Recently I decided that I needed to start exercising, for my health mainly, but also to avoid looking more and more like Olive Oyl, so I joined a health club. I’ve never liked going to a gym. To me, it’s like being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and you’re pretty sure you don’t like the food. Probably the way a lot of kids feel in classrooms when they can’t seem to do anything right.
It all started in seventh grade gym class. We were divided into groups with eighth grade girls for group leaders. Beverly was my group leader and every day she made my life a living hell. Every six weeks we rotated to a different activity that further convinced me that I had no athletic ability whatsoever. The fact that I lived through the gymnastics rotation was a miracle. Volleyball was awful, but basketball was worse. Girls played half court in those days and I was nearly lynched the day I forgot and crossed the mid-court line and made a basket for the other team. But the worst six weeks of all was when we checked our fitness levels.
They tested us to see how fit we were at the first of the six weeks, and then we were tested at the end to see how much we’d improved. They checked things like how far and fast we could run, how many sit-ups and push-ups we could do, and of course we all had to learn to do a handstand. Why standing on your head was important to learn, I don’t know. It was a horrible experience. Let’s just be honest here – if coordination came in a can, I’d need a case. I have to concentrate to do jumping jacks.
Every day it was the same public humiliation. Beverly would yell across the gym, “Hey y’all, come over here! Come look at this girl, she cain’t do nothin’! Girl, you so stupid, you cain’t even do one sit-up. Gyyaaaah, whas wrong wischu, you cain’t do nothin’!”
After her announcement, all of Beverly’s friends would saunter over and watch while I tried unsuccessfully to do a sit-up. Or attempted to stand on my head. I learned very quickly to make a joke out of it, to pretend I was just being lazy or obstinate, when the truth was I really couldn’t do half the stuff everybody else could do. By the end of the six weeks, though, I could actually do some sit-ups, instead of just lying there like a rock. Nobody seemed to care much, but at least they stopped laughing.
From then on I hated P.E. classes and anything associated with a gym. The sad thing is that it’s kept me from developing some habits that would really be good for me, essential to my health, in fact. Nobody in my family emphasized the importance of exercise, so it’s never been that important to me, and it’s hard to make something a habit when you didn’t grow up learning its value to your life. It’s even harder when all your experiences are so painful.
I had a few friends in that seventh grade P.E. class. But the only time I ever saw them was in that gym. They never got close enough to really help me overcome my feelings of not being good enough. Of never really fitting in.
Maybe that’s how some people feel about church.