As an obese child, I hated P.E.
When choosing teams, I was always picked last, each side trying to give me to their opponent. When playing baseball, I would be strategically placed in “ultra right field” (outside the foul line if possible) so as to have virtually no contact with the ball, thereby helping to ensure my team would not be humiliated by my clumsiness.
In the gym, I was forced to do pull-ups by a drill-sergeant phys-ed teacher. Dangling from the steel crossbar in front of a gaggle of snickering classmates, too heavy to do anything but limply hang, kicking my feet as if that would help pull me up, the coach bellowing, “Come on tubby! If you can’t do it, go on a diet.” Disgusted, he’d discharge me from my personal hanging purgatory and I’d attempt to blend into the back of the class, hoping for a distraction to come quickly and pull everyone’s red hot gazes from me.
One doesn’t “hang around” much when one goes to Zumba as 58-year-old, but one’s old memories do.
My biggest fear when I began was that I would pass out.
I was fearful that my macho competitive persona (I might be middle aged but I am still a male) would override my professorial intellectual one and I’d over-exert myself attempting to keep pace with a roomful of twenty-something exercise enthusiasts adorned in designer leotards, headbands, and leg warmers (does anyone wear leg warmers anymore?) For my efforts, I would be mortified by having a heart attack, collapsing mid beat on the polished floor. The remaining dancers would heft me to the ambulance, albeit while maintaining the rhythm of a hot salsa dance move, all the while never missing a step.
My other paranoid fantasy was that I’d be humiliated. I was concerned I’d trip over my clodhoppers or people would laugh at how I look in gym shorts (since I don’t have designer leotards).
Long story short, I have (mostly) overcome my angsts, and — as hard as it to believe — I look forward to my classes, and try to find sessions to attend, even when out of town.
Since I didn’t know anyone in this new environment, I staked out a corner and observed as other participants entered. I witnessed an obese, late-thirties mom take a spot beside me. Nearby was her adolescent daughter, apparently on her way to replicating her mom’s physique, and Dad, who — although being shorter than me — probably tipped the scales at twice my weight.
Simply stated, it was a very heavy family.
It seemed obvious — at least to me — that they had joined this class to develop new, active, healthier “family time” habits; this possibly even being “day one” of their new lifestyle. Together, they’d sweat, swivel, and spin their way to better health.
But, where I went was realizing that when this young daughter is grown, her memories would not be mine, an ashamed, self-conscious, overweight teen. Rather, she’d fondly recollect swaying and laughing with her family to a loud Latin beat, appreciating the joy of movement. Should she have her own children, she’d pass those habits to the next generation.
I wondered how different would my life have turned out if my family remembrances consisted of long walks with my dad or folk dancing with my mom. I don’t blame them, nor do I resent my memories; exercises in futility both.
In the mirror, I watched as mom, dad, and daughter caught the beat. They didn’t keep it well (of course, neither do I), moving cautiously while resting frequently, but what I observed was a wonderfully healthful family.