Gym class was, for my entire high school career, an interruption to an otherwise normal day. These were days I’d have to break my routine, find a quiet corner in a locker room, and try to shut out the entire rest of the room while I tried to shut out my own body image issues. Of which there were several. The class itself was spent either outdoors or in the gym, largely waiting to be released. It occurs to me now, 10-15 years on, that I was left without a concept of physical fitness that would actually work.
Before we worry too much about bullying, I was generally left alone. I think I was seen as a warm and pleasant, albeit a little odd, kid who didn’t really fit in. I floated around my friend groups, and was ignored by those I wasn’t a part of. I was a very religious kid, and it was my way of escaping from the fact that I was unpopular: I didn’t need their approval, I had God’s. I mention this for context, I was talking more about the educational component.
In my late 20s, I started running (you can go to the beginning of these archives for thoughts on that). Until I got to that point, I didn’t think I could run, in fact I told people as much. My understanding of fitness was that it only really worked with days spent at the gym, and was probably too expensive and time-consuming for me. I’d never learned how to stay fit. I’d never really had fitness explained in a way that I could understand. My sister being sick was a catalyst for me doing something, but I was (still am) figuring a lot of it out from scratch.
In my elementary school days, I kind of enjoyed outdoor games: I recall playing kickball, tag, Scramball, foursquare, games along those lines. Then things changed when middle school began, as that’s when the locker room became part of the ritual. This is when gym stopped being fun, it’s when I started to feel self-conscious (everyone loves Puberty, right?), and it’s when the athletic kids really started to set themselves apart from the lazy ones (guess where I fell).
What I’ve learned since then is that it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take effort. I learned that I can run, but that I need to start small, with short intervals. I learned that it’s within me to exercise, and I have learned the value of it. I even have a vague sense of how calories work. These are all things, as I was running recently, I felt like I should have learned in high school.
Which means that when “Gym period” turned into “Physical education” I learned nothing. I think some of it was a language barrier: I was being taught in a language, metaphorically speaking, which the sports kids could understand but was foreign to me. The value of it was also entirely lost on me, as I was apparently expected to just understand its inherent value–in the same way most classes were presented, but with seemingly fewer practical applications.
I was trying to think of how my gym experience could have been improved, while still on the run, and I started to feel like a Couch to 5k program over 10 or so weeks, followed by some yoga classes would probably have had more benefit than my entire 3 year gym career. Rather than treating it as recruiting for sports teams, the teachers could have focused on how it was within all of us to get some movement and burn some of our energy.
I’m no expert, but I can judge my results 10+ years on…