I Did a Thing

by Sarah on September 26, 2014

Eleven weeks ago, I tried my first parkour class.

Seven weeks ago, I decided to sign up for a weekend long parkour event happening in Boston. I also made a commitment to myself that I would go to three classes a week between then and the event. I would give my training my all and focus on doing my best.

Now I’m here, on the precipice of the event, and I’m realizing that I did it. (WOOT!!)

I have 21+ classes and a few extra training sessions under my belt, and I can honestly say that I have done the work to be as ready as I can for this weekend.

I am feeling incredibly proud right now. Not only did I meet a challenge, but this is the first activity I’ve taken up (besides dance, which has always been a constant in my life) since adopting a HAES (Health at Every Size) approach to life.

Additionally, this is the first time I’ve entered into any kind of physical activity with a positive mindset, feeling confident in my body’s ability to eventually learn these skills. It’s the first time I’ve focused on exploring my own capacity and building my strength rather than trying to forcibly alter my body to meet some arbitrary goal of a number on a scale.

Having spent a lifetime being told that I was not supposed to enjoy physical activity and that I was definitely not supposed to be good at it, and having internalized those messages so many times over, these first 11 weeks have been a real challenge. I think all of my coaches have seen me cry at least once, often the result of weird and traumatic flashbacks to grade school gym classes. I still have a hard time trying new skills when people are looking at me. I still worry that I’m holding someone else back when we do partner exercises. I still rush through whatever I’m doing or skip parts of an exercise if it looks like the class is waiting for me.

And yet I’m finally actively fighting these things. They ‘re not going to disappear in 11 weeks after a lifetime of social conditioning, but I’m working on them. And I’m letting myself believe that I actually belong here, in this community and in these classes.

Three years ago, when I ran my first 5K, I started to realize that many of the things I had been taught about my body were wrong. I felt then, and still feel, a lot of anger at a culture and a school phys. ed. system that immediately labeled me as unfit because of how my body looked and that immediately rejected me if I couldn’t do something rather than actually teaching me how to do it. A system that had me managing the sports teams rather than playing on them, even as it told me I needed more activity. A system that threw me out into a field once a year and told me to run a mile without any training. A system in which I was made to feel ostracized and excluded because I was always being picked last because of my appearance and not my ability.

(Proof positive that I actually wasn’t bad at sports – in high school, when my gym class was made up of all the nerdy honors kids, I remember getting picked first or second for a game of flag football and at the look of shock on my face, one of my co-nerds telling me that he knew I was actually really good at the game.)

Anyway, the point is, the system is fucked up. And it’s going to take more than 11 weeks to undo 30 years of internalized bullshit.

But I’m finally coming to realize that I’ve always loved to move my body and that there is no reason why I shouldn’t feel that way. I’ve always loved to play and explore what I can do – to dance, and stretch, and flip, and roll, and run, and balance, and move. And I’m discovering that although I spent many years being actively discouraged from pursuing those desires, that love is still there.

So I’m going to show up at the night mission tonight and the workshops tomorrow. And I might be a little slow, and I might need some extra help, and I might cry once or twice, and I’m probably going to be hella sore by Sunday night. But I’m going to show up, fat body and all, and show what I can do.

Because I know I’ve got it in me.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam McClellan November 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Sarah,

This is Adam, one of the Pennsylvania coaches from the Boston event. I just wanted to say that it was AWESOME having you at the event. Not only did you inspire yourself, I can say with confidence that the people that got to train alongside of you were absolutely inspired by your fervor, courage, and work ethic. I know I was, so I couldn’t imagine that they weren’t. That is the -only- requirement of a Parkour student. To try hard. That makes you one of the -best- students there.

Way to go. See you around.

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Sarah November 26, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I apparently haven’t checked my comments in waaaaay too long. It’s awesome to hear from you, and I love your perspective on this. I think you said to me at Rendezvous something to the extent of wishing I could be one of your students, and I’ve spent a lot of time since then thinking about the value for coaches of having a broader diversity of students in their classes. I mean, I can see where there is fun in training really strong athletes, but sometimes I think some of my coaches get way more excitement/satisfaction when I get something I’ve been working on for a while. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m not just holding folks back or slowing the class down. Hope to see you again soon!

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Grace November 3, 2014 at 4:57 am

I ADMIRE YOU SO MUCH!

This also sparked so much for me. I went hiking in the woods today and realized that while I have never been a good athlete in the traditional sense (sucked in all team sports, got eliminated first in dodge ball, was always the slowest runner, etc), I love MOVEMENT. And loving movement and “being a good athlete” are NOT the same, yes?

Movement I love: dancing, running, skipping, gallivanting around in the woods, pretending to be an animal in different forms, climbing trees, stretching, silly-dancing (which is any kind of jerky un-coordinated ungraceful movement I do just for my own amusement), sex also?

The culture of athleticism isn’t for me, maybe, but movement? Movement yes! How can I make room for more of it in my life? is the question I am asking now, thanks to you.

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SarahStar October 29, 2014 at 11:17 pm

YAY you, that sounds brilliant! There is so much crap around how you look and no-one to tell you, when you’re young, that it’s about how you feel. Last weekend I told a girl in the Outdoor shop that good strong thighs like hers & mine made us better mountaineers and she looked at me as though she’d never even thought about it like that before!
Not only are you fab for doing this, and for writing about it, but just by being there you help break down that crappy system. Hope you have an AMAZING time!

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Jay Piltser September 26, 2014 at 7:16 pm

This is awesome!

I really appreciate how vocal and genuine you are about this. Many people don’t dare, or don’t talk about it or don’t talk about how hard it is to get through some of the backlog of experiences. I’m still having a lot of conflict about this stuff and it helps to see it modeled and talked about the way you do.

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Sarah September 26, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Thanks! It really helps to hear this – I sometimes struggle with the worry that I am just working through my own stuff out loud, but knowing it helps people really makes all the difference. <3

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Kaari September 26, 2014 at 4:54 pm

YES! Oh yes. Especially this part: “…I’ve focused on exploring my own capacity and building my strength rather than trying to forcibly alter my body”

This is one of the things I love about my gym. Everything is scalable, to accommodate different fitness levels, abilities, injuries, etc. And no one leaves until everyone’s done. If you finish early, you encourage and cheer on the people who are still working, and it’s high fives all around at the end.

As one of the older people with multiple limitations due to past injuries, I tend to be pretty slow. I don’t always like having people watch me finish, but it’s certainly better than being there all alone after everyone else has gone to breakfast.

I hope you have a fantastic weekend of parkour!

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