I thought I was pretty sporty until Field Day in first grade. I signed up to kick a ball the farthest, and when it came to my turn, it was the closest. I was a bit humiliated and just remember not enjoying the lack of glory and the crowd of raucous, athletic elementary schoolers.
I could dodge the dodge ball with no problem, but I’d find myself the last person on the team and got pelted pretty fast. I chickened out on the monkey bars in fourth grade and some big mean girl pushed me to hurry me along and I fell to the ground and got the wind knocked out of me. In open gym, my gym teacher showed me some rare attention, reserved for the sporty, sweaty kids. She carried me on her shoulders to a peg board on the wall and I couldn’t lift myself to the next hole. She gave up. Everybody gave up on me and I became more and more meek about trying new sports and I sat out games or tried to avoid my turn.
In high school, during roll call when we had swim class I told my poor male gym teacher I had my period. Again? He asked, in disbelief. “Again.” I said. I gossiped while I went through the motions of rotating in volleyball. At the urging of the cheerleading advisor (I think she admired my pep), I tried out for cheerleading and made it, despite not knowing how to do a cartwheel. I hid this fact throughout practice for our new routine and when it came time to watch her handiwork, our team captain Brandi watched our performance during a time out at an away basketball game. I remember the look of horror when it came time for the cartwheels and I sort of thrust my body from one area of the floor to the other. (I did continue to make the squad the next few years- I could yell loud and had a lot of pep).
When I pledged my sorority our pledge class had to run to the sorority house from our dorms. I would wheeze and stop and at one point (or two or three) my pledge class pushed me in a shopping cart. True story.
After college I tried aerobics but couldn’t really do the grapevine. I was lazy on the elliptical. I tried getting workout buddies but I would convince them to abandon the gym and get burgers and beers instead. I was very persuasive.
When I met my husband, who is very athletic and liked to run, I somehow started running with him around the Back Bay of Boston. My face would get very red and I would feel like I was going to die, but he was very encouraging.
In my 30s, I tried personal trainers but could chat up the trainer so they would forget what count we were at. I did some yoga, which I liked, but would often skip class at night because I would rather read, watch TV or drink wine.
Right before I hit 40, I saw a nutritionist who started to freak me out about heart disease, which runs in my family. My 40-ish female doctor brought up exercise part of my yearly physical. I knew it had to become a habit.
I started walking in the mornings with some of my neighbors and friends, and realized that walking while talking was good. Even though one of my friends said I walked with a limp, I knew that I could walk. And I was more of a morning person than I realized. Then I started taking a yoga class at a beautiful, hidden sanctuary in my town. The Scottish yoga instructor always seems to have to give me pointers, but it doesn’t sound abrasive with her calm demeanor.
On Thanksgiving, I did something I always thought I’d like: a Boot Camp class. Proceeds from the class were going to charity, and that might have been part of my motivation. The class was hard, but fun. I signed up for a series. The magic formula for me seems to be exercising in the morning, setting a routine and being outside as much as I can. The community in all of my classes and in my neighborhood walks helps, too.
Now that I am feeling braver, stronger and more confident, I think I am ready to tackle something that I’ve been wanting to do but embarrassed to try: advanced swimming lessons. I can save myself but don’t have a great technique or stamina. The smell of chlorine at the YMCA gives me flashbacks to when I belly flopped during summer camp instead of swan diving, but I have kids that might need saving some day.
I know my mind doesn’t always communicate with my body and I may never do an Ironman, but I may sign up for a 5K. So what if I have to walk some of it?