I wonder sometimes if I was born hating exercise. Ever since I had to climb the rope in second-grade gym class, I regarded physical activity with confusion and fear.
“Up you go,” said my gym teacher, an older man named Mr. Baylake, who wore green knee socks and had a drill sergeant’s voice. He pointed at the rope and nodded his head as if we would know exactly what to do. It stretched high into the rafters, and as I craned my neck heavenward, I wondered how someone had initially got it up there. I certainly didn’t want to climb the thing, and was sure the other kids felt the same. That is, until those other kids, not necessarily skinnier or stronger than me, began shimmying up one by one. None made it close to the top, but each figured out how to gain at least a meter before sliding back down with smug looks of achievement. It seemed so easy for them, so intuitive.
When my turn came, I grabbed ahold, leaned back and, with a sad little grunt, was barely able to bring my feet off the ground. I did this a few times, but mostly just dangled, creaking back and forth as other students snickered. A clownish display until Mr. Baylake took mercy and said, “Okay, kid. That’s enough.”
It’s not that I hated the idea of being physical. I became mildly interested in tae kwon do after my eighth birthday and—obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—harbored the idea that if I could only get my hands on a pair of traditional Japanese sais, I would make an excellent ninja. When it came down to the playing field, however—court, rink, or mat—I always drifted toward the sidelines.