When I was a kid I loved to run. I didn’t run to be fast or win races, I just loved to move. There was a joy in running, in moving. I didn’t worry about being a great athlete. I just moved.
Although when it came to athletics, I wasn’t a total slouch. I’ve never been overly competitive when it comes to athletics, but I wasn’t terrible either. When I was about 8, attending a YMCA day camp, a couple of the boys in my group challenged me to a race for fun. I ran. I won. I’m a good swimmer, and I love being in the water more than anything else in the world. I was one of a small handful of girls on an all-boys soccer team, when the sport was first beginning to make inroads in the United States. And the reason I can still play some semblance of basketball today is because my older brother spent many hours with me on the court in our driveway, teaching me to shoot and dribble and do layups. While I tend to suck at softball and baseball, I’m a fair tennis player, and when I’m in fighting shape, you do not want to take me on in badminton.
But athletics aside, when I was a kid I loved to run. I loved to move. For a brief while I had no self-consciousness about my body. I loved it and I loved what it allowed me to do. But somewhere along the line all that changed. I think it was when recess turned into PE. With the President’s Fitness Challenge (which is a great thing, don’t get me wrong) I suddenly had to prove my fitness, and was graded on that proof. I no longer got to move just for the joy of moving. I had to perform certain physical tasks, and failed if I couldn’t do them.
It didn’t help that puberty made an early appearance. I suddenly had female attributes that I didn’t want and didn’t know how to deal with. The problem with puberty and me was that I didn’t suddenly get curves, I just got round. And I was self-conscious and my self-esteem plummeted. I no longer ran because I liked it. I ran because I had to. I was slow and chubby and generally began to despise everything that had to do with gym in particular and exercise in general.
What happens to the kids who are slow and chubby and can’t do a pull-up no matter how hard they try? They get teased. They get mocked. They become the last ones picked for teams. Whatever self-esteem they had left is completely wiped out. You can probably guess I was one of those kids who got picked on for not being good enough when it came to sports.
This isn’t a whine about the past though. Because now it is many years later and I’m in better shape than I have been in years. I work out hard. I kickbox. I do Zumba. I work out on the elliptical machine and the rowing machine. I swim laps and take water aerobics classes. I do whatever I can to keep in shape, keep my weight down and fend off depression by raising my endorphins on a regular basis. Last week I started taking a boot camp fitness class at my Y two mornings a week.
The first two days were tough. I was sore for days. The second day we did a lot of running/jogging, which I thought would kill me. But in the last sprint of the morning, jogging back to the main building of the Y, I felt like I did when I was a kid. It was a joy to move! I was completely in tune with my body. I wasn’t self-conscious about how I looked running. I just loved how it felt to run. Feeling this way, in spite of the predicted muscle soreness, I couldn’t wait to go back this morning.
Let me say that our boot camp instructor is great. She’s encouraging. She doesn’t demean. She tells us that we’re all at different fitness levels and not to compare ourselves to anyone else in the class. But she also likes to shake things up and try different things every day. It’s a strategy that keeps us on our toes and keeps our muscles responding and working hard. Today she decided to put us in teams. Each team would do one exercise, and each member would race to the center of the gym, do another exercise, race back, then the next member of the team could take his or her turn. It was meant as a friendly competition. The only prize earned was the team that came in first each time got to run two less sprints than the team that came in second. Everybody jumped right in eagerly. Except me. I felt tears begin to well up in my eyes. Suddenly I was back in PE. I was the slowest one. I couldn’t do the exercises as well as everybody else. The only sprinting I wanted to do was to my car and home.
I stuck with it, but I was miserable. It’s hard to explain why. No one mocked me. My teammates were encouraging, but I realized that this morning’s work out unleashed demons I thought were long gone. Sadly they’ve been battering me ever since. Their voices tell me that I’m not enough; not good enough, not strong enough, not capable enough. They try to make me believe that my self-esteem should be intricately connected with my physical self – my looks, my weight, my coordination or lack thereof. Who knew that my desire to exercise would also bring about a need to exorcise?
But exorcise I will. I will find a way to silence their voices, root them out of my psyche and send them packing. Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” If this has truth to it, and I think it does, then I am stronger than my demons. I still can’t do a good pull up, but my will is stronger than ever. I am more than just the sum of my physical attributes. The demons won’t win.
By the way, I’m going back to boot camp on Thursday.