I wasn’t always fat. As a kid I was normal, as a teen I was a bit chubby but not fat. It wasn’t until I was 17 and entering my Senior year of high-school that I packed on the pounds. It started with the death of my grandpa. It wasn’t expected and I was close to my grandparents. Such a close loss was hard to deal with. For the year that I was grieving I ate my feelings. Every emotion was stuffed deep into my subconscious with tons and tons of candy. A year and a half later I started taking depo-provera and that packed on another 40 pounds and that, my friends, was how I started getting closer and closer to 250 pounds.
But in Middle and High-school I was a normal sized teen. I was awkward. I had zits and braces and a horrible hairstyle. I went through a Goth phase and a butch phase (rebelling by shaving my head). It’s funny how as a teen I thought I was fat. I wasn’t!
One of the things that gave me crippling anxiety was GYM CLASS. I hated every single moment of it. I hated being clumsy and uncoordinated. I HATED organized sports with a passion. I hated changing in the locker room. I hated being picked last for every team. Everything about gym class seemed to be an exercise in TORTURE. It was one big popularity contest. With dodgeball.
And of course the gym teacher was always mean and would announce to the entire class whenever you were doing something wrong. Humiliation as a teaching tool? Check. Extremely difficult boot camp exercises like the rope climb? Check.
There was a clique of girls that tortured me. The ring leader was named Colleen. She was a b*tch. Pure evil in her heart. She’d tease me, call me names, call me “Thunder Thighs” or make fun of my last name. She’d scowl at me and then whisper to her minions.
I used every tactic I could to get out of gym class. Every excuse in the book. Eventually I was able to get my mom to ask my therapist to write a note to the school excusing me from gym class because of “mental distress.” I was allowed to substitute other classes for gym. It was like a huge weight off my shoulder. The abuse was over!
Was that route beneficial to me? Probably not. Psychologically it helped but seeing how I gained weight and lived an unhealthy lifestyle for 10 years tells me it wasn’t a good thing.
Last summer when I was running Hood to Coast I saw Colleen. It was like two worlds collided and I was unnerved by the whole thing. I moved from Seattle to Portland. I’ve never really run into anyone from my past in Portland. I don’t even really run into people when I go home to Seattle. It’s almost as if my high-school years never existed (fine with me!).
So imagine my surprise (and horror) when I was finishing my first Leg (12) of Hood to Coast, hearing my teammates cheering me on as I tagged Terry, and then coming to a stop at the exchange point to see Colleen the Bitch. I’m pretty sure she recognized me–or at least, thought she did. She stared at me for too long and too often for me not to think that.
I was disturbed by seeing her. I did not say anything. I wasn’t about to go up to her and fake friendliness. I pretended I didn’t know her and joined my teammates (can you tell that avoidance is my common coping mechanism?).
I am happy to report that while I was surprised to see someone from my past, I did NOT feel the same anxiety and inadequacy she invoked in me in school. I felt confident and I was high as a kite from running. I was happy, I thought about all the good things in my life and felt a smug superiority over her. I was running Hood to Coast man! And I had a photo shoot in a week for a magazine! And I was on the cover! Take that, Colleen!
Of course I didn’t say that. I kinda wanted to. But with Mean Girls there’s no reason to engage. Those types are probably really unhappy with themselves and afraid to admit it. I wondered afterward if she was still a snotty, mean person now in her 30’s.
Back to gym class…Someday when I have kids of my own, I hope that I can teach them at a young age to enjoy things like fitness and sports. The awkward pre-teen years are not something I can shield them from, so the horrors of gym class will probably continue for them. It’s a shame that something so beneficial has to be so awful for so many people. I wonder if America’s obesity problem would change if gym class changed?
As an adult, and a fitness-nut, I still cringe at the idea of organized sports. Nothing can bring me back to those awful feelings of anxiety like a group activity. It’s weird how as a really fit, athletic person I can still slink away to hide at the mention of organized sports! Isn’t it supposed to be fun?
QUESTION: What were your experiences with gym class? Were you tortured? Or were you a Mean Girl? How has that changed in adulthood?