top of page

How the Last-Picked-in-Gym Won a Gold Medal

In elementary school, my life divided into two clear zones. There were areas in which I excelled, and areas in which I was pitiful.

Looking for a good all-around student? That was me. Depending on the competition, I placed either at the top of the class, or hovered respectfully nearby. I was fine in math and science. I excelled in reading and social studies. In high school, I got a bit “distracted” and I under-performed. Just the same, you would have always wanted me on your academic team.

Sadly, there were no academic teams. No one got to pick me to be on “their reading team,” because there were no reading teams. There were, however, gym teams.

Only people of a certain age remember picking teams in gym, so let me set the stage. Picture an elementary school class, 28 kids or so, standing on a grassy field. It is gym time, and the class will play softball. But who goes on which team? The gym teacher, a gruff muscular woman who seems to dislike me, picks her two (athletic) favorite kids to be team captains. Then, the horror begins.

“Jimmy!” declares the first team captain, and who can fault him? Jimmy runs fast and has a great eye. Jimmy dashes over and stands behind his new team captain, head cocked.

“Patty!” shouts the second team captain. Patty, our most athletic girl, nods and sprints over to her captain, ponytail bouncing, blonde head held high.

Back and forth, the team captains make their choices, assessing their classmates like horses, selecting the best pitcher, the best catcher, or sometimes, their best friend. “Chris!” “Jennifer!” “Judy!” “John!”

The group in which I stand shrinks as our classmates get picked. Those of us left squirm, gazing down at the dirt. Hearing one’s name is a moment of profound relief because no one wants to be last. But really, they don’t have to worry, not when Lise Deguire is there.

I was always last. At the end, the team captain would be forced to mutter my name, when there was no one left but me. In a voice of despondency, I would hear “Lise.” Sometimes the entire team groaned. They knew that I would never hit the ball, catch the ball, or run to the base in time. My inclusion on their team sealed their inevitable loss. I would trudge toward my team, eyes downcast, apologetic for my very existence.

I have never won an award. OK, that isn’t true. I won “Most Improved” in swimming at summer camp when I was 10 years old. It was the only recognition for sports I ever achieved. “Most Improved” was a dubious distinction because, to be clear, I was truly THAT BAD.

Also, I did win two trivia contests on a cruise to Bermuda. The categories were “Beatles trivia” and “Show music trivia,” and I shouted aloud when I saw the contests listed on the activities schedule. These categories were clearly designed just for me and I SCORED in every possible way. But an award? Nope.


One recent morning, I awoke, with my usual middle aged aches and pains, and followed my dog downstairs. I checked my email and saw a message from a stranger. I hadn’t drunk my coffee yet, so my brain moved at early morning half-speed.

“We are excited and honored to announce that the new 2020 Nautilus Award winners are now posted.” I clicked on the proffered link with no expectations; I scrolled down. And there it was…

Memoir & Personal Journey… Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience From a Burn Survivor… GOLD!

Look, maybe if I hadn’t been humiliated in gym class for years, I would be more chill about this situation. Perhaps if I had been like Jimmy or Patty, I would smile and say, “Oh another award. How nice!” and then graciously move on to other topics. Instead, I have honestly been inserting the words “Gold medal” and “award-winning” into every possible conversation. I am shameless. I could talk about this award ALL DAY and I would really like to.

My poor husband has been bearing the brunt of my boundless glee. Making dinner, he glances up at me as I enter the room.

“Here I am, the award-winning author. Did I mention I won a gold award?”

He sighs. “How long do you think this is going to go on?”

I look at him, slightly indignant. “Please remember that I never won an award in my life and that I was last picked for gym every time for years.”

“Were you? Every time?”


Doug looks away, chopping a carrot, and we pause. “OK, never mind then.”

There are many aspects to this development, and a lot more that I might say. Please know that:

1) My book was rejected by 34 publishers before I wound up self-publishing. That was like gym class all over again, let me tell you. But this time, this last-picked-by-publishers was able to start her own self-publishing team. So there!

2) I still have the gold medal Royal Caribbean gave me for winning those two trivia contests.

3) My book is about overcoming terrible odds, including many rejections, and eventually building a beautiful life. It seems VERY META that writing the book also involved overcoming terrible odds and many rejections, and eventually becoming an award-winning book.

4) Flashback Girl also just won another award: the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Memoir (Personal struggle, health issues), Finalist.

I don’t feel the need to crow as loudly and declare “Here I am, a finalist” because it just doesn’t have the same ring. But, still, I thought you should know.

I am told that kids in gym class don’t pick teams now. I was told this by my daughters’ elementary school gym teacher. They had a Family Fun Gym Day, which I heroically attended, a testament to my parental devotion. I entered the gym, feeling queasy. There were basketballs and wiffle bats, hula hoops and jump ropes. Although the floor sparkled from waxing, the gym still had that old smell, rubbery with the essence of youthful sweat.

I hovered, not picking up a ball, or doing anything to draw attention to myself. The gym teacher stood nearby.

“Want to join a game?”

“No,” I blurted out, and self-disclosed in a torrent. “I hate gym. I have always hated gym. I was last-picked every time.”

The gym teacher looked at me, and we locked eyes. Gym teachers always seemed to hate me. To my surprise, though, his eyes were sympathetic. “We don’t do that anymore. We would never do that to the kids.”



So, folks, I guess I am one of the last last-picked people. Thank goodness that future nonathletic kids won’t have to wait for their name to be called. But, for my friends out there, please remember this story if I start going on about these new awards. I promise I’m not bragging; I’m just making up for lost time.

Anybody want to pick me for their team now? Please?

Lise Deguire

Author of Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience From a Burn Survivor

2020 Nautilus Book Award for Memoir, Gold

2021 Next Generation Indie Book Award for Memoir, Finalist

1963-on, Terrible At All Sports.

One further note: Join us on June 5, at Commonplace Reader (Yardley) for a celebratory book signing, from 2:00-3:00 PM. Click here for details:

Lise Deguire's gold award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.

1 Comment

Lisa Bogart
Lisa Bogart
Sep 17, 2021

I too was often the last picked for gym class teams. In elementary school, I was "chosen" to attend afterschool gym for the athletically challenged. In middle school, there was a gym class just for the kids who could stumble over their own two feet, which included me. I avoid group sports like the plague and always have. My childhood experiences were humiliating. I did not have the challenges you faced as a burn survivor and going through so many surgeries. I am glad you have moved through your trauma, although it will always be a part of who you are, and have created what sounds like a happy, fulfilling life. Your book in on my TBR list. Continued success!

bottom of page