Wednesday, April 25, 2012


One of my more bitter memories of elementary school is the Presidential Fitness Test that we were forced to perform every Spring.  The shuttle run, the standing long jump, the flexed arm hang, the god damn 800 meter dash. 

I sucked--I mean really, really sucked--at all of it. 

And sometime during that fitness week we'd be weighed and measured right out there in front of God and everyone. Empirically proving, year after year, that I actually was the galumphingest elephant in the whole class.  This is how it seemed to me anyway.  I mean, how else was I supposed to interpret slim and perfect Jennifer Murray being able to hang from that stupid bar for upwards of 40 seconds, while I could barely manage 3?  And the 800 meter dash!  Gah!  That's what--barely even half a mile?  I don't remember specific times, but I do remember the abject humiliation of being one of the last ones to drag myself wheezing and hacking over that finish line year after year after year.  By the 6th grade, I was refusing to even try.  I just walked the whole 800 meters, because FUCK YOU Presidential Fitness Test!  You don't own me!  When you say run, I don't say, "How fast?"

I hated it.  Loathed it entirely.

I can look back on it now--on what I was, how I was--and see quite clearly that I wasn't anywhere near as fat and awful as I thought I was.  I was big, yes. Bigger than all my friends. But that was genetics, not fat.  There were kids in the class who struggled more than I did--a few anyway.  I would love to be able to go back in time, and let myself off the hook just a little bit for all that.  Of course, I can't do that.  So I've resolved instead to do everything in my power to make sure my kids (specifically Emma, who--it's been clear since she was an infant--is shaped exactly like me) make it through their childhoods without ever once feeling the same shame and inadequacy over their general fitness and appearance that I once did.

I married into a family of runners.  Serious, medal winning, title holding athletes who have all been sweetly indulgent of my galumphing, elephantine thighs.  I've felt, nevertheless, a certian amount of pressure to up my fitness game in order to be worthy of their exalted, sweaty presense. 

When I first started running as an adult--about 13 years ago--I remember my wildly hammering heart having serious difficulty after only 100 meters.  I'm pretty sure I cried the first time I ran from one bus stop to the next (about 500 meters) without stopping.  It wasn't until after Amanda was born that I got consistent enough with my workouts, that I was able to run any real distances.  My first full kilometer, my first 5, my first 10...these were huge milestones for me, and I remember the season, the weather, and the pride that accompanied each and every one of them.  But let me tell you, all that pride is nothing compared to what I felt this past Monday when Emma completed her first full 3 kilometer race.

Both Emma and Daniel have been going to track and field training every Monday evening for two years now.  Daniel is a natural.  He's got the body.  You know the one.  That lean, sculpted, athletic body built to skip and prance lightly through any physical activity you point it at.  That's his genetics, the lucky little bastard.  Emma and I just have to deal with that.  Emma goes primarily to ensure that she gets in one good workout, once a week.  No one asks her to compete, because the thought of it makes her sick to her stomach.  But she's been saying for the past 4 or 5 months now that she can tell she's getting better.  Her coaches are complimenting her on her running style.  She feels lighter.  She can keep up at a sprint with some of the faster boys in the class now.  She's obviously pretty pleased with herself about all this.  So when the prospect of this løpskarusell* came up, she was open to it, as long as I would run it with her.  I happily agreed.

I told her at the start that our time on this one didn't matter at all.  The most important things were to a) finish, and b) run as much of it as we possibly could.  She was nervous, but she agreed to those terms.

Found picture here.

We managed to get in the way of the photographer right at the start of the race.  That's me in the middle--green jacket, goofy hat, #40.  Daniel is to the far right--#42.  He started behind us, but less than a minute after the gun went off, he was ahead of us and out of sight.  Emma, unfortunately, is behind the pink headband.  But this picture is proof that she was there, that she did do this thing.

As we approached the 1.5 km mark where we were supposed to turn around and head back, she huffed, "When we, get up there, can we just, walk?  Just for a, little bit?"  I looked over at her.  Her cheeks were flushed, there was the slightest sheen of persperation on her upper lip.  She was breathing heavily, but not hard.  Utterly beautiful.  I could tell she didn't really need to stop, so I said, "We'll do what you want, but you seem fine to me.  Let's just see what you've got left in you when we get there."

I deliberately didn't stop or even slow down when we got to the turning point.  She looked at me expectantly, ready for her little walking break.  Instead I said, "Think about this, Em.  Tonight, when we get home, you get to send a message to daddy telling him what you've done.  But you only get to say you ran the whole way, if you ran the whole way."

"But, I've never, run, this far, before."

"Doesn't mean you can't do it.  You're fine Emma.  I can tell.  You're not breathing hard enough to need to quit.  Let's just slow it down a bit."

So we did.  But only for a minute.  There was one other moment just before the 2.5 marker where she really wanted to quit, but all I had to say was, "Em, just imagine how proud Daddy is going to be to hear you ran the whole way!"  To which she dug deep, and kept right on running.  All the way to the finish line.

Daniel was there waiting for us, all bouncey and excited as ever Boy is.  He was 4 minutes ahead of us, and of course I'm proud of him too.  But as I said before, he was born to this kind of thing.  If he ever decided to dig as deep as Emma had just done, he'd be in danger of maybe winning something someday.  In my mind, this was Emma's moment.  I hope she remembers it in years to come with as much pride as I will. 

Your first full 3 kilometers, Em.  It was Spring.  It was cloudy and drizzly.  And your mother wept with joy at the sight of it.  I love you.

*løpskarusell--I'm not sure what's up with this word.  Løp means run.  Karusell means carousel.  I think maybe it's a løpskarusell because it's a cycle of 3 races?...or something? The next one is on May 7th.  And you can bet your ass Emma and I will be there for it.


Jono said...

You are all an inspiration to this out-of-shape old geezer!

Emily said...

Very sweet. Congratulations to Emma.
I ran track in high school, and college, too, in fact, but was always a bit of afraid of actually pushing myself to the point of it hurting. I found many excuses to pull back. I'm glad you kept her running and I hope she's still glowing from the experience!

Grandma Gae said...

What a great retelling of a pivotal moment for Emma. I'm so proud of her and her mother as well. It's nice to hear you put all that 6th grade crap in perspective. You'll no doubt help Emma to do the same thing, and be a ton more effective at it than I was with you. So happy for you both....and of course for Daniel. I'm sure he didn't even break a sweat. I look forward to him really challenging himself with a run.