There comes a moment in every young person’s life where a change begins to stir inside them and they come to a crossroads where the choices they make will impact the rest of their lives. No, I’m not talking about the Moment that comes accompanied by free samples of Tampax and Teen Spirit. (True story: My health teacher gave us a comic book that was supposed to explain all the mysteries of femininity. Menstruation is weird enough on its own much less rendered in cartoon detail. I still remember the “flow” in that book being much closer to a lava flow than the unglamorous reality that is my uterine lining. How bummed was I when it turned out my monthly didn’t defy gravity after all!) The moment I’m talking about today is the Moment when you decide whether or not you’re athletic. In the black-and-white world that is kid-dom, either you are or you aren’t and you must dress and act accordingly.
I wasn’t. Boy howdy, was I not an athlete! (And yes, I was a gymanst for years but let’s remember that although I loved it with every fiber of my geeky being, I, well, I sucked at it.) For many people, this decision becomes final. It simply is who they are and by adulthood they aren’t going to change it. But there are those of us who decide that this must change and embark on a fitness quest. No matter when this Moment comes to you, be it in your childhood or later in life, it is significant.
It was the Karate gym for a 13-year-old Jillian Michaels. It was watching a Mr. Universe pageant for Arnold Schwarzenegger (who, incidentally, grew up in a cottage without a refrigerator or even indoor plumbing so don’t ask me how he saw this pageant.) For me it was sitting on the toilet one day after my second son was born and being appalled at how my thighs hung over the sides of the seat. Glamorous, I know.
While I’ve talked a lot about the reasons I got into fitness and became the lovable nut I am today (short story: I am mentally ill), I’ve never really talked about how exactly I started working out. Reader Kristen reminded me of this:
You post a lot of great tips for fellow fitness gurus, but I was wondering if you could dedicate a post or two to the very beginner, suggestions for how to put down the TV remote and pick up the jump rope, how to find such a great fitness community when all of your current friends guzzle mountain dew as a hobby, or some suggestions for lighter workouts for the newbie. Maybe you have a story or two about how you first became a fit-addict?
How I Went From Toilet Seat to Ten K:
The day of the horrific toilet episode (wow, that came out sounding way worse than I intended – google’s gonna love this!), I resolved to get myself back. Up to that point I’d been dealing with my weight by dieting and disordered eating – cautionary tale, that’s me! – but now that I had kids I wanted to do it the right way and I knew that meant exercise. So I started in the simplest way possible: I laid out my one pair of athletic shoes (a pair of trail runners I had bought 5 years earlier solely because they were on sale and I thought I would look cute in a granola-girl kind of way – I lived in Seattle, crunchy-chic was still cool there!) by the door. The next morning, after I finished the 5 a.m. nursing, I put on the shoes and went outside. I didn’t own any workout clothes – not even a sports bra – so I wore my pajama pants, my husband’s tee and an ill-fitting underwire. My goal was the hill next to our house. And me being me, I had to run it. I’m embarrassed to admit it nearly killed me and I was immensely grateful that it was still early enough that none of my neighbors witnessed my humiliation.
The next morning I did it again. And then again. Each day I tried to add on a little bit. I didn’t use a couch-to-5K program or a heart rate monitor or anything else – although those probably would have helped. I just did it. And I did it every day. After several months I could not only run the hill with ease but I could do a couple of miles. And while I enjoyed the quiet time away from my colicky infant and the beautiful views outside (and my pants fitting better!), I’m not going to lie to you: It was hard. It was hard to stay motivated. It was hard to run by myself. Even though I had finally bought a sports bra, a pair of running shorts and an arm band radio (yes, I am that old), I’m a social girl at heart and running wasn’t enough for me anymore. I knew if I didn’t change things then I was going to lose my workout mojo.
So I joined a gym. Things snowballed from there as I met loads of kind people who shared their fitness knowledge (and books!) with me. (Hi L!!) I got into weight lifting. I took cardio classes. And the best part was the more involved I got in these activities, the more like-minded people I met. The more people I met, the more fitness-y things I learned. It became so ingrained in my life that when my husband lost his job and we had to move across the country, the very first thing I did when we got to Minnesota was find a gym and sign up. (Yeah, I did that even before he got a job. Sometimes stupid and hopeful are two sides of the same coin.)
These days there are many factors that keep me exercising but at the beginning it was just a girl and a hill. All of which is to say, Kristen, just start. It doesn’t matter if you don’t do it “right” or if you don’t have equipment or even if you don’t have a friend – just start moving and the rest will come. Don’t wait until the perfect moment because it will never come. Pick something you don’t hate – tennis, swimming, rock climbing, biking, dancing, whatever – and just do it. A lot.
Holy crap I’m a Nike ad and an ’80’s motivational poster all rolled in to one.
Almost every athletic person I know has a toilet-seat story (usually not involving toilets but I’ll forgive them). Very very few of us come by exercise naturally, springing forth – literally! – from our mother’s loins full of fitness fervor. For every Michael Phelps, there are a hundred girls in bad shoes and a really bad bra busting their butts running up a hill. My favorite line from Kristen’s e-mail is this: “I think I’m a fitness freak waiting to happen.” You are girl, you are! Join us?
What’s your fitness Moment? How did you first start out exercising? What advice do you have for Kristen? Anyone else get a menstruation comic book??