i get up slowly and shake the sand out of my bra. A hunky firefighter on the other side of the net has just spiked a volleyball 2 feet in front of me, and my desperate dig was too late. The ball bounced past my head while I imitated a huge sea tortoise digging a hole in the sand to lay her eggs.
Beach volleyball is a bitch.
I'm down at The Docks playing with Toronto-area firefighters who are preparing for the 2001 World Police & Fire Games taking place in Indianapolis this week.
This is a media event, one of those photo ops that place out-of-shape journalists like me on teams with square-jawed, buff athletes with good manners who somehow make you feel welcome and incredibly inadequate at the same time.
I usually avoid events like this, but I have a very personal reason for showing up. I want to banish the ghosts of grade 12 volleyball.
All through high school, I was a jock. I made all the girls' teams -- basketball, soccer, field hockey, track and field and volleyball -- and loved every sweaty minute of it.
But in Grade 12, a weird thing happened, something that happens to a lot of high schoolers. I lost my confidence.
It's strange how the adolescent mind works. A friend of mine woke up one morning during her last year in high school and realized that she had nothing interesting to say. She stopped talking in class.
Sometimes these self-esteem crises last a day, sometimes an entire high school career.
Mine lasted a complete season of girls' volleyball.
It started slowly. The first few games were all right, but I'd miss hit a bump -- meaning I'd send the ball flying off into the stands -- or set the ball too low for our ace spiker, Sylvia "Sticks" Soder (she had the skinniest, longest legs on the team), to get at.
Our coach, Miss Hurst, didn't say anything. It was early in the season.
But then I started to feel rattled every time the ball came toward me, and my worst fears manifested themselves. The other team would serve to me and I'd stand still and wildly stick out one arm, or I'd call for a ball, wave off a teammate and then let the ball drop between us.
I was the Bill Buckner of girls' volleyball.
Miss Hurst had finally had enough. She pretty much stopped playing me, only putting me in when our team was way ahead or hopelessly behind.
My humiliation culminated in one specific moment (referred to since as the splat incident) when the ball came at me, my hands were too far apart and the ball bounced off my face.
Miss Hurst stood up to signal substitution, and I was back riding the pines. I think I played a total of 20 seconds for the rest of the season.
I never played volleyball again.
But I'm here at The Docks surrounded by volleyball gods. My two teammates, the tall Mark Giorgetti (Fire Hall 332) and the powerful Djordje Ljubicic (Fire Hall 224), move across the sand like crabs but are considerate enough to let me take my fair share of balls.
I'm nervous, remembering Miss Hurst's pinched look of disapproval when she finally put me out of my misery.
Yet what better men than these to lead me to volleyball salvation? Off the court, Giorgetti, Ljubicic and the others put out raging fires, rescue babies and kittens from burning buildings and parade their six-pack abs on calendars so that bored office workers the world over can fantasize about them.
I'm in great, big, strong hands.
When the first ball comes at me over the net, I bump it semi-close to Giorgetti, who easily sets it to Ljubicic, who then spikes it over for a point.
Then the guys come over and we do that very sexy volleyball congratulations thing -- just barely brushing fingers, we say, "Sweet play."