expert who knows everything and everyone involved in the sport, and is almost always the center of the universe. He’ll fill you in on what’s going on without your even asking, and even tell you what you don’t need to know. It’s all in keeping with his regal bearing as the king of everything. At first meeting, Mr. KIA enthralls and captivates with all his knowhow and experience. But interest is lost not long after, as people tire of a stand-up routine based on “Me, Myself, and I.” Pretty soon, the only voice in the conversation Mr. Kia hears is his own.
The Teflon Man
There’s nothing quite like a person who refuses to admit his own mistakes or shortcomings, choosing instead to find the reason for his inadequacy in anything and everything external. The list of explanations is endless. I wasn’t given the breaks. That was a wrong call by the ref. It was the heat. The marshals gave me the wrong directions. I can’t believe they ran out of water! The guy in front of me refused to give way. It was the rain. You have to credit him for some creativity, but you’ll quickly notice a pattern in the way he rationalizes his performance. There’s always something or someone else to blame for the way things turned out, but never him. Because absolutely nothing sticks to The Teflon Man.
Fred And Wilma
There are two descriptions for the term ‘Fred’ in triathlon and cycling lingo/slang. The first refers to someone whose top-of-the-line gear do not match his skills, or in local parlance, an M.O.P. (More Of Porma) athlete. The second definition has to do with a person who doesn’t care about technology and employs a mish mash of gear, much to the indignation of the sport’s purists. Glaringly, these are two nearly opposite descriptions of the same term, but they are nonetheless compelling in their own right. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with a Fred or a Wilma (the female equivalent, with a not-so-subtle reference to the Flintstone couple) under the first definition, save for the illusion of feeling and looking fast. Whatever makes you happy, dear. As a Fred friend of mine claims, “If I can’t be fast, at least I can look fast.” As for the second definition, the last laugh can surprisingly be Fred’s, as it can be downright embarrassing for the more ‘gear compliant’ and so-called ‘serious’ athletes to find themselves trailing or, even worse, losing to an amateurishly dressed and equipped Fred.
Beware the Hybrid Keep Away. He/She is an exotic breed of two or more of the Keep Aways in one person and is the most toxic of the species. The Hybrid is an egomaniacal, insensitive creature that is extremely resilient to criticism and possess but one priority: himself/herself. He/she is often characterized by a low emotional quotient, copious amounts of misplaced self-confidence, and unmatched callousness. I only have one piece of advise for anyone who is unfortunate enough to encounter a Hybrid but smart enough to recognize it: Run Away—Fast.
What can we glean from today’s article, kids? First: we’ve learned that some of the most obnoxious people can be the most interesting as well, but that doesn’t mean we have to like them. Second: Keep Aways, at the very least, provide perverted amusement for some, and in my case, fodder for the gossip barn, which is a self-sustaining natural energy source that keeps my world turning. Lastly, we can discover in ourselves a newfound tolerance for the contemptible Keep Aways, simply because we sometimes see part of ourselves in one, some, or (hopefully not) all of them.
So the next time you find yourself whining about how the mechanic didn’t tune your bike properly, or bragging unabashedly about running a personal best 10k despite that nagging cough, imagine one of the Keep Aways standing in front of you with arms outstretched and a smile as wide as a Kardashian behind chirping: Welcome to the family.