Every now and then when I visit my parents I like to dig through my old report cards. It’s kind of interesting, looking back and seeing my academic progress through the years. I definitely had my ups and downs, good years and bad, which makes me astonishingly average.
What struck me most, though, was the one I found from the first grade. I got pretty good marks all around (S’s, mostly; S for "Satisfactory"), except for PE (where I got "NS", for "Non Satisfactory"). The comment after my PE score was, "Skips awkwardly".
This has always struck me as bizarre and kind of funny, not to mention a portent of my later years. My scores in PE were never good. In middle school and junior high, I was the clumsy, kind of chubby kid that everyone else, including the coach, made fun of (though I think that these days a coach who makes fun of a kid like me would be summarily dismissed for impugning the kid’s self esteem). I could never do a single pull-up. Push-ups defeated me. I ran gracelessly, arms flailing and feet flapping. I was the kid who was picked last, and even then the team captains often expressed a wish to just have one less player than the other team. And I never skipped with any degree of grace. By the time I reached high school I had mastered the art of using my asthma as an excuse to get out of PE altogether, and by my senior year I was the guy who ran errands for the PE teacher and made mix tapes for the dance sessions. And even as an adult, I still have pretty low upper body strength for a man.
Not that I never tried. I went for the track team once. I ran a few yards, and the coach, demonstrating more sensitivity than my coaches in middle school and junior high, kindly took me aside and suggested that perhaps instead of running with the team I could just do some running on my own on the sidelines during all the events. I thought about this and said that I thought I’d prefer running on my own time and trying for track the next year. The look of relief on the coach’s face was brief before he caught it, but nonetheless noticeable.
I also went out for flag football in the 7th grade. The sniggers, both from the other kids and from the coach, were audible.
I’ve been thinking about all this because I’ve been trying to get at why it is I’m so resistant to exercise. I dislike exercise, especially if I know there’s the slightest chance that someone will see me. I have had gym memberships, but the ones I was most successful at were the ones where I was one of the youngest and even slimmest members. I tried (insert name of large national workout chain here) for awhile, but it was filled with frat jocks wearing really expensive workout clothes and young women working out in full makeup and heels. I’m just not meat-market material.
As an adult, I know that the social dynamics have changed. I know that people are more apt to admire a big guy like me who’s working out and making an effort to get into shape than to laugh at them. Still, though, my fear of being laughed at is pretty intimidating. But, having written through these issues, maybe I’ll be more likely to get back on my bike.
But I will probably never be convinced to run in public. Or skip.