One of the most difficult things I’m learning to do is to trust my body. I don’t trust it to move, to support, to perform. This is a symptom of the very dysfunctional relationship I’ve had with it for as long as I can remember.
I was humiliated one summer when my friends coaxed me into trying out for a local swim team. “It’s not competitive at all! It’ll be fun!” they said. The exact details of the try-out I don’t remember, but I most certainly recall the sound of the whistles blowing when the life guard jumped into the water to get me. We were asked to participate in some type of race, maybe 400m, as the first of many assessments. The next thing you know everyone in the complex was lining the perimeter of the pool watching me be “saved”. Here’s a fact: I wasn’t drowning. I was just slow.
I’ll never forget my anxiety during PE class when every student would be asked to participate in the “Presidential Physical Fitness Test”. It consisted of the following: max pull-ups, a flexed arm hang, V-sit and reach, sit-ups for one minute, a 30 foot shuttle run, and of course my least favorite, a one-mile run. These tests were administered twice a year as a means of benchmarking America’s youth, a tradition dating all the way back to President Eisenhower. For a straight-A student like me, these test did nothing but make me feel like a failure (Thank you, President Obama, for challenging its merits).
Our teachers would always start with the pull-ups because none of the girls could do them. Any flex in your arms that would produce an angle smaller than 180 degrees would result in “1/4 of a pull-up”, a generous rounding up that correlated to an even more generous national percentile (“You’re stronger than 80% of 12-year olds in America” is the lie they’d tell).
We always saved the mile-run for last. We’d bunch up at the starting line on the track like cattle and wait for the whistle to blow. The boys on the soccer team would always be the first to break away and sprint towards the group, lapping us while laughing at our slowness. Luckily, there were other girls in my class who loathed this spectacle as much as I did. We’d band together vowing to finish at our own pace, even if it meant walking. And so we did. We walked the mile-run and none of us finished last because we all finished together.
I have these memories and they sit with countless others that tell a story about my body and how it’s failed me, embarrassed me, made me feel shame. I wrote this post as an immediate reaction to signing up for a 5K race, part of my grand plan to rebuild my relationship with myself by addressing fear and moving towards love.
Nada, a good friend and colleague asked me to do this with her the other day and I immediately had flashbacks to those stupid mile-runs. I said yes immediately in the moment, but felt anxiety later that night and again just now when I hit the registration page. My hands were shaking from fear as I hit submit on the form. I’m scared of hurting my knees. I’m scared of not finishing or feeling slow. I’m scared of Middle School me who never felt like running was something I could ever do.
I don’t trust my body just yet, but I do trust Nada. And just like those mile-runs in Middle School, there’s power and strength when women are together supporting each other.
“Who you are at the start of the race will be different from who you are when you finish.”