Friday, February 10, 2006

The conversion of a vehement sports-hater. Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the gym

As a kid at school, I always hated sport. I was the one who hid in a changing room toilet cubicle with a book, hoping my absence wouldn't be noticed. School sports days usually saw me doing the bare minimum at the slowest possible speed and scowling every minute of it. The Phys.Ed classes we had twice a week until I was sixteen dammit were like hell on earth.

Part of it was no doubt a general rebellion against being told what to do with my body (the fact that a lot of high school involved being told what to do with my mind never really registered until later). But mostly it was because all we ever did was running.

Or at least that's how it seemed. Warm up jogs around the field. Sprint races up and down the track. Punishment laps around the school for those of us who were caught taking short-cuts on the cross-country route. Once or twice a month we would play team sports instead. And while they had the advantages of more slacking-off time (I always wanted our team to field first), I got to experience the added embarrassment of always being the last one picked for a team. Which maybe had as much to do with everyone knowing I was more likely to do handstands in a corner than to play to win as it did with me being the geeky loser with no friends. But it still sucked.

I never really even "got" the satisfaction of being on the winning team. What was the point? Where was the extra knowledge or ability gained from all that hard work? Where was the extra A on the report card? (Yes, even then I was a big geek).

Because of the limitations of our school Phys. Ed. system, I never learned the important thing about me and sport. Which is that I don't, in fact, hate sports. I don't particularly suck at them, even. What I hate is running. What I suck at is team sports.

A couple of years ago I began to wonder if the only problems I had with sport were due to traumatic high-school memories. So I vowed to try the whole fitness thing again: to do it properly, think positively and give it a chance. Unfortunately, I still hadn't realised that there were more options available than cricket, rugby or running. So I bought good shoes, learned good technique, and ran every second day for two months. At the end of those two months I still wanted to cry every time I even thought about running. That's when I realised it maybe isn't the sport for me. (I know, I'm slow like that.)

So I started to do some (internet) research. And found literally dozens of sports that I thought sounded like -- wait for it -- fun! But you know, there were two things they all had in common: they were solitary, unconventional sports.

I love lifting weights. Beating my own records gives me motivation and rewards like nothing else (especially since I was so weak to start with the I managed to triple my weights within the first six months). In martial arts, there's nothing I love better than beating the crap out of a punching bag, practising kicks in front of the mirror, and repeating the patterns until I get them perfect (but I hate sparring). Rock climbing gives me an adrenaline buzz like nothing else. And I could happily practise archery for hours on end, day after day after day, if only I had the time.

I like the thought of doing something not everyone else has tried. And I can always push myself that little bit further, if the only one watching to mock if I fail or cheer if I succeed is me.

(Plus, the best thing about weight-lifting is that even if you are tempted to compare yourself to other people there you come out looking good, since most of the women there aren't even trying -- because they don't want to get all big and muscley, or ruin their make-up, or something -- and the men, having a natural testosterone advantage, just don't count.)

The amazing thing is that since I've been exercising regularly (three weight-lifting sessions a week, one dance class, and one rock climbing or, previously, Tae Kwon Do session), I've actually started to see those benefits that "They" tell you you'll get from being fit. The ones I never believed in as a teenager.

I feel less stressed and have fewer mood swings.
My body went all shaped and symmetrical (my, ahem, womanly arse didn't exactly disappear, but it goes better with broad shoulders and a large chest than it did with the stick figure I used to be).

And weirdest of all, although I haven't actually seen any studies showing that exercise strengthens your immune system, I used to catch every passing microbe and now I haven't been sick -- not even a cold or stomach bug -- in three years and five months.* How long have I been going to the gym now? Exactly three years now, wouldn't you know.


* Yes, I remember the exact date I last got sick. So would you if it was your wedding day and only illegally large amounts of medication were able to get you to the point where you just (barely) stagger down the aisle without coughing your lungs up.

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USJogger said...


I have noticed the immune thing. I found out I love running (after years, like you, of assuming that I was just naturally never going to be in shape.) And I think I get sick less often, and it's less severe, and lasts less. Right now, Mrs. Jogger and two of the little Joggers have severe colds, with runny noses and terrible coughs. I have a little dry throat and a slightly runny nose.


StyleyGeek said...

Cool! It's good to hear confirmation that I might not just be imagining it!

(I'd email this reply instead, having just heard that that is the correct blogiquette, but can't work out how).