Fitness For the Rest of Us

From Boulder Lifestyle October 2014.

I became a fitness instructor because I was awful at team sports. I gleefully scored a touchdown in fifth grade flag football – at the wrong end of the field. I was cut from the soccer team in middle school forty-five seconds into try-outs. And after the seventeenth puck shot past me in one period of college intramural ice hockey, my teammates informed me I was no longer needed as goalie. I did once win a silver medal in a swim event. But there were only three contenders, and the true second place finisher was disqualified.

In my twenties I discovered water aerobics and power walking, both of which I could do without feeling uncoordinated, and earned an instructor certification. I started in the pool, where I refereed battles between pissed off swimmers who dove between the members’ legs during class, and the aqua ladies who not so discreetly elbow-jabbed sloppy butterfliers to keep them out of our space.

I expanded my repertoire to include outdoor pole walking classes, where – with the enthusiasm of an Australian Shepherd puppy herding my flock – I managed to trip over my student’s poles. More than once.

Next, I trained in a low impact studio format. I taught the participants how to do strength work using the bands on a “Core Pole,” and they thanked me by pretending not to notice when I accidentally wore the microphone headset into the restroom to pee.

My peer professionals have not always been exactly supportive or kind. The industry name for the classes I teach is “Special Populations,” and other instructors (often former pros, sponsored athletes, professional coaches, or contestants on America Ninja Warrior,) tend to treat us accordingly.

A former Olympic snowboarder who taught rope climbing and BOSU leaping accidentally observed my low impact class, and pretended to compliment me afterward.

“I was amazed you could find so many low impact ‘activities’ for those people to do!” She exclaimed.

Another former pro athlete and sometime water sub confided that she wore loose outfits when teaching pool classes because she didn’t want the participants to feel badly about their own bodies.

For a while I worried about the lack of respect others had for my classes, but then I got too busy trying to ensure that everyone attending them felt successful. And a funny thing began to happen. Members of this exercise community supported each other as someone lost forty pounds, rehabbed a chronic knee injury and returned to skiing, or gained the strength to climb their first Fourteener.

They cheered each other on, and inspired me as well. They packed me up during my divorce, drove me to the doctor’s after surgery, and eventually hosted a baby shower for my twins. They encouraged me to sign up for my first century bike ride, and donated generously to the ride’s cause.

I’ve realized it’s not about how anyone views me as an instructor, or whether I feel like more of an athlete. It’s about being part of a different kind of team. One that has nothing to do with image, or scoring, or competition.

One comment on “Fitness For the Rest of Us

  1. Alas, I’m definitely “special populations” material. Failed miserably at sports as a teen. Just tall enough that everyone asked if I played basketball the first 25 years of my life. No, not really. But then found some great sports later in life. Kickball. Bloody red balls are tough to catch, but do not require too much training once you get the hang of it. And hiking. Hey, head uphill. Stop when there is no more trail or just head down whenever you want – no big rules. Of course, you said all of this much more eloquently and won a new reader.

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