day 2: gym class hero.

29 08 2012

i ran 3 miles today without stopping.

and (other than a semi-successful vegan mac & cheese cook off that i may talk about at a later date), it was pretty much the highlight of the day.

i understand that most people can run further (certainly faster) than 3 crappy, labored, sweat drenched miles clutching my inhaler for dear life. but, for me, it’s kind of a big deal.

growing up, i was that quintessential skinny armed asthmatic type who was always botching the “presidential physical fitness exam” and getting that muffled groan of disappointment when i was assigned to someone’s team in gym class. in fact, i was the only 6th grade girl who was cut from the softball team. bizarrely, they would kindly allow me be the “manager”, and required me to keep score for a game which  I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO PLAY.  R-B-I-don’t fucking know. actually, i still don’t.

so yeah, my lack of physical strength and coordination were actually slightly less of a problem than the fact that i had no idea how to play any sport ever. i was always traveling with the basketball or grabbing the soccer ball with my hands. i didn’t know (still don’t).  and moreover, i didn’t care. and the only times i would ever rue the fact that i had decided never to learn the rudimentary rules of floor hockey were in those moments when i was standing in the middle of the gym, paralyzed with fear, having every single person in the room screaming at me to do the thing that everyone else already knew how to do. 

and there was my gym teacher, sitting smugly on her folding chair, whistle in hand, letting them berate me for not knowing how to do the thing she had bothered not to teach me. she would just yell “good hustle” to the other kids from the sidelines and completely blank out the fact that i was being mercilessly harassed. i remember her cornering me in the locker room after class one day to talk about my “bad attitude”and screaming “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE!!!” right into her face.

i was an overdramatic and oversensitive kid for sure, but in this particular instance, i was right. she didn’t know what it was like. she apparently was born preprogrammed with all of the rules for all of the sports that ever existed- just like every single other person in my tiny catholic school class. i mean, for fuck’s sake, she went to college to be a gym teacher.

in her deep and abiding love for physical fitness, she neglected to realize that those of us with poor upper body strength (muppet arms) and questionably functional lungs might not share her passion for flag football. and that our parents, who watched us wrinkle our noses and sigh with boredom whenever the red sox were on tv, bought us microscopes and paintbrushes instead of baseball gloves, because they knew that forcing us to be sporty would have had even more grave repercussions than making us get braces  in 8th grade or share a room with our sister.

she couldn’t imagine a person who didn’t know about or care about sports. so every time i covered my head and ran away from an oncoming volleyball, she was filled with as much frustration and agitation as all of my peers. their shouting and insults seemed fair to her. she was so far out in sporty space that she couldn’t see the damage she was doing.

and, i was damaged. i had fucking physical education PTSD! i got a 72 in gym sophomore year (a “pity pass”, i’m sure) because i repeatedly refused to play kickball (traumatic 5th grade incident). i almost didn’t graduate because i was a quarter short of phys-ed credits (i demonstrated my skill in the sport of hysterical sobbing to get my way out of that one).

evil gym teacher had mocked and neglected me, booted me out into adolescence thinking that i was a physical failure, that i was incapable. and i spent the next 10 years believing her, and avoiding athletics completely.

around 2005 (who even knows why), i decided that i was going to run.

it was a mess. i was panting and sweating and dry heaving. i could make it about 1/4 of a mile before i had to walk. i never had successfully completed “the mile” in gym. 10 laps around the cafeteria gave me side stitches and panic attacks. i would limp in, last place, just after the girl who weighed 300 lbs. in 6th grade. but at 28, i had a new determination.

i didn’t entirely realize where this determination had come from until the day that i successfully ran my first mile without stopping (there may have been involuntary fist pumping). in that moment of victory, i only wanted to see one person- EVIL GYM TEACHER. i wanted to shake my victory fists and her and say “*BAM*, i’m not such a loser after all! i CAN be sporty! (bitch)”.

so yeah, running 1 mile or 3 miles isn’t so fancy for most people, but accomplishing that small thing reminded me that i’m not useless. and that i can be as athletic as i’m willing to try to be.

so, a note to gym teachers current and future: there is a handful of us in every single class.  we’re not lazy. we’re not bad “team players”. we’re fucking terrified. we don’t always have control over our limbs, and we don’t always know the rules of the games that you take for granted. but, if you have the patience required to show us how it’s done, we CAN learn. and if you have the kindness to stand up for us while we’re being publicly shamed for sucking at sports, we might actually WANT to learn.

i don’t exactly hate evil gym teacher anymore (although i did for a long time).  mostly, i’m sad. i’m sad about all the kids i know she bulldozed over the years in order to get to the ones with the real “potential”. and, i’m sad about those 22 years i lost thinking i couldn’t do it.

but regret is a mostly useless emotion, and today (even though i haven’t really run in almost 3 years), i still made it 3 miles without stopping. maybe tomorrow, i’ll do 4. it may have taken me two decades, but i’ve finally found my own hustle.

