I was a high-achieving student in every class except for one: PE.
I couldn’t run fast, throw far, or do push-ups. I was more of a liability than an asset to my team. It got to the point where I just gave up trying in fear of embarrassing myself. But guess what? I’m now in better shape than most of those kids who laughed at me in gym class.
Being painfully bad at sports motivated me to work harder at ballet, which I loved and secretly wished was part of gym class curriculum. If I was going to make a fool out of myself playing baseball, then other kids should have to make fools out of themselves doing grand allegro.
Freshman year of high school, the gym class curriculum changed. We just had to run. You could go as fast or as slow as you wanted to – the only thing that mattered was getting there. I’d run the 2 or 3 miles faster than nearly everyone else just by going at my own steady pace. The culmination of the class as an 8k race, and I won 3rd place out of all the girls. I beat most of the guys, too. This was my first (but not my last) moment when I actually felt confident about my body. It really could do some amazing things! I was quickly snatched up by the cross-country team, and then the track team. I fell in love with distance running, and I was good at it, too. I couldn’t sprint to save my life, but give me a 12-mile run and I’ll finish happily.
That all changed when I was diagnosed with POTS and distance running wasn’t safe for me anymore, but POTS did nothing to diminish my drive to make up for 8 years of poor gym class performance. I used the gym to my advantage, where if I passed out (and I have!) there would be people around to help me. I’m not as strong as I was in my cross-country days, but I’m still strong. I’ve tried new types of exercise like yoga, Zumba, and now cheerleading.
A few months ago, I saw one of my old middle school gym teachers at a basketball game. I was cheering the game and he was in the stands. I don’t think he recognized me, but I definitely recognized him. Years ago, he told me to run faster, to try harder, to contribute to the team even though both of us knew I couldn’t really do anything more than I already was. In a dream world, I would have gone up to him and say, “Look at me now! I’m on ESPN!” but I didn’t. So for all those kids and teenagers who feel discouraged, sad, and embarrassed during gym class, don’t let it stop you. I’ve found that it’s not an indicator of how you’ll do in life at all. If anything, being a terrible PE student motivated me to show everyone else what I am capable of.