Gym Class Anti-Hero

All this Olympic talk has been giving me flashbacks to school gym class. You know that girl in gym who had cramps 26 days out of every month and couldn’t participate? That was me. But before I landed on that gem of an excuse, I had to participate in grade school gym.

I refuse to believe that all gym teachers are sadistic freaks who take great glee in seeing fat kids fall down, but mine totally were. My first memory of gym class is playing Duck, Duck, Goose in first grade. I remember thinking, “Please don’t pick me to be goose.” Of course, I got picked to be goose. So, in an effort to make it look like I was not phoning it in, I picked like the forth kid to be the next goose and as I’m running back to my spot, I tripped (don’t act like you’re surprised), my plastic headband fell into my eyes and I landed right in the middle of our Duck, Duck, Goose circle. Instead of, I don’t know, asking if I was okay or helping me up, our gym teacher yelled at me that I needed to stop making a spectacle of myself and sit down. I wanted to say, “All I wanted was to sit down in the first place!” But I was busy cleaning grass and rocks out of my knees.

This teacher was particularly adept at finding odd things for us to do. We spent several days learning a dance routine to “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang using a kickball as a prop. I’ve got as much rhythm as athletic ability, if that gives you an idea at how that went. Then there  was scooter hockey. There is a special place in Hell for whatever sick bastard thought of this madness. First off, the “scooter” was an approximately 2 inch by 2 inch block of wood on 4 metal casters. It would have been the correct size for an 18 month old , not a tubby 6 year old. If I moved just a little bit off of center, I’d fall off and chances were pretty good someone would run over my fingers. If that wasn’t enough, they gave us tiny wooden hockey sticks. I remember thinking, “This doesn’t seem safe” as I simultaneously fell off my scooter,  had my fingers ran over, and got whacked in the face with a mini-hockey stick

Maybe it was my inability to dance with a kickball to R&B hits of the 80’s or my lack of scooter hockey skills, but eventually I was pulled out of class once a week for extra gym. On paper it was called PMT, but we all knew it was really called Remedial Gym For Dopey Kids (this will someday be the title of my first book). Basically, whatever torture we were working on in gym, we did in RGfDK, but there was less screaming at us. In the future, my fellow RGfDK classmates would all go on to the math team, advanced science classes,  I’m pretty sure one kid was brokering a Middle East peace deal during recess and I was the slightly amusing idiot (some things never change). But at the time, we were all wondering why learning a somersault and square dancing seemed to be critical to our futures.

In 5th grade, I had moved on from The Dancing Queen and now had 2 male teachers who were really big on gymnastics. I was 5’2″ at 10 years old- I was not built for gymnastics! Not to mention that I’ve had ear problems that have effected my balance my entire life. But try telling those sickos that. It seemed like we did nothing but gymnastics and scooter hockey that year (my personal Hell). They split us into groups,  had us work on specific exercises at each piece of gymnastics equipment, then after 10 or so minutes would blow the whistle and we would rotate. On the rings, we were supposed to lift our legs into the rings and then flip out and on to the matt. Um yeah…okay. Big shock, I couldn’t do it. One day, both teachers called me over to the rings. Without telling me what they were doing, they both picked me up and attempted to stick my legs in the rings against my will. Apparently, all those years of teaching had deadened their ability to judge exactly how loud a 10 year old girl can scream. Chunky 10 y/o Beth: +1, Suddenly Deaf Gym Teachers 0. 

As an adult I can see that our teachers were trying to give us a taste of different sports so we would hopefully find some kind of physical activity we would like. Also, they were limited by the classroom environment. But I wonder if splitting the classes up by their strengths would have been better? For example, in a class with 30 kids, 5 like running, 6 like gymnastics, 7 like baseball, 6 like tennis, and 6 like basketball. Let’s be real, we aren’t talking about math and science here, so what is the harm in letting the kids do the activities they like instead of forcing them into something they don’t have any interest in? Being forced to do these things I had no aptitude for made me hate playing sports for the longest time. I was an adult before I realized I’m actually a pretty decent softball hitter. My life has not been harmed because I can’t do a cartwheel. Then again, I don’t have a job and am back in college, so maybe that cartwheel thing is the missing piece after all.  Hmm…

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2 thoughts on “Gym Class Anti-Hero

  1. You are right: it took me years to realize I really enjoyed physical activity after my experiences in gym class. I was also placed into “remedial gym” after I showed no gift for softball, volleyball, tennis, football, or gymnastics. (I had a fear of heights and in the 8th grade became hysterical after my gym teacher forced me to climb up on the balance beam.) The other kids routinely referred to us as “gym retards,” even though all of us in remedial gym were “A” students in our academic classes. Of course that did nothing to make us love sports or exercise: one of my RG classmates gleefully burned his gym clothes at his graduation party.

    I might have gone on to a sedentary life of reading, watching movies, and surfing the internet, but as luck would have it, I married a man who was an outdoors enthusiast. He taught me that strength and fitness had nothing to do with throwing a football or spiking a volleyball over a net. I learned how to hike mountain trails with a 50-pound pack on my back, kayak down a river (I still don’t have the courage to tackle a rugged stream), snorkel, and even rock climb. (Tip: don’t look down. Seriously.) Later, when my kids entered high school, we were delighted to find that it offered an outdoors skill class as an alternative to traditional gym. My son chose that route, though later he proved to be a fast runner and joined the track team. His sisters preferred a fitness class that was organized more like a health club, with running, cycling, swimming, and aerobics. All of them now regularly work out, and I’m sure it’s because they weren’t subjected to the trauma we had in old-fashioned gym.

    • You said it very eloquently. I was one of those annoying “Why???” kids, so if I didn’t see a purpose in what I was learning, I wasn’t interested (hence my never learning cartwheels). I wish they had focused on the benefits of physical activity like it being a great coping skill, helping with sleep and stress, etc. instead of letting us loose on scooters Lord of the Flies style.

      It’s great that your kid’s school gave them those alternatives. We were able to choose our classes junior and senior year, but it wasn’t much better. I took “individual sports”, things like archery, bowling, and golf. It really should have been fine, but I’m left-handed. Apparently I was the only left-handed person ever in the history of that class, because our teacher had no idea how to teach a lefty. I walked around with bruises on my forearms for months because of the archery bow and I would like to take this chance to publicly apologize to the person whose car I hit with a golfball after a particularly bad incident at the tee.

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