Sunday, March 26, 2017

100 Things I Want To Tell My Children and Grandchildren #25

Enjoy your physicality while you can.

“I have a mind for business and a bod for sin.” - Melanie Griffith, “Working Girl”.
Photo is of me at the age of 42  – and I thought I looked awful – ha!

I’ve recently become obsessed with extreme fitness. Not mine, which at this point in my life is just about the opposite of extreme fitness, but rather the topic of the maximum physical capability of the human body from watching TV shows like “American Ninja Warrior,” “Spartan Race,” “The Fittest Games,” etc.

There are only two things I would do differently if I could go back in time, and this is about one of those:  using, maximizing and enjoying my physicality more. The history of my physicality is nothing striking, but it does hold special meaning to me on several fronts.

First, I was always very physical. When I was a kid I was never not outside skating, swimming, playing baseball, walking and running relatively long distances – not for health’s sake of course, but simply as the process of getting to the next place to play. Like the draw, a ravine on the outskirts of my little hometown where we made mud pies and turned sticks and trees into “houses,” to the county swimming pool where I would stand at the gate for hours waiting for the pool to open and then be the last person to leave after dark, to the city dump where me and my gang of friends would slide down the hills in old cardboard boxes. I never stopped moving. I never sat and watched TV until I turned 10 when dad built a huge tower for a TV antenna, and even then I only watched at night when I had to be at home.

Then when I entered Junior High, I entered the world of “competition,” I will never forget being one of the only 6th grade girls of my pack of friends not picked by the coach to be on the Junior High volleyball team. To this day I remember the pain of not hearing my name called when the coach read the roster. I literally went to the coach in private later, got down on my knees and cried and begged her to let me be on the team, which she did. I believe that was a seminal moment in my character development as I unconsciously committed to never being “un-chosen” again. I think back how traumatic that was and yet no one ever knew, not my mother, not my friends. I guess the coach knew. I can still see the look of pity and shock on her face that this little 12-year old could be so traumatized by a seemingly simple decision.

The lesson I learned right then was that you have to work hard and earn what you want. Mamma can’t give it to you. Daddy can’t give it to you. Life won’t give it to you. You have to earn it.

Then, as I became more involved in sports, volleyball, basketball and twirling (which really is a very physically demanding sport that requires lots of training and practice), I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t have any innate sports talent inherited through my parental genes.  I had to try harder, work harder, take more lessons and get extra coaching to maintain at least an average performance or, in some instances, above average performance. I also learned that the praise and “popularity” more gifted athletes received could only really be mine through other related skills. I learned that what I lacked in physical or athletic skills, I could make up for through leadership skills. I became the team cheerleader, enthusiastically congratulating the superior athletes when they did something well, consoling and reassuring them when they didn’t, and mediating conflicts between teammates and reminding them we needed to stick together and work as a team and support each other. This pushed me to the top of the teams. I became the teams’ captain. I became the head twirler.

Another lesson learned. You may not be the most skilled, but if you can get along with everyone, that gives you advantage and leverage.

It wasn’t until after I left college and the world of team sports and the age of seemingly eternal youth, that I discovered pure sports fun - pickup basketball and volleyball games, racquetball, long-distance cycling, and the reality of diminishing youth via a knee injury.

It was at this point that athleticism became more about the advantage and necessity of looking good both in and out of clothing – not just in attracting male attention but also as an advantage in getting jobs. I found working out extremely boring and I wasn’t particularly disciplined so I had to find another motivator. That motivation came from a love of dancing, music and money. I started teaching fitness classes. I had to show up and work out because there was a room full of people waiting for me and I was getting paid. I was in my late 30’s and early 40’s and other than the torn ligament in my knee, in pretty great shape and I still had endless energy and could still run, cycle, play golf and keep up with my kids. I assumed that would last forever. But it didn’t, and although I didn’t maintain the level of athleticism and fitness I could have, what became increasingly clear was that no matter how hard I worked at staying fit, as the clock of time raced by, I was loosing it faster than I was maintaining it, and I’m not sure any amount of working out and dedication of fitness can overcome the physiological realities of aging. Look at the world’s oldest athletes – senior Olympians – those incredible individuals who have never given up and still make fitness the cornerstone of their existence. They get slower and weaker each year, and eventually their body simply expires.

So my message to my children and grandchildren is this. Use your athleticism as much as you can while you can. Enjoy your physical mobility, excel in your physical capacity, and celebrate using your body. Run, swim, play, compete, hike, jump, and move. Do it all now, do it often, and relish it.

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