I participated in a competition called “The Battle of The Units”,  a while back. Every year each unit forms a  team to compete in multiple events over four weeks. The points are added up at the end, and the unit that wins get’s to watch a movie in the auditorium, and each person gets a box of candy. It’s a big deal here! I agreed to represent RDAP(Residential Drug Abuse Program) in the hula hoop competition. Once the games began I realized I was probably in over my head; there are a lot of competitive, athletic women in prison. My hula hoop skills are good; but I am 46 years old…  I went to events every weekend to support our team, and realized that I might encounter poor sportsmanship during the competition. As the weekend approached I got nervous and asked the woman in charge if she could find someone to take my place. She said: “Nope, we want you; we’ve heard your a great hula hooper.”

There are 5 units on the compound, and each unit had four contestants for the hula hoop event. When we got to the gym my teammates and I were intimidated; the other 16 women we were competing against looked really good! I decided to go for a walk, and told my team I would be right back. I said a prayer: “Heavenly Father, I don’t care if I win the competition, but people I love are counting on me, please help me?” I also recited our RDAP creed. When I got inside the gym my teammates looked worried; we were competing in heats and I was the best hula hooper in our group, so I agreed to go last. I should mention that we weren’t competing with regular sized hula hoops, they were small and difficult to keep up. Most of the women on the compound can’t hula hoop with them at all.

When it was time to go out my first teammate said: “Ms. Louder, I’m scared but I’m going for it anyway!” She lasted about 10 seconds. My next teammate said: “If I keep my eyes on my own hula hoop, and don’t look at other people, I think I will do ok?” She lasted about 45 seconds. My last teammate said: “Will you please pray with me, I’m scared.” We said a prayer, and she lasted about 20 seconds. I listened to all my teammates: I was scared but went anyway; I looked at my own hula hoop, and didn’t pay attention to what anyone else was doing, and I said a prayer. Some how I made it through all the heats, and after 10 minutes there were only 3 of us left. The other two girls I was competing against were both professional dancers, and the three of us lasted about 5 minutes. Then one of the girls dropped her hula hoop, and the crowd went wild! I could hear my unit screaming: “You got this Ms. Louder, you got this!” I knew the girl I was competing against from Dublin, she’s 29 years old, and a great athlete! I made it 30 minutes on the floor with her while her friends were screaming: “Are you really going to let this old lady beat you!” Someone even offered her 50 bucks worth of commissary if she would take me out:) They finally called a tie breaker, and told us we would have to walk across the gym without stopping; I dropped my hula hoop first. For weeks after the competition it was the talk of the compound, and every time I went to rec someone would ask if I was a professional hula hooper? I would say: “No, I’m just a lady who never gives up.” I didn’t tell them I was sore for a week after the event!

I thought a lot about what happened. In the end we didn’t win the “Battle of the Units” But I think in our unit we are winning the battle of life. Through all the events I noticed the kindness, good sportsmanship, and unity that the RDAP teams displayed. I am learning to be assertive, set boundaries, and hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I’m also learning to take responsibility for my mistakes, and forgive myself; to let others be where they’re at, and love them without judgment. Most importantly I have learned that I can’t do it alone, and I don’t have to!  Thank you all for following along:)