February 1, 2017Fit Bits
When I was in ninth grade I decided to go out for football. My manly hormones were flowing and it seemed like the right way to bulk up, get used to a little thugging, and be a fine catch for a girlfriend. Thought didn’t need to be any more precise at the time.
During the first few practices it began to seem less and less like a good idea. It was August and it was hot. We did calisthenics, ran laps, and joked about wearing a cup. We were sweaty and thirsty and if you wanted a drink of water you had to run all the way back to the gym to get it (the concept of hydration not having been invented yet). Not only were we wearing all our gear but we were actually expected to do something while wearing it; you know, block, run, even catch the damn kid with the damn ball.
While my manly self kept denying that my unmanly self was looking desperately for a way out, more mysterious forces were at work. It begin with a slight pain in my ankles. Dutifully, coach taped me up before practice. I felt good about that. After all, the pros had tape, but the pros could also walk and I was nearing a point where that was harder and harder. Finally, a trip to our family doctor revealed that my Achilles tendons were separating from my heels. No more football for you, big boy.
Free at last and pretty much healed – keep in mind this is a ninth grade boy we’re talking about here – I decided to go out for wrestling. In wrestling your objective is always either on you or inches away. No one yells at you for missing something fifty feet away. There is no running. Of course there’s that “on you” bit and “inches away,” a sweaty intimacy in a room heated well into the eighties. This began to seem like a kind of lovemaking that wasn’t at all what I had in mind in going out for sports.
Truth was, I didn’t quit because I hated it, though I did. I quit because I wasn’t any good at it and, teenager that I was, I cherished that core of laziness that prevented my getting any better.
So it was determined that I would not be an athlete. As the years rolled on I never regretted that decision, but I never abandoned the idea that all those workouts, however much despised, were a good thing.
It wasn’t until graduate school that I began to realize that my natural youthful stamina and musculature might need a little help as I got older. At the time, there was little widespread preaching as to fitness (outside of athletics). There were no public gyms and even jogging hadn’t exactly been invented yet.
One day, then – actually it was the Fourth of July – I walked from our house on the Purdue campus to the West Lafayette High School athletic field, about two blocks away. I climbed the cyclone fence and said to myself, Now you run.
Which I did, about a hundred yards into that quarter-mile track, even breaking a sweat as I walked the rest of that lonely lap and decided I was – politely monologued – out of shape. What began then was something I would continue, on and off, up until today. I began with a popular little book from the Royal Canadian Air Force that contained all manner of exercises. Ah, those Canadians: cold winters, dogsleds, french fries with gravy. Other books and routines have followed over the years
A routine of exercises and calisthenics began that included my daily climb over that athletic field fence and my gradual victory over that blasted track. By early fall I was running three miles a day.
We often think of our bodies as an enemy. Either it’s hurt or broken or sick or there’s too much or not enough of it and it’s never as pretty as we would like it to be. My objective, though – let’s go back to those ninth grade scenarios – was never to be either an athlete or athletic. What I’ve always wanted was simply to be able to do, physically, at any age, whatever I wanted to do given whatever my circumstances were. I’ve never, for example, wanted to do a marathon or a triathlon or even our local Corn Fest 10K. But haul some boxes around, lift my extension ladder up to the roof, dig a garden, walk around a mall or museum for an hour or two? You bet.
Today, of course, public gyms are all over the place, one even maintained by our local park district. I want none of that, but it’s not because I disparage the equipment they offer or the quality of instruction that goes along with your membership. All of that, no doubt, is good stuff.
The key, however, to any successful fitness program is that you have to do it and do it all the time. For me, that means it has to be readily accessible – no driving across town in the rain or snow or wondering if they’ll be open on this weekend day or that holiday. It’s hard enough just doing it without having to worry about the mechanics of access. My gym is my living room, my weights are in a nearby closet, and when that routine is done the street is right outside my door.
I don’t run anymore. It’s not age that ended that, but a knee injury a few years ago. So I walk, every day, that three miles always the goal whether rain or shine or snow. I don’t, however, do ice, nor do I do lightning.
And I don’t climb a big fence anymore to get at it.
G.K. Wuori © 2017
Photoillustration by the author