532. Exercise

I have rarely enjoyed spending lots of physical energy. I remember when we were told about President Kennedy’s emphasis on the importance of physical fitness. I got the impression that the Russians were way ahead of us in the space race and physical fitness – that we were way behind in both, and what we children could do about it right away was sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and lots of other kinds of activities I considered self-torture. I’d been taught that Communism was a sinister force that was threatening to destroy life as we knew it, and though I didn’t understand how doing sit-ups would help prevent that, I tried.
My physical education teacher in junior high didn’t exactly encourage me to work on my physical fitness; what he did more was make me feel as if I was deficient because I wasn’t as physically fit as I “should” be. For a while, I tried to console myself by telling myself I was a “brain” – that some people could do calisthenics well, and others could use words and numbers better. But that line of thinking didn’t hold up too well; there were too many people who were getting better grades in math, science, and English than I was, and still managed to do more sit-ups than I could. They had the sound minds and sound bodies that Plato had said they should have.
I went to a high school that, like many other high schools, was the “best.” I don’t think it makes any sense to call a school the “best” one, but it happens a lot. There was a lot of pressure to excel, and though most of us didn’t know exactly how to go about excelling, or how to tell whether we’d done so, many of us tried hard. And for many of us, that meant doing lots of calisthenics. Not that I actually did all those exercises on anything approaching a regular basis. But at least I tortured myself with exercise once in a while, and felt guilty when I didn’t (most of the time).
I remember that once in a while, my gym teachers tried to come across as real teachers who thought about what would help us become the best people we could be. But they didn’t do that very often; most of the time, they seemed more concerned with finding talented athletes, and finding ways to put together teams that won games. Those of us who weren’t athletic were made to feel as if we were disappointments. Maybe our gym teachers hoped we’d all go home and do exercises on our own, but they didn’t do much to motivate us.
Now that my physical therapist has given me exercises to do (to maintain what mobility I have), I’m really trying to do them. I hate it. I keep imagining my junior high school gym teacher watching me with an evil smile. He says, “You thought you’d escaped by graduating? No, you’ll be exercising for the rest of your life!” And then he laughs an evil laugh.
I wonder whether there was a way to teach me to enjoy exercising. I hope I can find a way.

Comments are closed.