Musings on Athleticism …

So my friend Laura, a room-mate in University several decades ago ( what?) , commented on yesterday’s post about my renowned athleticism (or lack thereof ) stretching back those many lifetimes ago at Laurier. Laura was a Golds Gym  member, an aerobics junkie and I used to be perplexed that she’d ride her bike to the gym and then exercise, before biking home and eating a salad and drinking a gallon of water. She’d drag me along on occasion to the Athletic Complex for step classes or aerobics. I’d sweat and twist and grind, mostly because David Bowie or Def Lepard blaring from the speakers inspired me and we always stopped for frozen yogurt or cookies on the way home. The cute football and basketball players in the weight room next to us helped entice me, but never the “joy” of actually exercising. She’s right about all of it but it made me consider the “why” part ?

As a kid I was always “chubby”, which was a kind of shitty way to call a kid fat, whilst’ smiling,in my now 1/2 a century old opinion. I swam like a fish, spent hours outside playing , rode horses, heck I was very active and we lived most of my childhood years in the country. Keep in mind there were only 13 channels and you had to spend half an hour waiting for the rotor to turn the antennae every time you wanted to change one. My older sister was stick thin, she exercised even less than me and my mother made her drink Stout as a teenager to keep weight on. It all seemed unfair and futile to me. When I was in Grade 5, my Grandmother Asmussen tricked me. She said she wanted to go on a diet and she desperately needed my help. She was a gorgeous, voluptous woman with great skin and an enormous ass. She said needed me to do it too, for motivation. So my Grandfather created a graph ( on graph paper with a ruler and a pen ) and charted our daily weights and caloric counts. We both got a little paper book that told us how many calories everything had in it. Our goal was to eat no more than 1200 calories a day. My metabolism must have been still inspired to do anything but sneer at me, laugh and roll over at that age, because at the end of June and in just three months, I lost 38 pounds. I think my grandmother gained 3 lbs.

Then the Principal called me to his office on the last day of school. I was terrified. I was a keener, a teachers pet and a suck-up really, with Straight A’s and perfect attendance. I cleaned chalk brushes and carried notes to the office and the only people almost as smart as me ( in my precocious view of myself ) were Jackie Fluit and Naomi Page. I wasn’t an athlete, I was smart, it was how I identified myself. How could I possibly be in trouble? Mr. Nesbitt, the Principal, was a man of stature and depth equally proportionate to each other as I recall. He had hair thinning on top but that was the only thin thing about him. He smiled as he ushered me in and I started to breathe again. He said, ” Sarah, I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you and how much weight you’ve lost. You look wonderful and I’m told you’re doing wonderfully as third base man this year. ( I had joined the baseball team for only one reason, so my Mother would let me wear pants to school, jeans in fact. That was a collasal fail because she bought me navy stretch pants with fake, exaggerated white stitching down the sides to mimic blue jeans… but I digress and that’s another thing to talk about in therapy, if I ever decide to go that route). As Mr. Nesbitt leaned toward me, eyes penetrating, lips pursed, eager for the secret to my success, I had an epiphany, even if I didn’t know what that word meant. “This man, this scary Principal man, was desperate and like, a human, who was sad because he was flawed ! He wanted me to help him because he was, sorry Mr.Nesbitt, kind of fat”. All I had for him was , ” uhmmm, I ate a lot of cottage cheese , thanks” and fled the room. I realized then that this whole body image thing could hound a person their whole life and it kind of sucked to know that.

By grade seven, I had gained back all that weight but I had boobs and hips and thank heavens the bootleg copy of ” Are you there God, it’s me Margaret ” to explain periods. I was actually feeling and looking pretty good, especially with my blue cream eyeshadow, Farah Fawcett flip hair  and sweet baby Jane blouses. My gym teacher, Mrs Wolf, was also my art teacher and while fit I guess, she was pretty laid back and more interested in art than physical education. My only favourite thing was gymnastics ( yes, I know, hard to believe). I could stand on my head or my hands for ages, I could do a round-off and I could lie on my back on the floor and then rise in a perfect arch. I would sneak into the gym and practice cartwheels on the balance beam, really, and dream about being as good as that Russian kid from the Olympics. Then I fell off one day and hurt my back, which in retrospect haunts me today. I found out recently I had a decades old fractured disc which plagues me now, who knew. I probably did that in Grade seven and it took my body years to say, ” ouch, really god-damned ouch “. Mrs. Wolf went on Maternity leave and was replaced by Mrs. Marks. Mrs. Marks was a marathoner I think, she was all sinew and steely demeanour and practically an xray in profile and obviously, athletic, gasp. The first time I saw her I thought, ” holy shit, I’m going to die now, this woman will kill me .” My friend Christie was already a runner and on the cross country team. I thought she was insane but forgave her anyway as long as she ‘kept me out of it! Mrs. Marks sent us all jogging several miles ( yes miles ) down the road from the school as her first act, to a place in the bush called the Buffalo Run. As we jogged I considered the name; “this is where people throw themselves off a cliff rather than keep running, hmmm …” After a few weeks of agony though I realized I must be getting good at this thing, because the boys were starting to run, actually with me and beside me . Jimmy, Phil, Pat and my crush, Greg and more. I was so proud, I thought “wow, I’ve got this, I might survive until Mrs. Wolfe comes back”, until… I realized the boys were jogging with me, not because I was so fleet of foot and they were having trouble keeping up, but because my boobs bounced as I hoofed it along. I heard them giggling about it one day about the same time Phil stole my brown paper bag lunch from my locker which was in fact, my maxi pads. I had a bra of ‘course but it wasn’t equipped for the damn Buffalo run and I was aghast and embarrassed at the ridiculousness of those stupid boys and wishing I was thin and bony and looked more like Sheena Easton than Sophia Loren ( body type wise, I wasn’t that conceited ). After that, I walked and hardly ever jogged.

In Grade nine I had the option of taking Phys.Ed, Art or Latin. Caecilius et Lucia is about all I remember. Gym was something I pushed far out of my mind.

I  have the renowned Asmussen ass to this day and weight has been a struggle, I guess, all of my life. I know about genetic predisposition now and believe it to be a true thing. I try to be healthy and luckily I am thus far, back issues exempt. I wish I had found that athletic motivator somewhere along the years but it eludes me still. I walk and hike a lot now that we’re in BC and I feel good about myself anyway. I applaud my friends and family who are fit and athletic. I don’t do diets and fads because I guess I’m at peace with things and my husband loves me, every inch. I don’t judge anybody because of their bodies and would hope they don’t judge me. I believe people are all flawed and beautiful and doing the best they can most days . Mostly I remind myself,we all have a story 🙂


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