|Can you BELIEVE this girl wasn't an athlete?|
So the fact that I’m running now makes absolutely no sense. There’s nothing I understand about it; nothing except that this attempt may mark my last opportunity to try to not absolutely suck at something physical.
Growing up, I was the spelling champion who wanted instead to be good at kickball. When we played at recess, I wasn’t chosen last, but I was darned close. I wasn’t bad at kicking the ball, but I couldn’t run fast enough to get on base. If I did happen, by some fluke, to get on, I was more concerned with not getting hit by the ball than I was with making it home.
I was also a larger girl, which didn’t help. That’s funny to recall now, as I ended up topping out at 5’4” 1/2, but the weird thing was that I reached my full height – and a weight of 140 pounds -- in fifth grade. While the other girls were weighing a flat 90 soaking wet, I could have bench-pressed any boy in my class. So the combination of my awkwardness and my size didn’t exactly lend itself to agility.
The weird thing, though, was that I danced – ballet, tap, and “jazz,” as they called it in those days – and I wasn’t half bad. I was tall, but proportional and, strangely enough, muscular, and when it came to executing dance steps, I possessed none of the awkwardness that I displayed in any athletic endeavor.
(“You’re light on your feet for a big girl,” another dancer’s mom said to me once. Uh, thanks?)
I also loved music and was able to somehow lose some of my inhibitions in the studio, although I really hated the full-length mirrors and did anything to avoid being in the front row so I didn’t have to see myself in them. I was an endomorph in a room of tiny, lean girls, and sometimes that wore on me. But if I avoided the mirrors and just danced, I didn’t hate my body quite so much.
That sentence really makes me sound more pathetic than I was; I grew up in a very affirming home and was praised for my talents. I really wasn’t full of self-loathing; I was a teenage girl who wanted to be something she wasn’t. That didn’t make me unique, or even particularly miserable. It just was what it was.
But here I am at 50 – 50! – and I look down at my activity tracker and look in the mirror and wonder, could I be morphing into the woman that that girl so wanted to be? Sure, I’m a whole lot older. And a whole lot grayer. But although I can’t call myself an athlete, I’m running. And I don’t suck at it.
A few caveats – my goal is three miles, and I’m not there yet. And I’m slower than slow. But I get out there every morning, and I push and I struggle and I sweat. And at the end of my run – in the interest of accuracy, my walk/run combo – I can’t wait to do it again. Not right away, but the next day.
How did this happen? My daughter wanted an activity tracker, and I bought one for her. And when I saw how cool hers was, I bought one for myself. That was the beginning of the end of normalcy.
You see, I’m a bit competitive. After my surgeries, my physical therapist would get me to work harder by telling me another knee patient could bend his leg farther than I could. The result: I’d bend deeper and deeper until I “won.” I didn’t find out till later that I’d been “winning” all along, but he had tapped into what made me tick and knew I couldn’t stand the thought of being bested.
When I run, I play head games with myself, using my friend Karen’s trick of pushing just one driveway farther, then the next driveway, then the next. Some days, it’s not easy, but doable; other days, my leg muscles are screaming. But each day, I inch closer to that as-yet-mythical three-mile mark, and I wonder if maybe I should have tried a little harder at kickball.
How many more times in my life will I have the opportunity to set this sort of goal? At work, we talk about “stretch goals,” but in my arena, they’re not as readily tangible as this one. As I become able to run for longer distances, it’s as if I can feel muscles popping out where there had seemingly been none. I see the changes, and I feel strong.
I also feel … realistic. As my friend Gretchen wrote in response to a Facebook post about my running, “At your age, the goal is to not hurt yourself, and I’m not even kidding.” I know I won’t be able to do this for long; half of each of my knees is a prosthetic, and one of my hip joints is on its way out. And I’m by no means a natural runner; where others have lean muscle mass, I have still-jiggling masses of flesh.
But to be overly simplistic, it feels great to do something hard. And it’s affirming to be doing this as an old person; unlike in my angst-ridden middle-school days, the 50-year-old me could give a rat’s you-know-what how I look as I trudge alongside a busy street.
As my Weight Watchers pals say, even as slow as I am, I’m still lapping everyone on the couch. I wish I could go back in time and tell the 13-year-old softball-wannabe me to stick with that mile run just a little longer, because eventually, I would have gotten there. Sure, 37 years is a long time, but a finish line is a finish line.