Thank you, two-fellow B-level movie stars for screwing my childhood experiences! During the 80’s, former-actor-turned-president Ronald Reagan implemented the Presidential Fitness initiative throughout America to help inspire kids to exercise more and eat better. He chose as the spokesperson for the program then A-superstar and former Olympian, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Coming off the heels of such classics as Conan the Barbarian and Predator and being married to a Kennedy, it was a politically expedient move.
This lauded program in D.C. trickled down to my school in the form of a battery of tests that a child of a certain age was expected to complete every spring. I don’t remember the specifics per se but there were timed pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups. Your progress would be tracked year-to-year to see how you were doing.
Well, when Coach Castro told us about this challenge most of the pubescent, peacocking middle school boys were thrilled. And why wouldn’t they? When we are young children we tend to like games that are collegial and exploratory in nature (e.g. “let’s go to the forest and build a fort!”) but as boys enter puberty they turn to the competitive games likely to tap into that nascent drive of aggression and individualism.
The future-jocks salivated at the idea of competing against one another. (As it is, they already competed in peeing contests in bathroom. In our school, we would either gather before or after school in the bathroom to see who could urinate the farthest. I thought this happened in all schools across America, but when I told people about this later in my adulthood they gave me this weird askance look querying “Where did you go to school?”)
Anyway, I was petrified. I was in nowhere near the shape to do any of those activities. Honestly I had never done any of them, but when you are obese you lack confidence so I just assumed I couldn’t. So every year the day would come for the fitness challenge. We would all gather around the pull-up bar in the outdoor field and each student would take their turn as the others watched. Jock boy #1 would excel, followed by future Frat boy #2…all killing it.
Then came my turn. As soon as my name was called, the jeering began. Earthquake rumbles, “hey…hey…hey its Fat Albert,” the snide “this should be fun to watch” or “can’t wait to see this” were uttered in muted breath. So first I
would do the sit-ups. Coach yelled “Go!” While others could lift themselves without someone holding their legs, I couldn’t even muster a measly lift of anything but my neck. The laughing would begin.
Coach would then tell Future Alcoholic #3 to hold my legs. That boy was no Simon of Cyrene. He didn’t want to get near me to be forced to inhale the half-sweat, half-feces, half-diaper rash odor that emanated from me. (Sometimes my mom would spray a little Walgreen’s imitation cologne to mask the scent. I’m sure that helped.) Even with him holding the legs I could not do a proper sit-up. I had to contort my body and lean to the side to do one. Coach yelled “that doesn’t count.” At that point I just laid on the ground and prayed for the 2 minutes to end.
Next came the push-ups. These were virtually impossible for me to do. I laid on the grass trying to push myself up, but I was only able to meagerly lift my head and neck. Coach modified it by telling me to lean on my knees to do one (the position often recommended for women). Those I couldn’t do as well. The kids would yell “Moo!” and “Eat the grass you cow.” (More accurately I would be a bull eating grass, but when I leaned over as a kid my breasts would swing back and forth so it is understandable why they called me a girl.) Coach had an exasperated countenance as I waited out the clock. Perhaps he was ashamed of me…perhaps he didn’t want me in the class since I wasn’t Future Pharmaceutical Rep #4 like the rest of the group.
The pull-ups were the worst. While I could make a feeble attempt at a sit-up and push-up, I had no shot in lifting any part of my massive weight off the ground. The coach would move me to the lower one where the bar was practically
at the top of my head and that one I could not lift my body in any grasp in any way, shape, or form. The kids would yell “he’s pulling down the sky!” Again, I just waited until the time expired and said nothing.
In retrospect, I wonder if coaches should be more sympathetic to overweight children and have them due their fitness test in private. It seems that would be less traumatic to them, but maybe it gives the obese kid a crutch and an expectation that he should be treated differently due to this condition. Perhaps like hormesis, where a little bit of a negative toxin (like radiation) triggers a reaction in the body that in the long-run is beneficial, the utter shame and embarrassment would trigger a reaction in the kid to work harder in losing the weight. Do you in fact need to be cruel to be kind?
I’m not sure. All l know was that in addition to the daily torture of gym class, I had to endure the yearly agony of facing my inadequacies…yet again. Even my nerdy friends, who couldn’t excel in gym class, could meager a couple of pull-ups and chin-ups due to their lanky frame. (But at least I was better than them in guarding the pin in dodge ball (See Ep #5). Thanks lard and rolls of fat!) We, misfits, were a band of brothers, but I’ll leave that to another confession.
The bright spot is that I can now accomplish all of the fitness tests (not to good at pull-ups still). And perhaps it was the accumulated ridicule, fat shame, name-calling, and alike that caused my psyche to stir by the time Coach Webster came around (See About Me). I’m not sure. What I do know was that gym class was a daily reminder of how low I was in every possible human being indicator.
Reach out to me…let me help you achieve your goals.
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified Health Consultant
(Please share you story with me in the Comments section.)