As I get ready for my run, I quickly scroll through my Instagram feed. I see a few young women posing at the gym, decked out in their trendiest workout gear, hip cocked to the side and flexing their left bicep.
“Everyone seems so into physical fitness these days,” I mutter to myself.
“But I think I’ve come a long way.”
I crank up my music, do a few stretches and off I go.
In this series, I’ll be reflecting on my physical fitness journey over the years. Today, I’m someone who advocates for healthy living, which to me means eating a balanced diet and regular exercise. I love running, Zumba and hiking.
However, I’m not someone you’d call naturally athletic. In fact, my physical fitness journey was marked by three separate childhood and teen experiences which left me feeling completely embarrassed and humiliated.
It all started with the 800m dash.
Physical Fitness Humiliating Event #1
At the tender age 10, I became the record holder in the 800m dash.
The record being, coming in last at the track and field event in my school district.
I still remember the feeling of humiliation of getting lapped during a race that only consists of 2 laps around the track.
Even better, my school’s entire track team watched the race.
After the race, I went back into the stands with my head down and my cheeks a brilliant shade of crimson.
I avoided the awkward stares and whispers. Not a single soul came up to me on the bleachers. I think people were too embarrassed to even say, “Good job, Stephanie”.
Physical Fitness Humiliating Event #2
In my grade 8 gym class, the teacher announced that we would be playing volleyball. My fellow students cheered. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it but I knew that I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a ball flying at high speeds towards me.
We started off the class by doing some drills on our own. Since I was partnered with my friend, we were going easy on each other just volleying the ball back and forth. Totally manageable.
After about 15 minutes, the teacher explained the rules of the game and split us into teams.
All of a sudden, I started to fear for my life. People were spiking and diving for the ball, screaming “MINE” all the time. The chaos made the court feel like it had turned into a war zone.
“Not mine!” I wanted to shout.
Any time the ball came spiraling towards me, I immediately covered my face. I made no attempt to hit it back.
Let’s just say, my team members were less than pleased.
Physical Fitness Humiliating Event #3
In grade 9 I naively went to the cross-country tryouts.
Sure, the 800m dash was a bust but maybe long distances are my thing, I thought. I mean, the expression slow and steady wins the race is popular for a reason.
The other students at tryouts all talked about the long runs they had done that summer and the different training techniques they had used. Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that I should have trained for this tryout.
The coach outlined the course. 5km through the park and then back to the school. Sounded manageable.
But right off the bat, everyone at the tryouts started running at what felt like ‘Donovan Bailey speeds’. I didn’t want to fall behind so I tried my best to keep up. About 1 km into the 5km course, I knew I would soon have to slow down.
My chest was tightening, I started to feel that piercing knife pain on my side and the nausea was overpowering me.
I looked around. “Maybe everyone else feels like we started too fast and we can all collectively agree to slow down.” I thought.
Nope, everyone seemed at ease. Some runners were even having conversations!
“I just need to focus on breathing!”
Then, Things Took A Turn
It got to a point where I lost track of the pack. They got further and further ahead of me.
Suddenly, they were but a tiny dot on the horizon.
I tried to motivate myself to keep jogging, but my lungs felt like they were about to burst so I had to slow down and start walking it.
Tears started streaming down my face. I cursed myself for coming to this tryout. Didn’t I know by now that exercise was not for me?
By the time I got back to the school, most people had already left to go home and those that were still there were already fully changed out of their workout clothes.
The coach looked at me quizzically and checked his watch.
He seemed surprised that not everyone had returned from the course, and asked my name so he could write my time in his notebook.
After that tryout, I vowed to myself that I would never put myself through this pain and embarrassment again. The public humiliation I had to endure 3 times was enough to write off exercise for good.
And so, my physical fitness journey was put on pause from grade 9 (age 14) until the end of my Master’s program (age 25). Yes, eleven years.
You might be wondering what happened at age 25 that got me out of “retirement” and turned my lifestyle around. How is it that today I’m able to go on runs and even label myself as a “physically active” person when I once was so adamant about abandoning exercise completely?
Stayed tuned for next week’s post to find out!