Why I Exercise

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

We all know the benefits of exercise, don’t we? Pretty much exercise is the cure to everything. Yup, everything. Health issues, mental issues (within reason I realize. I’m pretty sure exercise can’t cure schizophrenia so please don’t get mad at me for being insensitive.) Exercise helps with self-esteem, strength, flexibility, the list goes on and on. I really don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do it. But that’s another story.

I was never athletic as a kid. In the fourth grade, Mr. Havilland, my gym teacher kept me after class one time because I couldn’t get the basketball in the net. He wasn’t going to let me leave the gym until I made a swish or whatever you call it. I suppose Mr. Havilland might’ve been trying to do something positive. Maybe he wanted me to succeed. Instead, while watching all of my classmates escorted out of the gym and back to class I only wanted to hit Mr. Havilland over the head with the ball or go running from the gym in tears. He only managed to send me the message – I sucked at basketball. And by the way, I never made the shot that day.

In middle school I played intramural softball. I sucked at that too. I could never hit the ball no matter how hard I tried. Because I always struck out my coach put me last in the batting order and shoved me out in right field to pick the dandelions. (I grew up in a time when adults didn’t really care or understood a child had feelings. Heck, my grammar school art teacher had a sticker on her door that read –Ā Children should be seen and not heard.Ā  I mean, really? From a teacher??) Anyway, back to softball. I stunk. But it wasn’t until a year ago I learned my eyes don’t work together all the time.

I have an eye condition called Strabismus Amblyopia. My eyes turned in as a baby and when I was six my eyes were operated on to fix the problem. Which for the most part, it did. I don’t have peripheral vision in my right eye when I look left. Go ahead, try it. Cover your left eye. How far can you see peripherally with your right eye to the left? I can’t do that. I can’t look through binoculars and use both eyes either. (Plus, other stuff I won’t bore you with.)

Now I know my right eye doesn’t always work with my left eye. It’s always been that way, but I can’t tell it’s happening. But what does it cause? When your eyes don’t work together it hinders your ability to hit a ball! So, all those years of striking out on the softball team wasn’t because I was a lousy athlete, it was because my eyes weren’t working properly. Who knew? But I believed athletics were for other kids.

The agreement had been made. I wasn’t an athlete. I hated gym class in high school because I was a slow runner, no one wanted to pick me for their team. And I had a gym teacher who felt it was her duty to point out every chance she had there was a line between those that had been gifted in sports and the rest of us. Like when she’d divide the class up into teams. One team would be all the jocks and they got to play together whatever sport we were doing. The rest of us were exiled to the other team to play amongst ourselves. As if we didn’t know what she was up to. Or she didn’t care if we knew. She wanted the athletes to have a more successful gym class. How fun could it be to have to play with someone who can’t get the ball over the net? Why should the athletes suffer, right? It’s not like gym class is a team building opportunity. Or that high school isn’t ripe with opportunities for judgement, exclusion, bullying. I mean, that crap only happens in the movies, right?

Even though I couldn’t play sports, I loved to exercise. I could be competitive with just myself. I did aerobics in college. When I started working I went to the gym and took the classes there. I also love to dance. (Not good at that either.) But because I love to dance that’s why step classes spoke to me. Exercising was the only time I could be completely free. My mind shut off for an hour. The exercise high took me to the moon. I loved it and wanted more.

Then I found yoga. Well, holy cow. Yoga was a life changer. I felt amazing. Even though there isn’t supposed to be any judgement in yoga, I knew I was good. I could get deep into many of the poses.

But an athlete? Well, no. Yoga wasn’t a “no pain no gain” sport. Is it even a sport? It’s not in the Olympics. But I’ll tell you what, you work your butt off in yoga. I’m confident I could rival some of those athletes during a yoga class. Still, I never thought of myself as an athlete because I can handle crow pose.

Ten years ago I worked out with a trainer. Again, I fell in love. I loved the weights in my hands. I loved the strength I built. Being strong is very important to me in more ways than one. I loved the changes happening to my body. One day the trainer said, “you must’ve been some athlete in school.” I spun my head around. “Are you talking to me?” He laughed. “Of course, you. What sports did you play?” Me: “I wasn’t an athlete. I suck at sports. I was a baton twirler.” Him: “You are an athlete. No one told you.”

And the agreement was broken.

Sure, I exercise for all the health benefits it provides. I exercise because it keeps me nice and my family appreciates it when I’m nice. But the real reason I exercise?

So, I can tell that nine year-old she doesn’t suck at basketball. And so I can tell Mr. Havilland to shove it. I exercise so that middle schooler who so desperately wanted to hit the ball just once knows it’s not her fault. She would’ve hit the ball if her eyes worked correctly.

