Sunday, June 3, 2012

When I Used To Run: A History of Exercise

When I was a very small child, like other small children I spent a lot of time running, playing with neighborhood kids, splashing in the wading pool, and climbing slides at the playground. While my parents were quite sedentary and didn't enroll me in anything formal like dance classes or sports, I kept myself busy with the friends and stayed active without a thought. When at the age of 7 I was almost crushed by a speeding van, my parents moved us out to the country where I was even more free to run and play in the wide open space. There were far fewer kids to play with, though, so I learned the skill of pretending. All summer long, I'd climb the big maple in the side yard, hanging out in the branches and pretending I was Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins, watching for ships on the ocean with my imaginary dogs and gathering leaves and flowers for 'food' to hide in the cave made by some old snowball bushes. I played alone in cornfield mazes, climbed fences to explore old barns and marveled at the depths of the lake where a dead cow was rumored to 'live' at the bottom. The little forest across the field was a magical place for me where I talked to the trees and the squirrels and my imaginary friends. My parents bought me a bike, too, when I was about 9; her name was Bird because on her, I could fly. I rode many miles up and down the country back road hills on Bird. I was fit and thin and active, with no computer or video games and very minimal TV, watching the Flintstones while I did math homework after school and enjoying Saturday morning cartoons while I ate my Cocoa Puffs before running out to play, only coming home briefly at lunchtime for Kraft macaroni and cheese or hot dogs.

All of my friend were involved in some kind of sports or dance or activity, but I was not allowed to do that. The closest thing I had to an organized activity in my youth was summer swimming lessons, where I first learned to hate myself. My mom put me in classes when I was 9 or so, much older than the other children who had learned to swim at 6 or 7 years old. I was embarrassed to be the oldest in class, especially when all the little kids jumped happily off the diving board while I hung back, afraid. I was even more embarrassed when I had to go back to lessons when I was 10 and 11 years old because I still could not swim. Older kids laughed at me. Sometimes they made comments about me being "pasty white" or looking like a ghost because I was so pale. And at 11, the fat comments started, even though I was far from fat, as you can see in the pictures of myself as a child that I posted here. See the one of me in the white bathing suit? Horrible memories in that thing. So I tried to avoid swimming, even though I did like being in a pool.

When I became a teen, PE in school was dreadful. All of the other kids already knew the basics of playing soccer and basketball and baseball, but I didn't even know which direction to run if I hit the ball, or what to do with a ball if it came near me. I *hated* PE. Hated!!! I often faked illness to get out of it. But there was this one time when I was about 14 that we did field hockey for several weeks in PE, and I just loved it! It was a new found passion, and I asked my parents: please, please, could I join a field hockey team? And the answer from my mother, who was the 'boss of me', was: "We are no part of this world. You do not need to form friendships with worldly girls. Besides, Jehovah wants you to use your time to tell people about The Truth... not waste time playing worldly games." And so the PE session ended and I never played field hockey again.

I became rather sedentary, because 14-year-olds don't really "play" anymore... at least that's what I thought. I spent more time watching TV and less time on my too-small bike which was never replaced with a taller model for my taller body. I didn't walk in the fields anymore or explore barns and lakes; I stood on street corners selling religious magazines and got most of my activity walking from house to house, knocking, selling books and preaching The Truth. I got an Atari and played Pong and Tank, Asteroids and Pac Man. I started going to arcades, and when my Dad would take me bowling every once in awhile, I'd bowl one game and then stay glued to the Donkey Kong machine. I spent more time watching TV and eating chips and other fatty snacks, and I started to get a little fat.

I wasn't obese by any means, but at 5' 5 and 15 years old, 140 pounds was not exactly thin, either. And since I was so inactive, I had very little muscle tone to go with it, so my pale white thighs became jiggly. I thought I was fat. And I figured I had to do some exercise to fix that, since that's what the girls at school said. So I started running.

The summer of my running happened when I was 16 years old. I got up early in the morning, laced up my sneakers, put on a tank top and shorts, and hit the road. I didn't know anything about stretching or shin splints or nutrition. I just ran down the lane and up the country road, past the meadows and the forest and the orchards until I could run no more. And then I walked until I caught my breath, then ran again. I watched the sun rise over the big red barn surrounded by back-and-white cows in the distance. And then I ran back home.

