Other guys had models in swimsuits. Or movie posters featuring leather-clad actresses. How low-brow. I scoffed at their barbarian ways.
I started to collect books at a young age. My family had loads of old books and no one knew what to do with them, but I was more than happy to keep them in my room where I hoarded these tomes like a dragon hovering over a pile of gold coins. I always made sure to keep them neatly arranged, and I didn’t like people touching the antiques. (These books were old.)
I noticed the other kids my age weren’t curating their own libraries, and I pitied them. How did they spend their spare time?
So there wasn’t room for cheap posters of nude-ish ladies because my bookshelves were in the way, but I did make room for one picture. One woman’s face looked out over the placid study, someone who I would always admire.
That’s right. Sally Ride.
One of my elementary school teachers tried to teach us about Sally Ride, but her lecture was constantly cut off by my interjections. “She made the robot arm that the shuttle uses!” “First woman in space? You mean first American woman in space, right? Those two cosmonauts…” “Did you know she plucked a satellite out of its orbit?” I wasn’t my teacher’s favorite.
Many years later, I had the privilege of hearing Sally Ride speak. To a group of girls. Really, really young girls. I stood at the edge of the crowd, pretending I wasn’t more excited than all of the children filling the huge courtyard. Sally Ride stood on a platform at the far end, a distant figure I could barely recognize. My stomach swelled with exhilaration.
I probably looked silly. Sure, I was a book-hoarding, scrawny nerd in the old days, but now I’m 6″6′ and 200lbs and I sort of stand out in a crowd of giggling children. Especially when I’m trying to pretend I’m not freaking out. It’s cool. I’m cool. Just Sally Ride, the only woman cool enough for my room. No big deal.
As Ride spoke, I noticed another man standing beside me and, if you can believe it, he was even bigger than me. “Did you know she invented the robot arm the space shuttle uses?” I whispered. He nodded and tried to suppress a grin. “Yeah. I knew that.”
So, there we were, two overgrown nerds joining a gaggle of preteen girls so we could get a glance of Sally Ride. It was time well spent.
There have been plenty of impressive astronauts, and I could have been enamored with any one of them, but there is something special about watching someone defy society’s expectations. Especially when you’re a dorky, young boy who is always told you’re doing things wrong.
Everyone expected me to enjoy baseball and swimming pools as a kid, but I only wanted to read old books and take long walks. For some reason, this made my peers distrust me and I was encouraged to change, to be someone else. I was obviously a problem that needed to be fixed, even though, as far as I was concerned, I was just fine.
People like Sally Ride remind us that it’s okay to be the different one. It’s even okay to be outstanding.