Monday, September 7, 2009

Quizzical Fitness

Arnold Schwarzenegger came on the scene about the same time that I started 7th grade. With his support,The President's Council on Physical Fitness mandated a new program in schools, which had the requisite Physical Fitness Test. It was something that you could fail, but would never result in your being flunked out of PE.

Every day we dressed down for PE, wearing our uniform shorts and shirts and changing into sneakers from our saddle shoes and Oxfords. From what I remember, the Test was a battery of events we had to complete, and it consisted of what seemed like days of different events: The 50-yard dash, the 1000-yard (or some distance) run/walk, the long jump, and timed push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. There was a chart showing how many of what you should be able to complete for your age and size, which made it very clear to all who was failing and who wasn't.

I knew that I would fail the test. I didn't have what it took to meet any of the benchmarks, and I told myself that I didn't care to. I liked the long jump, which we did on the sidewalk outside the art building, because I was more successful at that than I was at any of the other events. I don't remember even trying to run the run/walk, which at my school was six revolutions around the lower playground. I knew I would never come close to the speeds of any of the bullies, so with a "screw you" attitude, I started out walking and kept walking. I had the slowest time of anyone in the class, of course.

At the time, I hated the PE teacher. This may have been simply because she was the PE teacher, and in retrospect I'm sure she was frustrated by my attitude. But she allowed team captains to pick their teams, allowed girls to say nasty things to other girls at bat or when serving, and allowed the playing of Dodgeball. These are all things that the Famous Irishman, an elementary school PE teacher, has told me he doesn't allow in his classes, and that these days are generally frowned upon among PE teachers he knows.

Years later when I signed up at the gym after the car wreck, I felt pretty intimidated by all the people there. I knew it was something I wanted to do, in fact, felt like I needed to do, if I was going to have the strength to dance at the level I wanted to dance. For the first four years at the gym I never spoke to anyone who wasn't staff, other than to ask if someone was done with a particular piece of equipment. I kept my eyes to myself, never looking directly at anyone else working out. I figured if I didn't watch anyone, no one would watch me - which is to say no one would judge me, my shape, or the weights I was lifting or pushing.

The Famous Irishman has said that bad memories of PE classes can turn people off to physical activity for the rest of their lives. I approached each workout, particularly those I did on my own and not with the trainer, with that ostrich attitude because I had body memory of those awful middle school PE classes. On the other hand, though I am still slow and would still fail the Phsyical Fitness Test as it was administered in middle school, sometimes I smile at how far I've come.

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