Fat Kids Can’t Jump

by Sarah on November 29, 2014

In grade school, we used to have to do this thing called the President’s Physical Fitness Test. This was generally sprung on us with no warning, twice a year, and we would suddenly have to demonstrate and be evaluated on our ability to do sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, a standing broad jump, and a run.

Please note that during the rest of the year, we did absolutely no training or conditioning or anything that would help us improve at any of these activities.

The kids who did well at this would go on to various competitions at the county and state levels, and the rest of us would experience varying amounts of shame and stigma for a week or so while this went on and then try to forget it ever happened.

To me now, this seems patently absurd – the equivalent of testing kids on their “innate ability” to do long division twice a year, without actually ever showing them how it works or providing any opportunity to practice.

While I like to think that I’ve always been inclined to movement of various kinds, my innate strength was limited and my body weight was always in the 99th percentile, so I had more work to do than most. Except, we weren’t being tested on our ability to train to do something – we were just being tested on our ability to do it. The rest of the year, we mostly played sports.

What I took away from this was that I can’t. I can’t jump. I can’t run. I can’t be strong. And since nobody really ever expected anything different of me, there wasn’t much need to try or even to care.

So when one of my parkour coaches looked at me yesterday and said, “I think your jump has doubled since I’ve known you,” and I replied with, “I just had to cry out all the years of people telling me I couldn’t jump,” I wasn’t really joking.

Now that I’m an adult who has spent a long number of years learning to love and accept her body, I can approach this all with a very different mentality.

Now I’m curious about what my body can do with training and practice and commitment, and as a result, I’m getting stronger every week.

Now I don’t say, “I can’t,” without amending, “yet.”

There’s no reason I couldn’t have done this same thing twenty years ago with any kind of inspiration or guidance or direction, but for a fat kid, there was none of that to be found.

I’m grateful, as an adult, to have cultivated the ability to say, “Fuck everyone’s expectations,” but I also ache for the kid who never knew how to do that and who thought lack of “innate ability” to jump meant that she couldn’t jump.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jennifer Hansen December 1, 2014 at 7:04 am

PREACH IT. Was there a gym teacher in an American public school in the history of ever who looked at an unathletic kid and said, “We need to assign you some homework, kiddo,” rather than acting all offended about our inability to just do it already? Every single gym teacher I ever had was annoyed, when not outright contemptuous, at my inability to climb a rope, and not one of them ever suggested ways to strengthen my lats. I didn’t even know what lats were until I was past the age of compulsory gym. So why did they keep trying to yell me up the rope? Did they really think yelling would work? Why were people who were supposed to be making us fitter so ignorant about fitness?

And for an added dose of rage: The Presidential Fitness Challenge is now new and improved in an effort to encourage healthy habits! 😀 You can now win a shiny certificate for “Balanced Body Composition.” In Kindergarten.

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