published Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Upton: Paintball rekindles childhood memories

Last Saturday I played my first, and possibly last, game of paintball. After a mid-morning rain shower, a group of young professionals entered the wet paintball course to play a match just as the sun began to burn in all its glory.

I had been told to wear long-sleeve clothing because the force of the ammunition (which literally looked like gumballs). I was dubious until they handed us face and head-gear, plus protective vests. Good thing, because I was struck squarely over my left eye just as the game began.

Out of 14 players, only three of us were women. I reflected back to my tomboy days playing war and wrestling with my brother. Now, I spend my days within the walls of a serene office, my hair nicely coiffed and my toenails carefully painted. Yet, this offer of paintball strangely called to me.

As the game got underway, nervous anticipation caused my heart to pound. In a state of confusion, the basic idea became clearer: Cover yourself and try not to get shot, hunt out the enemy and shoot wherever you find him.

The first stinging blow hit me on the thigh. "Owww!" I yelped. The next few rounds gave way to screams of pain and attempts to run from the whizzing pellets. The long submerged familiarity with dirt and mud, dripping sweat, racing adrenaline, and playful aggression that had been a neatly folded and tucked away memory reopened in a state of heat and liquid fire.

My team developed a strategy as time wore on. We learned to give cover fire and to stay low to the ground, to begin more aggressively, and to keep a watchful eye on all sides. When one guy asked if I and my fellow female soldier were going to stay back and guard the fort, I felt indignent.

"No!" I responded firmly. "We're going out to surround the enemy with you guys!"

That didn't stop me from being completely surprised when the "enemy" snuck behind me and began firing on me in the fort I had been shooting from for the better part of that round.

The close range of his shots caused me to cry out for mercy with the words of surrender, "I'm hit, I'm hit!" In the excitement, I had no idea if I'd been hit or not. I just knew it was going to sting like crazy at that close range. At that moment, I longed for a clean clothes and lip gloss.

At Walmart a couple of days later, a man working my aisle glanced over at the slightly raised purple bruise on my left arm. Looking up quickly and smiling, he asked if he could be of help to me. He must have wondered compassionately how I had gotten such a mark. I wanted to tell him proudly, "I got it playing paintball this weekend. Ever tried?"

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a local therapist and founder of www., a local resource website for self-help and counseling services. E-mail her at

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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