Lately I’ve been reminded of the reasons I hated gym class in high school:
• The challenge of learning games that everyone else seemed to already know
• The awkwardness of being physically awkward
• Comparing my uncoordinated self to girls who were athletic enough to do things like serve a volleyball over the net rather than into it
• Most of all, being intimidated by Miss A., whose teaching style was impatient and who indelibly taught us to associate running laps with punishment.
What’s bringing back those unhappy memories is the fact that I’ve recently joined a gym. It’s not because I’m dreadfully out of shape or unfamiliar with working out. I’ve been exercising quite comfortably at a women’s fitness center for several years, and I even have real muscles to show for it. But that place moved to a less convenient location, and instead of moving with it I switched to a different center much closer to my house.
This one is—gulp—a real gym. It has unfamiliar and intimidating machines with enough settings to make me wish for instruction manuals. It has racks of weights, some of which are heavier than I am. It has guys working out there, some of whom have more than enough muscle to lift those weights.
The first few times, just walking into the place felt almost as uncomfortable as trotting reluctantly into the high school gym in my ugly uniform. The difference is that now I appreciate the challenge—well, sort of. I know I can learn the routine and the machines, because I’m choosing to. I’m sure it won’t be long till I feel right at home.
Especially because the gym manager is a middle-aged woman who, while she is fit and toned and looks great in Spandex, is also friendly, supportive, and more than willing to answer questions. The young muscle builders are casually friendly and so focused on their own workouts that they don’t really care what anyone else is doing. And there are plenty of members, both men and women, who are long past comparing their physical prowess to anyone else’s and just want to stay in some sort of reasonable shape. Pretty much like me, in fact.
But the other day, as I finished my workout, I did start to wonder what Miss A. would think if she saw me now. Back then, I had the impression that she didn’t like me—which, given my level of non-enthusiasm for her field, was hardly surprising. My sole experience of detention was from her, a punishment for saying I lost track of how many sit-ups I had done because I was too embarrassed to admit how few I had managed to do. Possibly, had she been a bit more encouraging and a bit less sarcastic toward those of us who were athletically challenged, I might have felt safe enough to tell her the truth.
Sorry, Miss A., but in some ways I am still a physical education failure. After all, I never have learned the rules of softball or basketball, and I’m still pretty vague about volleyball. All through adulthood, I’ve never played the first two and very rarely participated in the third. Nor have I ever tried to do gymnastic moves on a balance beam or attempted a flip on a trampoline. I’ve never run laps, either—they are as unappealing to me now as they were in high school.
On the other hand, I do walk two to four miles almost every day and work out four times a week. I only weigh five or seven (okay, okay, maybe ten) pounds more than I did in high school. I can jitterbug, waltz, and foxtrot for an entire evening, with the occasional polka thrown in for a little extra cardio workout. I can easily hike up and down small mountains. (Harney Peak, anyone? The view from the top is wonderful.) And perhaps most important, I am able to comfortably lift toddler grandchildren and carry them for moderate distances. I do, however, draw the line at combining grandkid-toting and mountains.
I don’t know what you’d think of all that, Miss A. Even better, I don’t care.