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101. Reclaiming my Physical Education

There was an ominous thick knotted rope that hung from the gym rafters in elementary school. With fear and trepidation, I stood in a line of fellow 5th graders and waited for my turn to climb. I was the roundest of my classmates. At the yearly public weigh-in, I winced as the scale lever clunked over to “100” and my PE teacher loudly declared that I was the first to enter the category. Fellow classmates giggled, I stood still and tried to exhale my way back into the 90’s.

When my name was called for the rope climb, my lack of confidence swirled with the mumbled slights of my peers and I approached the smelly rope with little hope. The PE teacher directed me to climb. I barely tried. She told me that if I wasn’t going to climb that I should hang there for a minute. For 60 seconds, the round girl clung to that first knot. My face was hot and red. It was a public shaming and for decades it cemented the notion that my body, my muscles, my mind could not accomplish physical feats. I was not athletic. I was weak.

PE class was my daily nightmare. The setting of many brutal, painful and formidable childhood moments. Years later, the memories can still dampen my cheeks. Had the school district issued “Fatty Letters,” my parents would have received one…every single year after the age of nine.

Fast forward thirty years to this past Saturday…the morning of my first 10k. At the starting line, I moved anxiously towards the back. My legs were itching to move after two days of rest. The excitement amidst us runners was palpable. Toned and muscular athletes jumped and sprinted in place to prepare for launch. The horn sounded. The throng moved and quickly lengthened into a long string of sprinters, runners, joggers and trotters. I was in the latter category. One solid foot at a time. Slow and steady. Non-stop.

A hundred of us were soon toward the back of the pack. Some of us visibly overweight, some in their golden years, some walking a minute and jogging a minute (causing us to pass each other 50+ times throughout the course). Many chatted loudly with their friends about health issues, spouses and children. I ran alone, silent…with “ninja” footfalls…into the foggy sunrise amidst tanks and helicopters.

My mind returned to my first fitcamp class with Emily. It was dark and foggy that morning, too. I showed up in the park with a bundle of nerves. The warm-up was a jog around the park. I hadn’t run in decades. I huffed and puffed. My face was hot and red. But I heard Emily’s voice telling me to run with “ninja footsteps.” I could hear that she believed I could run that mile…and I did.

After an hour of running on Saturday, we were four miles into the race. A woman, who had been near me since the start was enjoying the walk/run combo, suddenly turned to me and said, “You are so consistent. I can’t run non-stop so long. You just never stop.” It took me a few minutes to process her words. It didn’t seem possible that the idea of consistency and exercise were being ascribed to me.

If I stop, I’ll never start up again,” I replied.

Consistency is such a beautiful word when it comes to striving towards a healthy life. The compliment thrilled me and my stride elongated for that final mile.

1 hour and 22 minutes after my time-chipped sneaker crossed the starting line, I finished the race in 696th place. Steady, light, slow steps the entire way. Daniel had long-since finished, stretched and stopped perspiring.

As I put my sneaker up on a chair to have my time-chip removed (mistakenly, wearing Daniel’s), a shiny silver medal was hung around my neck by a sullen teenage volunteer. People on either side of the rails cheered, music blared and my shaky hands fished a water bottle from a giant blue tub of ice.

First 10k Couple Photo

Daniel and I near the starting line of our first 10k

I had done it. I had trained for 8 weeks to build up to this one spectacular foggy morning. This picture posted on Facebook garnered more likes than when I gave birth to either of my daughters.

In the end, my body can only become what I allow myself to envision. That is still a blurry work in progress. But next on the horizon is another 10k, that’s for certain…and maybe more. Flirtations of half-marathons and mini (itty-bitty-teensy) triathlons are also on the table.

Later that night, I thought again of what the woman at the back of the pack had said to me around mile four and how I had responded. Perhaps it is time to simply say “thank you” when given an exercise-related compliment.

Perhaps it is time to invite that little girl in gym class to celebrate. She’s the one that most needs to see and believe that I can take our body and mind to accomplish an athletic goal. Together we will reclaim physical education…one consistent step at a time.