4 Things I Was Doing at Age 13 That Weren't Winning a Gold Medal in Skateboarding

Three teenagers winning an Olympic skateboarding event inspire some self-reflection from a twentysomething.

It wasn't too long ago that skateboarding was often framed as dangerous, or even criminal, to the point that "Skateboarding Is Not a Crime" appeared on T-shirts and stickers.

But it seems like the world might finally be coming around: the Tokyo Olympics is the first-ever Olympic Games with skateboarding events, which have lit up the skating world with excitement.

Skating legend Tony Hawk said it was about time for the world to see Olympic skateboarding, because snowboarding has been in the Olympics since the '90s — starting at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, to be exact.

The new wave of young talent taking the world by storm was born nearly a decade after that. Its current leader, 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya, was born in 2007. (That's even five years after Avril Lavigne's iconic "Sk8r Boi" was released.)

This weekend, Nishiya won the gold medal in the women's street skateboarding event. She surpassed Brazil's Rayssa Leal, age 13. Taking the bronze was Japan's Funa Nakayama, age 16. The 34-year-old Olympian who finished fourth, Team USA's Alexis Sablone, could have been their mom.

All this success for such young kids might first make you think: Wow, I feel old. And then: Why wasn't I winning gold medals when I was 13?

Today, I'm going to answer that question for myself. Here's what I was doing at the age of 13 rather than bringing home an Olympic medal:

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Playing Tony Hawk games

My family got a Nintendo 64 around 2005... a couple years before Nishiya was born.

One of the many games we had was the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. In the game you're on a mission to collect letters and VHS tapes while skating across the U.S., with a soundtrack featuring Dead Kennedys, Primus and more.

Different choices: This one's easy: I was 10 and still had time. I could have gone outside, picked up a board and started learning. Would I have gone to Olympic-caliber in three years though? Probably not. Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself...

Adopting cats

One other thing I was doing instead of learning skateboarding: adopting two cats with my mom! We even got a write-up in the local paper because they were the 99th and 100th adoptions from the animal rescue.

Thankfully, the picture on that article has been lost in the ether.

Different choices: My moment of local newspaper fame came when I was 13 years old, so my time to match Momiji had run out already. You want me to say I should have bailed on this special moment to practice ollies or something?

Playing Yu-Gi-Oh!

Yu-Gi-Oh is a trading card game based off a Japanese anime about the "King of Games" who mostly plays one game that's kind of like Magic the Gathering but not as good. Long story short, Yu-Gi-Oh governed my weekends (and plenty of weekdays) between grades 7 and 9.

I went to tournaments. I had a little Konami membership card that kept track of my record (it was very bad). I played a Dark Magician deck for two simple reasons: he looks cool and is the main card Yugi plays in the anime. In the tournaments at my local game store, I might have pulled out a win in the middle of the pack, but usually I lost to kids who had rich parents, building decks with the most expensive cards for ruthlessly efficient wins.

Different choices: If I stopped blowing my allowance on packs of cards, maybe I could have saved up for a cool Dark Magician skateboard, elbow pads and a helmet.

Winning capture the flag in gym class exactly one time

I never achieved Olympic glory at age 13...but I did win capture the flag in gym class exactly one time out of dozens.

The activity was supposed to involve a lot of running, but I won using deception rather than any athletic ability.

One day, as the other kids were running and chasing each other, I just sort of slowly walked toward the flag.

No one was looking at me. The kid destined for college track & field had stopped guarding the big flag to chase after his friend. Every movement of my body telegraphed this message: Don't look at me, I'm no threat here. It was like a Jedi mind trick fueled by low expectations of my athletic ability.

And that's how I beat them at their own game. No one looked as I grabbed the big flag. Only after I jogged — then ran — back to my team's end of the field did the others realize what was happening and storm my way. They were too late. I crossed to our goal, victorious. The glory of Pitman High School Capture the Flag (non-medal event) was mine.

Different choices: Who am I kidding? I wouldn't trade that moment for anything.