In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 37.
This particular story is the one about the girl who hates sports and hates to sweat, the one where gyms smell like humiliation and playing fields smell like dread. This is about the mediocre swimmer, the same one who gets out of breath on even the slightest incline. The one who gave up running and gave up yoga and spent this last winter sunk in the couch, the bed, the couch, the bed.
The story became mine early on and I stuck with it. I’m sure this is true for a lot of us. When, for a few months or a few years, I was able to get that story off my skin, it was a daily peel and tear. The mental gymnastics involved in going for a run or getting to a vinyasa class never lessened. When I stopped those things, I felt suddenly and blissfully unburdened.
My physique fools people into thinking I’m stronger and more robust than I am. So this week when I hired my first personal trainer to show me how to use the machines at the crappy little community center gym, she was surprised at my requests to knock back the level on the elliptical and the amount of weight on the machines. She kept insisting that I could do a little more core work. The next day it hurt to breath and I had to lift my legs into the car with my hands.
As soon as I was done, I felt the same old story rising to the surface along with my sweat. There was no way I was going to be able to stick with this. And even though I went back a few days later and again this morning, each time my head hurt with all the kicking and screaming going on in there. I was just reading the jacket copy the way I always had: this is the story of a girl who hates sports and hates to sweat, the one where gyms smell like humiliation and playing fields smell like dread.
This morning, I dropped my bag in a corner and plugged in my earbuds. I slipped my sneakered feet onto the steps of the elliptical, much like the elliptical I sold to a friend last year after I got tired of it taunting me from the other side of my home office.
I’m so fucking tired of this story.
Last year, there was a feelgood article about an 80 year-old who got into bodybuilding at the age of 56 after a lifetime of never exercising. Sure, her body was amazing, but what I remember being impressed by was the fact that she tried it and stuck with it despite the lack of any history that told her she could.
So why not try out a different story? If I hated it, the whole thing would be over in an hour and I could go back to the couch, the bed, the couch.
I pushed my earbuds in a little deeper and found some workout music I didn’t know. I didn’t play the games I used to with the elliptical, glaring at the distance racking up, the timer counting down. I didn’t bother trying to track my heart rate or calories. I let my heart beat hard and my lungs ache and my skin grow sticky and wet. I observed the strange new sensation of using my arms and legs to lift tiny stacks of weights, the pull and burn of it.
And I asked, what does weight feel like inside my bones? What does strain feel like inside my tissue? I stayed inside my own architecture and forgot to ask why does this feel so awful and when can I go home?
I also watched the other people in the gym: the older woman on the treadmill in hiking boots clearly and expertly grooving to her own tunes. The trainer pulling out her phone to show her clients pics of her husband at the Twilight Parade. The man lifting himself out of his wheelchair and into the seat of the machine I’d just vacated.
And I asked, can I just be curious now and nothing else? Can I stay here long enough that the old story loses its allure?
And the answer is maybe. I stayed today and didn’t hate it. In a few days, when it’s time to go back, I’ll have to challenge myself. Instead of saying I don’t like it and I don’t wanna and you can’t make me because that’s the tune I know, I’ll try saying, I wonder… and just roll in that for a while.