I hated many aspects of high school. There were plenty of opportunities to feel out-of-place and uncomfortable. Even when I was surrounded by people I knew and got along with, I never felt like I fit in. One of the places I fit in the least, the place I felt the most out of my comfort zone, was P.E.
I was not an active child. For years I was told that I would just “grow out” of my chubbiness, that age would somehow meld my body into what I wanted it to be. “It’s just baby fat,” my mom would tell me. I realise now how utterly ridiculous this is, but as a child, I wasn’t taught the importance of exercise balanced with a proper nutrition. There wasn’t the time or money to devote to the task. Unfortunately, it’s far easier to feed a low-class family with McDonald’s than with homemade dinner.
I would, instead, spend my time reading and just laying around. So, when I got to gym, I wasn’t the girl you would pick first for your dodge-ball team. I didn’t run and I couldn’t catch. I didn’t try. (I did play basketball and volleyball in middle school, but not to the extent I should have. And I didn’t continue on into high school, though I spent my entire freshmen year wanting to try out for the basketball team.)
I can remember how uncomfortable I felt down to the way my cheeks would crimson when I had to change in the locker room; I didn’t want anyone to see me, to judge me. It’s been about six years since my last gym class, but it feels like no time has passed at all.
I told myself I didn’t want to be picked for teams, so as to make it feel better when I was last choice. I told myself that I would never have to use any of the skills my gym teachers tried to teach me throughout the years as an excuse to completely blow off the P.E. period.
These aren’t the things I think about, though. They’re not the things I automatically revert to whenever I think of gym in high school. First, I think of my gym teacher.
Her name was Mrs. W. She was probably in her late-thirties, early forties. She wore her blonde hair in a tight ponytail, and she almost always wore white tennis shoes. She looked stern. She looked kind of scary, to be honest.
But, she was only of the nicest teachers I came across in high school. I think because Mrs. W wanted me to try. She wanted me to succeed in gym. She knew I could run a mile if I only gave an effort. I remember how she would sit on the sidelines and yell, “You can do this, Emily. You’ve got this,” in an effort to get me to jog instead of walk. It rarely worked; I wasn’t ready to have an exercise champion then. Those words mirror what I tell myself now, though, when I’m feeling tired and my limbs don’t quite want to move the way I need them to.
It could be silly, but I think Mrs. W saw in me what I didn’t see until I was about twenty. I think she saw that while I would never be a track star or marathon runner, I could do what I wasn’t willing to let myself do then. I could be active. I didn’t have to wait for my body to meld itself, because I could meld for it. I could change my life, if only I gave a damn. It wouldn’t have taken much. Just a little extra effort and confidence. (Both of which I severely lacked as a teenager.)
She might not have seen any of these things, of course. I could be reading too much into it, as I oftentimes do. But, I like to think I’m right in what I saw. I like to think that if I ran into Mrs. W she say, “Hey, look at you. I knew you could do it.”
Because I could. And I did.