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14 responses

29 08 2012
Lynn

Oh, that was me too! I actually tried once to break my own leg to get out of gym class. When that didn’t work, I had to use chronic sinusitis as a way to escape. I still have nightmares about the rope climbing tests in elementary school… Discovering dance and yoga in late 20’s had the same effect as running did for you. Love this post.

31 08 2012
bessmarvin

omg! i tried smashing my wrist with an encyclopedia britannica so that i could get out of volleyball! i feel so close to you right now.

31 08 2012
Lynn

Haha! I love it that you used an encyclopedia. I just put on my socks and ran really fast on the wood floors in my room, and tried to crash into my walls.

7 10 2012
bessmarvin

see, that’s MORE genius because it just looks like you’re screwing around doing kid stuff. i can’t even imagine what my mom would have done if she’d walked in on my trying to smash my wrist with an encyclopedia.

29 08 2012
shelly

UGH! I hated kickball! A group of concerned parents ended up writing in to my 7th grade gym teacher b/c the boys were pegging (tagging out, basically) the girls too hard and leaving welts on our legs, arms and backs where they just hurled the ball as hard as they could at us. Jerks.
However, despite being supremely uncoordinated (and asthmatic) I ended up really loving cross country and tennis in high school. I always won awards like most dedicated and most improved-haha. During college and my early 20’s I abandoned exercise until my metabolism caught up with me, but I’ve been a pretty avid runner and fitness enthusiast since. Since I moved to Portland last summer, I’ve been really into yoga for the first time in my life.
I’ll always be uncoordinated and of average speed, but I am really good at facing physical challenges with a good attitude. So if you see someone fall the heck over in yoga with a big smile on their face, it’s probably me. 🙂

31 08 2012
bessmarvin

see, i wish i had the balls to try cross country or something while i was still young. picking things up later is so much harder! although i did get into yoga, pilates, and dance in the last few years, which has been fun. where do you do yoga in town? my teacher moved to africa, and i haven’t gone in ages.

29 08 2012
Lynn

Oh, and I had the asthma, too. Perhaps all of us wheezers should’ve just been put in a separate class…

29 08 2012
gennyferhanvey

I love you.

31 08 2012
bessmarvin

i love you too 😀 has gym changed at all for your kids? or is it just as destructive and alienating as it ever was?

29 08 2012
Elisa

My uncle married my high school gym teacher when I was 19 years old. Amy had her as a gym teacher while they were engaged. Bitch is all dancey and athletic anyways, like she needed the boost… 😉

31 08 2012
bessmarvin

dear lord that would have been my worst nightmare- a gym teacher in the family!!! although i can’t imagine it would have helped me at all. i was pretty freakin’ useless.[shakes fist] (damn you amy with your being good at stuff!)

30 08 2012
Blackgirlinmaine

You have no idea how much I live this piece. I may have been the only kid in my rather large HS in Chicago, who failed gym even when I showed up. Needless to say, I hated gym and frankly most forms of physical activity, I still can’t run unless it involves a bus, train or scary man on my heels.

I think gym teachers everywhere should be forced to read this.

31 08 2012
bessmarvin

thanks! it’s so funny how many people have said the same thing. we all suffered alone as if we were the only ones! i really do think that they should have a gym class for kids who struggle with sports. a nice, slow paced class where they teach you the most basic of basic rules, and allow you to play in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. athletics can be so good for kids, but the systems as it is set up is so alienating!

4 11 2012
Bobbi

I totally aced the sit with your legs out and reach as far as you can section of that physical fitness test and had a grade school record that hung up on the wall until long after I graduated. I have no idea how it occurred, but most likely because of my lack of fitness in every other area. I don’t even think I could do a pull up, so the fitness gods obviously had to grace with me with something, unfortunately what I view as the most useless skill.

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