I exercise for all the times in high school I wanted to hide during gym class instead of being brave enough to run toward the ball and kick it in the goal.

I exercise so I can be heard.

I’m strong and determined.

I am a contender.

I am an athlete.



9 thoughts on “Why I Exercise

  1. Hey Stacey, this post really spoke to me. I was never great in any gym games and always picked last for EVERY team.

    My clinical knowledge as an occupational therapist suggests my brain doesn’t have the best sense of where my body is in space (proprioception) and/or how its parts move through space (kinesthesia). Back in the day when I did step workouts, I couldn’t understand how/why I’d be off the step when I was so sure I was on it. As a recreational tennis player, I know I’m not always holding the racquet the way I think I am.

    But: I have morphed into a player who is constantly improving! I can hold my own on the court and even my serve has gotten better and stronger. Every now and again, I get a comment on a really great shot, or get from someone who happens by or playing on a nearby court!

    Last year, I injured my foot wearing an old pair of flats from a pre-pregnancy Halloween costume. When I looked up the symptoms, I was ridiculously (pathetically?) excited to learn my injury was typical of an “athlete”!

    Who knew? I’m an athlete too! (And we can write, baby! šŸ˜‰)

    Guess we showed those gym teachers .

  2. Joanna, I’m so glad this post resonated with you! Bravo that you play tennis and continue to improve. Those gym teachers don’t know everything. I think gym class today, which is supposed to be called P.E., does a much better job of blurring the lines between those on the school team burning up the field, and those in the bleachers. (But not entirely, unfortunately.)

    You are an athlete. There’s a sport for everyone. And that should be the lesson we give children.

  3. Agreed about the lines being blurred between kids who are more athletically invited and those who aren’t, in a PE class. Not everyone is wired” to be an athlete, just like not everyone is meant to be a writer, scientist, etc.

    Hopefully, PE is meant to expose kids to the health-related benefits of exercise, eating right, using drugs, etc.

    Happy yoga! Be well šŸ˜ƒ

  4. I didn’t have an athletic bone in my body growing up. I always got picked last for dodgeball, or softball, or whatever-ball. Always. I didn’t even come to baseball — as fan, I’m talking about — until my late 30s, and I grew up in the same borough as Yankee Stadium!

    When I was in my late 20s, my doctor asked me (during a routine physical): “Do you ever get any exercise?” I told him no. “Start now,” he advised. “Because it’ll be a lot easier to get into the habit now than in your forties.”

    It was the best advice I ever received. Since that time, I’ve attended the gym almost daily, for cardio (every day) and strength training (every other day). Not only has it made me feel and look better, I’ve come to cherish that time to myself every morning. Because when you’re working out, you need to concentrate, which means your mind banishes other thoughts, including personal and professional anxieties. I have so many friends who say, “I hate exercise.” (And it’s pretty easy to verify that based on how they’re looking these days!) To me, that’s like saying, “I hate brushing my teeth,” or “I hate making the bed.” Just get up and f**kin’ do it! Who knows — you might even learn to like it.

    1. Let me add, no ever says “Wow, I regret that workout!” No one. Ever.

      What your doctor told you, I tell my kids. They aren’t exactly school sports team types either. But thankfully, they listen. Noodge 2 works out with a trainer twice a week. And the three of us have started going to the gym twice a week together at 5 am. (Then of course, I have to work out by myself at least two other times.) Noodge 1 wants to lift. (Boys.) Noodge 2 and I on the elliptical. Though, not to be sexist about the boys and lifting comment, my daughter dead lifts something like 175 pounds.

      I’m grumbling at 4:45, in the cold, dark morning but when I’m getting back in the car all sweaty, I’m so glad to have worked out.

      1. Exactly — nobody ever regrets working out too much. I always try in the mornings to talk myself out of going to the gym, but wind up going anyway, and I never think, “I shouldn’t have done that…”

        Lifting is good, because you get that “afterburn” effect you don’t get from cardio alone. I usually do lifting/cardio one day, then just cardio the next, in an A-B-A-B pattern. And then every so often it’s good to give your body a few days off. Like everything else, it’s about balance; you don’t want it to become obsessive.

  5. Unfortunately, as I age, I’ve noticed the all too importance of working out every other day instead of every day. After I’ve done a workout with weights, I need the day off to allow my muscles to heal. I don’t bounce back as quickly as I once did.

    1. Yeah, that’s partly why I do a strictly cardio day after a weight-lifting day. But I also tend to rotate muscle groups — chest, back, legs, etc. — so nothing gets overworked, and all of them have plenty of time to rest between workouts. Because the healing part is important, too.

      1. You’re smart to work different muscle groups. That’s better for you. I worked arms today. Tomorrow either all cardio or legs. Will depend on how my knee feels. Or….I could skip tomorrow. šŸ˜‰

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