I’m glued to the television every night watching the Olympic Games. I love watching the athletes give their best efforts in their events. Whether a 15 year old gymnast or 71 year old equestrian, the have devoted their lives to these pursuits. Whether they win is almost secondary. They all deserve to be applauded and honored for what they’ve given to even make it to the Games.
Tonight the women’s team competition in gymnastics is on. Watching these teens flip, hurdle, jump and spin on the various apparatus gives me stomach-clenching stress. This is particularly so on the balance beam. Balance beam can give me nightmares.
I hated gym class/phys ed. in school. Oh, it was okay in elementary grades when we went out and played dodgeball or kickball on our asphalt and pebble school yard. In high school, gym period gave me mental hives. First there were the awful one-piece knit uniforms we had to wear, before we even got down to the floor for 45 minutes of
torture activity. Climb a rope up a wall to the ceiling? Yeah right. Hop up on a balance beam no more than four inches wide? Not on my best days. I’m sorry to play the fat card, but demanding that an overweight girl try those things did not achieve anything positive. Far from building self-esteem, pride in learning a skill, and the reinforcement of taking on a challenging activity, making me do those things did nothing but foster high anxiety and set the stage for humiliation.
The high school gym teachers weren’t known for soft encouragement. Yelling at students and telling someone they could do it if they weren’t so fat does not fall under the heading of positive motivation. It’s bad enough to be called names by other kids. From teachers or other adults it can devastate.
There were a few years here and there when I actually liked some physical activity. When I was in Middle School, I liked softball enough to play in our summer recreational league. My ability to hit well and my strength often made up for my lack of speed on the bases. I had a good arm, too. I played catcher, third base and centerfield, depending on what the team needed. One year our team won the league championship. For my last two years of high school, I played on the field hockey team as the goalie and on the softball team. These were fun activities in which I enjoyed the competition, felt like I contributed to the team effort, and for once didn’t feel like a terrestrial whale who wasn’t good for anything the least bit physical.
In college, thankfully, we only had to satisfy two p.e. credits in four years. One credit came from any elective sport. (I turned out to be a kick ass badminton player.) The other credit was a required course where we had to either jog around the track or swim for most of the hour. Unfortunately, that class also included a mandatory measurement of our body fat index. Lining up with your classmates, both male and female, so a teacher could do the measurement with some sort of caliper gizmo is not any sane person’s idea of a good time. One of the teachers in that class was, allegedly, a retired drill sergeant. Popular opinion was split betwen whether he’d descended from the Marquis de Sade or had secretly served with the Fuhrer.
I remember once when we all had to do a one mile jog, he pretty much inferred that all of us ladies were potential hookers because of the jewelry we wore. As an adult, I can pretty much assess him as a msyoginistic asshole. Amazing.
Looking back on those early years, I wonder if it would have made a difference in my life if gym teachers had sat down with me to devise a doable exercise plan that didn’t involve me terrified on a balance beam or burning my hands trying to haul my oversized ass up a rope. If the authority figures at school had talked to me instead of yelling. I honestly don’t know. I do, however, feel like the campaigns urging kids to get out and play for an hour a day are pretty non-threatening and they fix the message in the attitude of fun rather than drudgery and hard work.
Given my lifelong poor regard for exercise, I’m somewhat amazed that I’m embracing it more today. I actually look forward to Zumba class and Tai Chi. I remind myself to include activity in my weekend plans so that I’m doing something at least four days a week. Several years ago, we had a Curves in town. For awhile I went three times a week, really embracing the program. I don’t want to join one of the two gyms in town, but if someone would reopen the Curves franchise, I’d sign back up in a heartbeat.
I would like to continue my momentum. I know it takes months to truly change old habits and create new behaviors. I can see myself pushing on with my efforts. At the same time, I need to also take this day by day. Today I Zumbaed. Tomorrow when I wake up, I will commit to going to Tai Chi practice in the evening. Everything is helping. I can see and feel the improvement. When I watch myself doing the Zumba routines to the up tempo music, I know that my form and steps aren’t perfect. I don’t have them all down and there are some that I can’t yet do, but I keep moving.
The instructors have incredibly scuptled, defined bodies from teaching multiple classes a week. Obviously, I look nothing like them. At least not yet. Today while keeping up with one of the faster songs, I glanced at the instructor to check my steps and had a great thought. If I keep up this effort, a year from now I will look more like the instructors than I do myself — or least the myself that I am today who is in the early stages of physical recovery and half a year post-op.
I’m going to hold onto that thought and remember it, particularly when I hit a day when I don’t want to go exercise. Regardless of which activity I do on any given day, I do my best to speak to myself in terms of encouragement and joy. It’s all about acknowledging the effort and providing positive reinforcement.
I’m not a kid to be pushed around anymore. This isn’t gym class.