I did this every morning before preaching, before work. I started to think about college, even though it was forbidden. "This world will not be around long enough for you to finish college," mother said. "It's a waste of time... an immersion into this world, and they will fill your mind with worldly ideas. Serve Jehovah. The New System will be here soon. Do you want to be in college immersed in the world when Armageddon comes?" And so, even though I got A's in all of the college prep classes my counselor had put me in, I never took the SAT or the ACT or applied for scholarships. I was going to serve at Bethel in Brooklyn instead. My agnostic father knew of my hidden dreams and quietly bought me a dark blue Penn State tee shirt that summer; I loved it. And I dreamed of playing tennis at college. I'd spend hours in my backyard with a racket, hitting a fuzzy yellow tennis ball against the cinder block walls of my house, bouncing it up to the roof, playing tennis with myself in my Nittany Lions tee shirt and imagining I was there, at Penn State, playing tennis. I never got to Penn State, but I did get fit playing 'tennis' and running every morning that summer.

I rebelled, in my own quiet way. At 18, I moved far across the country, worked in a preschool for room and board, worked a second job and saved to go to college. A year later I was at a junior college... not as fit, because so much working did not allow for any time for running or tennis... but I stayed right around 135-140 pounds for years. I got plenty of walking in since I didn't have a car, and I loved the college experience. But I never did play any sports and I never ran again.

So you see, exercise has never played a big role in my life. The increase in activity since I started this blog is about as active as I ever expected to be. I *loved* biking when I was doing in regularly and I am trying to get back into that. I love the *results* of strength training, even though I pretty much hated doing it. And I totally loved being able to roller skate with my daughter, mop and rake easily and with energy, and hike mountains with my kids. I am not trying to get to a point of running again. I am just trying to get out of a place of weakness, back to a place of strength and confidence and energy.

Two of the three pounds of water bloat is gone overnight. Scale says 218.


Karen said...

Thanks for that touching and beautifully written post, Lyn. You should write a book about your life. Its so interesting, though tragic at times too. Thank you for sharing another piece of your life with us.

Anonymous said...

We must be about the same age. I was born into the same religion and missed out on college too :(

You have turned your life around. I have no doubt you will become everything you want to be.

Holly from 300 Pounds Down said...

Well I can relate. Especially to what you said about trying to get out of a place of weakness and into a place of strength and confidence. I enjoyed the visualization you provided of you running through the orchard. In some ways, I think I'd enjoy exercise more if I just looked around more and let it all sink in. Sometimes exercising for the pure sake of the calorie burn isn't enough. I know you will get where you want to be! you're a very strong person!

Alessandra said...

I agree with Karen, what a wonderfully written post. Thank you so much for sharing that. I can relate with not being able to do organized sports, but for different reasons, that was just not something part of my culture growing up, it would be part of a most privileged class, but for me too it was a wonderful time when I could play around on the orchards where my grandparents lived. I am rooting for you, (and myself) to have exercise more of a active part of life, mainly because it really makes one feel like a kid again.

LHA said...

This post reminds me of my own childhood. I loved to ride my bike, run, play hopscotch and jump rope. Where did that person who did all of those active things go? Even as a child I was considered fat, although when I look at the pictures I am not anything but slightly plump. How I would like to go back to those early childhood days and talk to that young girl that I used to be and say "Don't listen to those mean kids! You are strong and healthy and they are jerks!" I wish I could have appreciated myself and not allowed my self esteem to be destroyed, leading to self destructive behaviors and not valuing myself as I should.

Lyn, I wish you much success in getting to be stronger physically, and I wish the same for all of us! Little by little we can do it if we continue to try. I will try to channel the little girl flying down the street on her bike when I exercise today, so thanks for bringing those memories to mind.

Anonymous said...

Remember not just the physical strength, but all the other good stuff. No insomnia, being able to fall asleep on a couch with light and noise and mayhem going on all around and sleep deeply like a baby. The flavor of food and the smell of a flower seemed so much more potent and rich. That light gleeful feeling that anything was possible and you had forever to do it. Ah, youth.......

Anonymous said...

I looked at the photos in your earlier post, and I saw a normal, skinny body you had in your childhood and teenage years. I didn´t see any fat. I am so sorry you felt that way in your teenage years.

I think your plan to be active in normal life sounds good !

Margaret said...

I'm so sorry to hear what you went through, Lyn. It's a good reminder though, to help our daughters before the cycle of gaining/losing gets established. I have a 14 year old who works out six times a week and is very active. In eighth grade, she put on 15 pounds (she's 5'3") from normal junky teen eating habits and I stepped in and helped her. Not to diet, but to teach her. Now, she's back to a normal BMI range and is learning the skills she needs to stay there. In this culture, the price of not having the knowledge/support to stay at a normal weight is too high. There is a definite stigma attached.

If nothing else, I can end this struggle in my generation and she can be free.

PuffsPlus said...

Wow, what a great post. FYI, you might want to look into racewalking. My friend and I did a racewalking clinic this past weekend. It's low-impact and the clinic instructors said that it supposedly burns 30% more calories than if you do the same speed and distance jogging.

I have bad knees and some foot pain. I tried jogging for a couple of days, but the resulting pain made me give it up again.