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Stop Saying You're Not Athletic

The letter below is part of an ongoing series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested. Today's guest is Eileen Moskowitz-Palma, author of the middle grade series The Popularity Pact, out now.


Dear 14-year-old Eileen,

I bet you’re wondering why I’m writing a letter to you thirty years in the future. What could be so important that I would risk messing up the space time continuum we learned about in Back to the Future? Will I tell you who we’re going to marry? No, but I will say he’s a keeper. What about how many kids we will have? Not giving a number, but the answer will surprise us. The whole purpose of this letter is to advise you to stop telling yourself and anyone who will listen that we are not athletic.

I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. Out of all the important wisdom I could be imparting, this is what I choose? I know what else you’re thinking. . . we are NOT athletic. We’re terrible at anything that requires coordination, catching, throwing, or making a goal. We are ALWAYS the last person picked for P.E. Spoiler alert: That will keep happening until we graduate high school. We almost failed the Presidential Fitness Test every single year. Remember how our P.E. teacher let us retake the pull up section as many times as we needed to pass?

Even though we suck at volleyball because we have never once landed a serve over the net, soccer because we’re terrified of someone getting overly aggressive with defense, and softball because we duck in terror every time we see that ball coming at us, doesn’t mean we are terrible at ALL SPORTS.

Get ready for me to blow your mind. When we turn forty years old, we are going to win FIRST place in our age group in a New York City 5K race. That’s right, I said first place. Yes, we get to stand on the podium while someone puts a gold medal around our neck. When this happens, we are so shocked that we think there must be some mistake. We have never won first place in anything other than a writing contest. But, we will go on to win medals in two other races—another first medal at a local 5K, and second place at a challenging trail race that includes actual boulders we have to climb over, and huge logs we have to jump over. Did I mention that we also ran seven half marathons?

Eileen as a teenager

I know you find this hard to believe, in fact I still do sometimes. I mean, we have asthma, and not the kind that bothers us once in a while, the kind where we can’t leave the house without our rescue inhaler. We are not confident in our athletic prowess. The one thing we have always been confident about though is our storytelling skills. In fact, we are so good at creating narratives, that we believe the stories we tell ourselves. So when we started telling the story of how terrible we were at all of the sports required for P.E., we started to believe that we weren’t good at any kind of athletic activities.

When you first start to run as an adult, you will still believe this lie, but you will start running anyway, not half marathons or even 5Ks to start, just a few laps around the track. And guess what? You will discover that you love it and that running a slow mile, doesn’t take away the fact that you just ran a mile. You will learn that running a half marathon at the back of the pack, doesn’t take away from the fact that you just ran 13.1 miles. Then you will start to realize that the more you run, the faster you get. You will eventually move from the back of the pack to the middle. Then you will start to tell yourself a different story, one where maybe you can start training for personal bests in speed and distance. And somewhere along the way, you will get the surprise of your life when someone hangs a gold medal around your neck.

Just think about all the other stories we will tell ourselves over the years. Let’s try to turn our protagonist into a hero who believes in herself, fights for what she wants, and doesn’t let negativity stand in her way.


44-year-old Eileen


About The Author: Eileen Moskowitz-Palma divides her time between novel writing and teaching First Draft from Start to Finish and Writing for Children and Young Adults at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Eileen’s debut Middle Grade novel, Camp Clique, the first book in The Popularity Pact series, was published in April 2020 at the height of the COVID pandemic. As a result, all of her in-person events with schools, libraries and bookstores were cancelled. She formed a free virtual writing club program to serve the kids affected by school closures. She connected with kids from all across the country and partnered with institutions like the Providence Children’s Museum, Sarah Lawrence College, the Rhode Island Department of Education, Thalia Kids Book Club Camp based out of Manhattan’s Symphony Space, the Orange County Children’s Book Festival and the Girl Scouts. Eileen is currently taking a break from running to tackle the Peloton spin bike leaderboard.


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