Because I was blessed with a beautiful but uncommon first name, I’ve spent my life answering to nicknames. Most of them are derivatives of my given name (Jus, Justy, Jae, and Tina, for example). One friend nicknamed me Scooter because I walk so fast. One called me Roni because my given middle name was Veronica. I’ve also been Pam and Panama, although I’m not exactly sure how that happened. My cousin’s husband decided when he met me that I look like a Mitzi, so that is what he has always called me and I now go by Cousin Mitzi. Then there were the times when folks couldn’t figure out that the “e” at the end of my name meant that it rhymes with Kristine and not Kristin and then called me Justin instead. Still, I answered to that because I knew they were talking to me, and it wasn’t worth the effort to explain it. Turns out I will answer to anything.
During my junior year of college, my then boyfriend’s roommate took to calling me Polly Purebred after Underdog’s girlfriend. I assume this name came about for two reasons: 1) I resemble an anthropomorphic dog with bobbed blonde hair and 2) at the time I was an innocent, naive, sweet young woman. You could add that I am also third-generation, 100% Polish-American, which technically makes me a purebred and a standout in this melting pot nation. So, perhaps the name fit on a number of levels and that’s why it stuck.
The nickname Polly Purebred (or just plain Polly) to which I responded never bothered me. So I was named after a dog. She was still a pretty cute dog, and she was a reporter which at least gave her above average doggy intelligence. I could live with that, right? There were millions of nicknames given to other women at college that were far more offensive and derogatory than Polly. I counted myself fortunate.
But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that despite appearances and my purebred status, I’ve never really fit into the Polly Purebred mold. Although I am certain that the originator of the nickname meant no disrespect to me, I realize now that I’ve spent the past twenty years working to negate that sweet Polly Purebred image. Polly consistently needed to be rescued by Underdog from Simon Bar Sinister or myriad other villains. If I seem sweet, innocent, and helpless to you, then you’re a poor judge of character.
This past summer I was at the end of a quick 15-mile ride, coming up a hill at a fair pace but not really pushing myself. A gentleman in his 50s rode up beside me and asked if I needed help. Wholly confused by this statement, since I was ably pedaling my bicycle (not even breathing hard) and wasn’t standing on the side of the road fixing a flat or anything, I responded hesitantly with an “I don’t think so,” and he cruised on up the hill without me. As his butt was fading into the distance, I realized that he had been offering to let me draft behind him so I could get up the hill more easily. There aren’t words enough to describe how angry that made me. I hadn’t been struggling on that incline, but he mistook my slower pace to mean I was tired and might need his help. Funny, but I bet that if I had been a 225 pound, sweaty male and not a small, blonde female with pigtails poking out from under my bike helmet that gentleman would not have offered help. I fumed all the way home, my legs fueled by fervent indignation.
I’m not above asking for help if I need it, but I hate when the assumption is made that I need it. Yes. I can carry a 40 pound bag of dog food without your help. I’ll replace that GCFI outlet by myself. I will climb out on our roof to wash the windows on our home. I have calmly extracted a young rattlesnake from our basement and set it free outside. I may be small, but I am intelligent and capable and I don’t need your help unless I ask for it. My husband once remarked that he is glad I have a hearty dislike for large spiders, otherwise I might not need him around at all. You see, I may look like Polly Purebred, but I’m not innocent and I don’t need Underdog to rescue me.
My name is Justine, and I am an overachiever. Now, this admission is not meant to imply in any way that I am successful at everything I attempt to do. I simply mean that I attempt to do everything. It’s borderline psychotic, actually. The worst part about my psychosis is that I can quite ably rationalize it into sanity. For example, last year my spouse convinced me that we should do the MS 150 bike ride. It’s two, 75-mile days on a road bike for an outstanding cause. I thought that asking myself to do two 75-mile days was a lofty goal considering the longest ride I had done the previous summer was one 62-mile day, which I despised. But, once I committed to the MS ride, I realized that I was going to have to do the same 62-mile ride I hated the previous year because it’s actually an outstanding training ride. So, this is how my psychosis manifests itself. One ambitious idea begets another ambitious idea until my entire calendar is consumed with events I must do to train for the event that follows. I can’t stop. Classic overachiever.
Well, hubby and I trained for and completed the MS 150. We were not the fastest riders, but we definitely held our own. We were quite proud of ourselves, and not content to rest on our laurels. Merely one day after the MS 150 ride had elapsed I found myself online registering for a century ride. Yes. That means one hundred miles in one day. I started wondering if they had spiked my Gatorade with Adderall. I had barely wanted to do the MS 150, but now that I knew what I was capable of I felt empowered to push myself a bit further. I mean, we were already TRAINED for the century. It would be downright irresponsible not to go ahead and knock the hundred miles off our lifelong to-do lists when we were fit and ready to go, right?
There were two full months in between the MS 150 and the Buffalo Bicycle Classic century ride. We rationalized that all we had to do was ride enough to stay in shape. So, we did. We rode every chance we got. Two weeks before the century, I did a 67-mile ride with my sister just to make sure I was still up for the task and determined I was good to go.
Then, Mother Nature wreaked havoc. A fire broke out in the foothills outside Boulder, and the ride had to be cancelled for safety reasons. I was honestly heartbroken. I moped for days. I had worked so hard and put in so many hours on that bike and suddenly it felt as if it was all for nothing. I knew it wasn’t for “nothing.” I mean, I did break the mark of riding 1000 miles last season and that was huge. I was 42 and more fit than I was at 21. And we had done the MS 150 and raised about $1000, which was great too. But, it still wasn’t enough to help me overcome my disappointment at the cancellation of that ride. You know why? Because I didn’t get to cross that century ride of my life list. And, I knew that guaranteed that the spring and summer of 2011 would be a training repeat of 2010. Indeed. My name is Justine, and I am an overachiever.
So, let this serve as a cautionary tale to those of you who are considering putting an athletic event on your list of things to do this year. If you have any overachiever in you (I’m three-quarters overachiever and one-quarter Polish myself) or if you’re one of those people who will make a list after the fact just because you get a cheap thrill from crossing off things on a list, beware. Post-event euphoria can turn your life into a swirling vortex of non-stop training for the next big thing you want to do. Once you discover how truly capable you are, your desire to push yourself just a bit farther might surprise you.
If you’re looking for me between March and September, I’ll be in padded shorts on my bike. And, with any luck, this year I will finally cross that century ride off my to-do list. I have this sneaking feeling, though, that next year there will just be something else in its place on my list because I am three-quarters overachiever, you know.