Bill Caudill overcomes his old fears of the gym … at the gym.
I know this article isn’t about anything in the news. It’s merely a tale of personal growth by a single guy. But hopefully it will be helpful to other guys. Was my journey from Point A back to Point A? Well, not exactly …
During my preteen years I was small for my age. Small boys are frequently targeted by bullies. Several instances were physically violent and traumatic enough to cause my mind to erase the memories. However, my sister (who is seven years older) remembered these incidents and tearfully told my wife about them two years ago.
The memories were gone, but I was left with a residual fear of boys who were bigger and stronger. For example, when I was nine years old, I met the son of one of my dad’s business partners for the first time. He was a stocky athletic kid, but he had a gentle disposition. Despite his friendliness, I felt nervous around him and wanted to get away from him as soon as I could. Decades later I was still wondering why I had reacted the way I did. I found out when my wife told me what my sister had said.
Even though I had no interest in sports as a young boy, I became ashamed of not being physically strong and having a muscular physique.
Traditional mandatory PE began for me when I was in the fourth grade (without the gym) and continued through junior high. It was the beginning of a time of complete misery for me, as it was for all other nonathletic boys. All boys were forced to participate in team games, but no instruction in the sports was ever provided. There was no education in “Physical Education.” All I ever learned in PE was to fear (and resent) coaches and athlete classmates. Most significantly, I did not get any exercise! All of my PE coaches viewed nonathletic boys with either indifference or contempt.
The first gym of my title came in junior high. Every school day I dreaded the period when I had PE. I feared being humiliated and bullied. The misery mercifully came to an end when I was in the eighth grade. When I was in high school, band exempted me from PE. I heard that the PE classes at my high school were even more hellish.
I continued to suffer from low body self-esteem. I would never even wear a short-sleeve shirt because I was embarrassed by my scrawny forearms. Thanks to the kind principal of the school, I was not required to take PE during the spring of my eighth-grade year; but the misery and alienation were not over. A new phase would soon begin. My parents sent me to a clinical psychologist because my grades had fallen and I was being bullied at school. The bullying was verbal now.
The psychologist sent me to a judo instructor, a white guy who was a former university football player. This jerk believed that only athletes and men in certain blue-collar jobs were “real men.” (But he sure did obsess over my decisively nonathletic dad, who happened to be extremely successful in his chosen field. Perhaps the judo instructor was jealous.)
I always felt like an outsider in his dojo. I also felt patronized when he promoted me to brown belt, a promotion I clearly did not deserve. (I didn’t even know the names of most of the techniques!) He didn’t even require me to undergo an evaluation of some sort. During the spring of my junior year, I had had enough of this charade and decided to quit.
When I was 32 years old, I purchased a beginner’s set of weights; but I didn’t stick with it. I have been baffled as to why I didn’t join a health club at that point in my life decades ago. Perhaps I assumed health clubs were the exclusive domain of jocks.
I was diagnosed with late onset type II diabetes at the age of 53. I finally decided to join a health club at the age of 57. The health club employed physical trainers; so, I decided to hire one to train me in bodybuilding.
Working with personal trainers has actually been psychologically therapeutic. Since I have worked hard and have done as each of my trainers has instructed me, each has made me feel he appreciates my efforts. One of them once told me he bragged about me to the other trainers, and another said I was his favorite client. All my trainers have athletic backgrounds, but none of them subscribe to machismo. All of them have liked me, and I have felt a sense of belonging. Since I have a high metabolic rate and have been suffering from a chronic sleep disorder, my rate of progress has been very slow. In fact, I am struggling.
I should point out a particular experience I had with my first trainer. He would occasionally vary the workout routine by introducing me to a sport. On one such occasion he asked me if I had ever learned how to shoot a basketball. I had always assumed that it was simply a matter of thrusting the ball through the air towards the hoop. I was amazed to learn that it was a physical skill involving particular finger and wrist movements. A skill that can be learned through practice. I was shown that I could have learned this skill when I was a boy without much difficulty. But it was never taught in any of my PE classes! I realized on that occasion that all of us nonathletic guys had been shortchanged by the fraud that was mandatory PE. I’ve heard of remedial math and reading, but never remedial Physical Education before.
At the age of 62 I have begun to feel more comfortable with my body for the first time in my life. A deep need in my life is finally being met. I love the feel of clenching my muscles that I had not previously developed. Although I’m still far from my goal, I’m more self-confident than I’ve ever been. Guys who bullied me when I was a kid would be surprised how aggressive I can be. They wouldn’t mess with me today.
This is the way to promote physical fitness for sedentary boys! None of my physical trainers have looked down on me for being a nonathlete. In fact, they have respected me. I feel like I belong at my health club! The point is that a decent health club is the perfect place for a nonathletic guy who suffered in PE.
I’m still not a sports fan; and I continue to detest machismo. And my former judo instructor can go soak his head.
Image credit: Beverly & Pack/Flickr