I’ve always loved exercise, but never could do it as well as those around me. I was a great sprinter, but had no endurance. I would get winded very easily and had to stop whatever it was that I was doing. I’m not talking about last week — I’m talking about when I was a young, healthy child.
When I was in 7th grade, there was a “President’s Challenge” competition in PE class that consisted of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and a one-mile run. I wanted so badly to complete the requirements for this competition! I passed everything except for the run, since I had to stop about halfway through. I vowed to myself that I would try harder next year.
In 8th grade, I was determined to win the challenge and earn the badge. I had always been thin and healthy, and there was absolutely no observable reason why I wasn’t able to do it before, so I was definitely going to do it this time. As always, the indoor portions were a breeze, and then I set out to do the run. I told myself that even if I felt like I was going to die, I was going to finish it. Everyone around me completed the challenge last year, and of course were going to do it again this year. I didn’t want to be left out. I ran and ran and ran my heart out, and managed to complete it just barely within the time requirement in order to receive my President’s badge. I was so incredibly proud of that accomplishment.
Gymnastics was always my thing in elementary school. Lots of opportunity for strength and sprinting, without the need for much endurance. I even successfully played a summer of softball without much of a problem. There were some physical activities, though, that I just couldn’t do no matter how hard I tried.
Swimming was one of them.
When I was 12, I was on vacation with some cousins at a huge lake. It was a warm summer day and we went down to the lake’s edge and looked across a lagoon to a huge rock on the other side. An impromptu decision was made to swim across to the rock to jump from and sun ourselves on. We all jumped in the water and started swimming. When I was about halfway across, my chest gave out. It was DONE. It would do no more no matter how dire the circumstance. It was too deep to put my feet down, and too far from shore to go back. I was in the middle of the lagoon, just trying to keep my head above the water, and was about to drown. The rest of them had already made it across and were climbing up the rock, and only one had noticed I wasn’t with them and quickly noticed I was struggling. If he hadn’t noticed, or hadn’t come back for me, I would have drowned. They made fun of me relentlessly that day, and I didn’t blame them. I didn’t understand why I was so lazy and so out of shape. When we left later that afternoon, I walked along the shoreline while they all swam back.
Even as recently as last year I’ve had exercise scares. I hired a personal trainer to help me get in better shape and her facility was a tiny, hot room in a medical building. She put me on the treadmill and told me to walk, while she kept turning up the speed. She was having a conversation with my husband as I was walking, completely ignoring me. At one point the speed got up high enough that I had to jog, which made her whip around to me and say, “I didn’t tell you to jog! You’re supposed to be walking!” It felt like my heart-rate had shot to a billion beats a minute. After the treadmill, she had me doing some jumping and running in place and I told her I wasn’t feeling well. Just like my PE teacher, she thought I was trying to get out of the work so she told me to keep going. Then she suddenly told me to stop immediately and to lie down flat on the floor. She said my face had turned as white as a ghost. I told her my history with syncope and she said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I wanted to work out hard just like everybody else, but obviously I couldn’t.
So, if people have always made fun of you for your inability to “keep up” when it comes to exercise, you’re definitely not alone!