When I was in high school, I was the kid that never passed the Presidential Fitness Test. I could never run that damn mile. I would start off strongly. Feeling good about myself. Imagining the wind blowing through my hair. Then about half way through the first quarter-mile lap, my legs would start burning, I’d start wheezing, and I would slow down quickly, eventually arriving at a walk and remaining there until the end. Running, and any other exercise, just wasn’t for me, and I had the extra poundage to show for it.
My self-esteem was extremely lacking for various reasons, and I really, truly believed that I wasn’t physically capable of doing anything athletic. So, I cowered on the sidelines during P.E., and I occasionally skipped the class — something I would never dream of doing for an academic subject.
In the 11th grade, I was short 1/2 a credit of P.E. Not 100% sure how that happened, but I ended up having to take a semester of P.E. in my junior year. By then people are usually done with the physical part of their education, so the only people in my class were jocks. And by jocks, I mean the entire football team. I remember the first class. I have never been more afraid of anything in my life. Here were people I spent my whole life avoiding, because I just knew my nerdy, fat self would be the target of swirlies, noogies, and many other things I hoped to do without. And I was stuck in a small room with them for an hour a day, five days a week.
Well, the universe was looking out for me, it seems. I can’t even remember my teacher’s name over 20 years later, but I will always remember him as a saint. We spent the entire semester in the weight room lifting weights. The room looked like what I would imagine a Gold’s Gym on Venice Beach would look like — intimidating, overwhelming, scary. I wanted to hide, but my teacher saw something in me. He encouraged me. He taught me how to use all the machines. He showed me that I was actually very strong. He piled on the weights, and even though I was still a fatty, by the end of the semester I could actually lift as much weight as some of the guys.
And here I am today, a weight-lifting fanatic.
Not really. But this teacher did have a big impact on my life. He planted the seeds of something in me. Somewhere deep inside the murky mess of my consciousness was a small belief that maybe I was capable of something more.
Fast forward years later. I am 30. I have long since lost the extra weight, but I am still carrying the emotional weight of thinking myself incapable. That is when I discover the Couch to 5K program. The idea is that if you can walk, you can learn to run a 5k race. Gradually, every day, you swap out a few seconds of running for your walking until you are actually running more than you walk. I was doubtful, but 3 months later there I was at the starting line of a race.
I finished that race, but in a sense I didn’t cross the finish line. In my mind I was still someone who couldn’t pass the Presidential Fitness Test. I kept running though. In fact, I kept running for so long that 3 years later I had added enough running to my walking to complete 2 full marathons and 2 half marathons with a smattering of 10-milers and 10ks thrown in there. And, wouldn’t you know it, I still didn’t believe in myself. Deep inside I knew that physical goals really are mind over matter (completing a marathon really is a mental exercise), but I was still a loser. So what gives?
I don’t know. But, I will say that something changed last night. I am fat once again, but this time I have a beautiful baby to show for it. For the past 8 months I’ve been working out nearly every day and cutting calories to lose the baby weight, and I’m slowly getting there. I’ve mostly avoided running though. I mean, I’ve gone for two runs with Azita in the jog stroller, but it wasn’t until last night that something clicked.
The crisp, autumn air had a whiff of winter in it. I saw my first red-tinged tree of the season. Azita was bundled in the stroller and actually enjoying it. As I started running, my legs started to feel lighter and lighter. I didn’t want to stop. I felt like I could run forever and never get tired. Azita, Roger and me all out for a run. It was a happy moment, and I have never felt so content. I still have a good 20 pounds of baby weight to burn off, but I’m sitting here the next day feeling as light as a cloud, daydreaming of my next run.
It took a few decades, but it seems that I have finally crossed that finish line.