Paula Must Try Harder

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Paula Must Try Harder

Paula playing rugby
Paula McGuire is one cool lady. And she recently got in touch to tell us her
story. We were so inspired and moved by the challenges Paula has set herself (and accomplished) that we just had to share her journey with you. So here it is, from Paula herself. It looks long but trust us you'll read it in a jiffy - it's that good. 

"Just to be clear: I’m not super and I’m no hero, but I guess, over the last eighteen months, I’ve had a bit of a superhero transformation.  Now I’m not talking phone-box-spinning,  spectacle-removing transformation. No, I’m not quite flying high on a well-aimed spider-web just yet. It’s been more of an internal transformation really, which possibly sounds a bit more personal than I intended. 

A year and a half ago, I was a nervous wreck of a person.  Truly, I couldn’t have typed this e-mail for finger-trembling anxieties.  Throughout a bullied childhood and subsequently edgy adolescence,  I amassed an array of twitches, wouldn't go into a shop on my own, and spent my nights concerned about what my days would bring.  I lost sleep over inaccurate counting of sheep.  Actually, I wasn’t a wreck. I was the aftermath of a wreck: when everything looks normal again but the parts don’t quite fit together. Without doubt, I was the most anxious wee soul around – although I would never have admitted that for fear of seeming arrogant.

I’m not sure what changed. Maybe I hit thirty and, like all good clichés, decided life was too short.  Maybe it was concussion from all those years of banging my head against my own glass ceiling.  Whatever it was, the metamorphosis from terrified caterpillar to almost-social butterfly was neither overnight nor intentional. 

You see, in September 2012, this perpetual corner-dweller decided, for one reason or none, to learn all seventeen Glasgow 2014 sports before the Commonwealth Games comes to my doorstep.  Sounds easy, right? Maybe for a fully functioning person with a fair-to-middling grasp of life skills. But, for this impractical, clumsy indoorsman, who couldn't ride a bike, throw or catch, or even attempt a forward roll… well, you can imagine my difficulties.

Within a year and a half of hard slog and harder terror though, I have learned to cycle, tried my uncoordinated hand at lawn bowls, hockey, netball and badminton, and battled lifelong aquaphobia to finally take – incredibly tentatively – to the water.  Amazingly, I have taken weightlifting and judo lessons with Olympians, enjoyed a private track session on the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and competed in my first triathlon alongside the Para-triathlon World Champion. Not so amazingly, I’ve broken bikes and bones, cried my way through a badminton match, and lost a few fingernails and a damn sight more pride along the way.  Particular highlights have been trying gymnastics with the circus and getting my ass handed to me by a primary school class of ten year-olds at pretty much every athletics event.  It’s been that sort of challenge.

But whether it’s leaving a Paula-shaped dent in the local cycle path or inspiring a presentation by the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, HRH Prince Imran, this adventure has made its mark more than anyone really expected.  You see, this isn’t the story of a clumsy oaf falling over her own training-shoed feet in varying locations.  Okay, it isn’t just that.  It’s more the tale of a painfully-self-conscious wallflower leaving the brickwork, weeding out her insecurities and heading for the border of sporting prowess.  It’s also a call to action for everyone who has ever thought they can’t, to shake off the bonds of self-doubt, go outside and, well, can.  I now regularly update BBC Scotland listeners on my progress on the Macaulay and Co show - and Fred Macaulay himself took me along to try shooting recently for his new BBC 1 programme (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b045p8bt/on-the-road-2014-episode-1). In short, it has been a crazy old year.

But where has this journey left little stressed Paula?  I still blink so much that I need pebbles in my pockets to keep me grounded but nowadays, instead of hiding away and limiting life’s opportunities, I wear my nerves as a badge of achievement, proud of every little step towards confidence in spite of my anxiety.

And somehow, things don’t seem so difficult.  Sure, I still fall over my own shadow most days, and I’ll never be a medal-wearing athlete, but I’ve come to realise that being the worst at something is often better than being the best.  I’m not quite comfortable saying that my silly challenge has inspired folk, but I know that many reluctant try-ers have returned to their particular field or attempted new activities after watching me tumble my way to one finish line or another (action replays available at: www.youtube.com/paulamusttryharder).  It seems, when there’s someone out there showing you how bad you could never be, it’s much easier to give new things a try. 
I plan to keep going with my challenge after Glasgow 2014, trying every new thing out there, braving the world on behalf of all those who, like young Paula, aren’t quite ready to do so themselves. My world was once very small, through choice as much as necessity, but now, it seems, it’s growing every day.   And somehow I’m managing to foster that growth in the lives of many others too.  As only one shy, five-feet-nothing girl from a flat in Glasgow, I think that’s pretty special.

It’s true, I’m not a superhero, but then, neither am I an athlete and yet, here I am, sixteen sports down with a few Olympians among my supporter list and my gurning face all over the papers. I'm an ordinary person with an extraordinary story – and other ordinary people seem to really respond to that. 

I don’t own a cape, I’ve never rescued a damsel (hell, I’ve never met one), and I wouldn’t even know what to do with a batarang.

But I have overthrown my own worst enemy.  And surely that earns me some superhero points." 

You can learn more about Paula's challenge on her website.  
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