The day I was born, the attending doctor took one look at my feeble legs and told my parents, “You son will never be an athlete.” I’ve spent every day since then proving him right.

Sports can be played at many different levels (see golf handicaps), with victories great and small. In fact, I’ve been able to recall several happy memories from competition. I hope that reading them will rekindle achievements of your own that you’ve forgotten or repressed. Oh, you’ve had them. For example, my wife was pressed into action one afternoon as a field hockey goalie on her high-school team. An opponent took a shot and the redoubtable redhead threw up her stick and stopped it. The crowd went wild and she still remembers the moment today.

As for me, we begin on the ninth-grade baseball team at Milton Academy. I asked to play third base when the incumbent was away at his grandfather’s funeral. There was a chance I could sub for his sub. Sure enough, I came in midway through the game. Miracle of miracles, I fielded a grounder and threw it in time to first base. Unbelievable. And I caught a pop-up. A regular Mike Trout at the plate, I walked, scored a run and hit a pitch all the way to the left-fielder — on the fly, if you can imagine. We won the game and people were saying nice things about my contribution. I shook my head in wonder.

In the 10th grade, I was still a substitute and still on the ninth-grade team. I was so slow that the coach called me “Snowshoes.” Years later I was playing in a workplace softball game, standing in center field counting the daisies. Suddenly a shot rang out and a fly ball headed well behind me. For once, old Snowshoes was up to the task. I turned around, sprinted like Willie Mays (in my dreams) and one-handed the ball over my left shoulder. It was the last out of the inning and as I jogged back to the bench, players on both teams were on their feet applauding me. With the casual aplomb of a routine achiever, I dropped the ball on the pitching rubber, but I couldn’t disguise my joy.

Switching to football, when a hail Mary pass heads to the end zone, hordes of players jump for the ball, which usually deflects to the ground. I had an idea: why not have one guy who stays on his feet and waits for the deflection? I caught two end-zone deflections in a touch-football game. People pounded me on the back. I was embarrassed. Did I tell you I’m a lousy athlete?

I went six-for-six in a softball game. As I stood on first base after the last single, the opposing pitcher tossed me the ball. I kissed it and returned it to him. Then I scored the winning run.

It’s always a pleasure to be part of something bigger than yourself. A friend and I won a club doubles event at tennis, my first and only such triumph. Granted, it was at the C-level and we probably belonged in B-level, but the club pro had told us to build up our confidence in C. Someone asked me how I felt. “It was an unmitigated thrill,” I said, and I meant it.

And what about bad experiences — are there any that proved useful? Here’s one. At a summer camp I was trying to qualify for the golf finals. We came to the last hole, and I was feeling flush with a three-stroke lead. The course was short, with greens made of packed sand and tin cups. I took my time, getting to the green in four strokes, with the cup only 10 feet away. My first putt was three feet short. My second putt, maybe six inches short. I putted again and the ball bounced back off the rim of the tin cup. Four putts from 10 feet for an eight. My opponent holed out in four and I lost by a stroke. I numbly shook hands, trudged back to the cabin and lay in bed, deep in shock.

On the final night at camp I was given a special award for sportsmanship: four painted golf balls. I kept them on my mantel for years. In its own way, that award for a four-putt green may have been my best memory of all from a career as a lousy athlete.

Jim Kaplan is a former Sports Illustrated writer, the author of 20 books and bridge columnist for the Vineyard Gazette. He can be reached at