Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Candice: I see you shiver with antici...pation

When did it start? This problem of me never wanting to do things that are athletic?

When I was young, pre-school aged, I remember being the type of kid that could get very easily lost in my own mind. For example, I had these small, neon-colored dinosaur figurines that I was obsessed with but I didn't run around with them, roaring and trying to get them to bite the other kids. No, I gave them elaborate fantasy lives and moved them around the little patch of rug I occupied and built them houses out of Lego blocks.

Conversely, I did love swimming. My mother deemed me a "water baby" and each summer I would spend as much time as possible in the water. I stayed in pools, rivers, and lakes until my eyes burned with chlorine, or until the pads of my fingers were so wrinkled they actually hurt. I took swimming lessons, dived for pennies, but I was by no means a natural talent. The last time I attempted to learn how to dive I was 19 and I mastered only the "unintentional belly flop of wild embarrassment" technique. So as you can imagine, it was never something people said, "Hey! You should really go somewhere with this!"

I remember elementary school, being taller and heavier than most of the other girls. I remember not being flexible. I remember that damn Presidential Fitness Test and straining futilely to touch my toes, to complete a pull-up. I remember Track & Field day and being good at two things: sailing over hurdles meant for children four inches shorter than me (but still losing the race because I wasn't very fast) and being the anchor for tug of war. I remember I loved school because the answers came so easily, but I started to hate P.E. for constantly showing me what I wasn't good at.

Burgeoning adolescence helped nothing. I became shyer and more terrified of making a fool of myself in front of others. The changes in my body made my limbs traitors to me. I was singled out by gym teachers as needing to work harder, or else ignored as hopeless. I slowly and steadily ticked off the athletic activities I discovered that I hated, baseball, basketball, archery, flag football, soccer, jump rope, running, tennis, and standing around in the heat. Of all the sports they forced us to try I enjoyed only volleyball and badminton. And biking. I had a black and pink mountain bike that I thought was the best thing in the world, and I rode that thing through the neighborhood, through the creeks and forests near my house all through middle school.

But I grew older, heavier, and crankier. I decided at 13 that a mix of punk/goth fashion and attitude would be the only way I could take control of how I felt like the outsider. It goes without saying that wearing black make-up and black mesh did not further encourage an active lifestyle. I thought idly about losing weight, mostly in unhealthy ways, like smoking, or not eating. Now and again I'd think, "I'll start exercising." It never stuck. I never joined a team (see: I was punk, okay?) A life of sedentary grousing and avoiding the sun seemed quite likely.

Oh but then college happened. Suddenly it felt like everybody had an athletic hobby. My roommate biked. My boyfriend jogged. A classmate was on the swim team, the football team, the soccer team. My friends went to the gym regularly. People told me that they like to kayak, or box, or played racquetball. People signed up for intramural sports. I had all these new friends and yet I was completely helpless to join in their reindeer games because I'd spent the past ten years insisting that I was allergic to working up a sweat.

So "I'll start exercising" became a more common refrain. I became familiar with the elliptical machine. Then broke up with it. I bought Tae Bo videos. Then stopped doing them. I took up walking. Then decided I didn't like walking in the neighborhoods I lived in. I took an interest in yoga. Then started finding other things, like drinking, more interesting. I also broke up with boys and ended up with a fierce yearning for confidence and a sense of control.

At 22 I started a real diet, and a real exercise plan. I decided to become a runner. Running is a mystery to the nonathletic. Why would you just... run? How could it be fun? How could burning lungs, abused knees, and tired legs be fun? How could you want to do it for HOURS at a time? Aren't marathons the literal definition of insanity? Of masochism? (It makes a man's nipples BLEED, people!) But runners are also disgustingly healthy. I wanted that look, that lifestyle, that smug sense of being better than non-runners.

I ran for a minute at a time, then two, then five. I ran a mile, then two, then three. I lost weight, I gained stamina, I found that there was joy to be had in running, in beating a time, in going further. It was often satisfying, sometimes soothing, sometimes fun, but it lacked an important factor: Anticipation. I read about it, about how seasoned runners would find themselves cranky if denied an opportunity to run, about how people felt they needed it.

I didn't realize how important it was at the time, but running could only satisfy me AFTER I did it. Though I could be quite giddy after I finished my final lap, standing at the start of my run I never felt any glee, any butterflies, only dread. Before running I often thought about the time commitment, the sweating, the exertion. Before running I tried to find every possible excuse NOT to do it, even if I knew I eventually would go for my 30 min jog. The smallest hiccup in my routine, in my health and boom, why bother running? After moving to Austin, changing my routine, I gave running up for a year and barely thought about it.

I wasn't a runner. I was a pretender. All the diet books told me plainly that if I couldn't view diet and exercise as temporary fixes, that they had to become a lifestyle change or I'd gain back the weight. I was fiercely afraid of that, but felt too apathetic to fight it. I gave up the lifestyle, I gained a little weight. In a panic I joined the gym and tried to get back into the love of running. It didn't take. The old excuses were back.

Enter figure skating. We fall in love. We hold hands and I marvel at how "I've never felt this way about a sport before." Figure skating smiles and says, "We've only just begun." Enter the nefarious villain the car accident who tries to tear us asunder. As usual the gym falls by the wayside; I do not think about running. Not once. However, at one point in the week I was without a car and scrambling to deal with it, I realized that I would be unable to make it to my customary Thursday practice. I genuinely considered going to skate during my lunch break before heartrendingly and hilariously remember that I DO NOT HAVE A CAR.

I was desperate to skate. Not once in the past four years did I ever feel desperate to run. What running should have been, figure skating is.

Somehow of all the sports that I have tried, dismissed, or watched people perform with longing it's figure skating that finally provides me with anticipation. I look forward to it constantly. I miss it fiercely when faced with the possibility of NOT skating. I smile before I enter the ice. I try to bargain more time out every time I go. I trip, fall, discover my legs are shaking and still I want to skate more. This is why I knew I could commit to a year of learning, to a year of skating.

I guess you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, and I am thrilled that I finally have.

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