This fear, in turn, never gave me the chance to be good at a sport. I worried too much. I didn't volunteer to play. I often took the route of acknowledging my own inabilities before someone could point them out. In fact, I recall spending many recesses sitting by the lunch lady who supervised us, which isn't a great way to make yourself fit in, but I did learn how to make middle-aged women like me, which is a skill that has come in handy from time to time.
While I did hate group sports and all gym classes, I wasn't an inactive kid. I spent my summers running around outside, climbing trees, and swimming. By the time I got to high school, it seemed like I had missed my chance to be good at sports or to enjoy gym classes. So what did I do? I put off my gym classes as much as possible. Well, that's not completely true.
I took my first one in the summer after my freshmen year and it was horrible. A particular kid made fun of me the whole summer because of my voice. The only part that didn't suck was the swimming part of the class, which was only a week or two. In those weeks, I shined. I was always put into the top swimming group, but this didn't seem to win me any points with the athletic boys (some of which weren't great swimmers). After this experience, I put off my other required gym courses until much later. This meant I was a senior still taking gym.
The last gym class I took was actually a weightlifting class with the football coach. It was the only one to fit in my schedule, and without it I couldn't graduate. There I was, in my final semester of high school, taking a weightlifting class with a bunch of jocks. In many ways, it was my greatest nightmare, but I was determined and was filled with a little bit more courage because I was about to leave not only high school, but my hometown. College was coming!
The weightlifting class wasn't as bad as I imagined. I actually realized it was better than the classes that required lots of group activities. I needed a partner and that was it. On the first day, I found the dorkiest kid I could and made him my partner. We barely spoke all semester long, but we also never made fun of each other. That's not to say others didn't. One kid repeatedly made fun of me every time we took roll and I said "here." He later called me a fag, which I think was the first time I'd ever been called that to my face. Looking back, I think he was probably a gay boy as well, but was taking the "gay hating" route to acceptance. He's probably running for office somewhere as a Republican right now.
I survived the class and graduated. After high school, I had other run-ins with physical activity. I went to a small liberal arts college that required gym classes to graduate, but they were more flexible and broad. I took folk dancing, tai chi, and life-guarding. Over the years, I stepped into gyms from time to time and worked out, but never consistently. The second I would step inside a gym, I would suddenly turn into that little kid again feeling awkward on the basketball court, the baseball field, or in the weightlifting room. I'd look around and see these macho guys with their muscles and their deep voices, and I would give in to my own fear and insecurities.
I've managed to survive without going to the gym on a regular basis. I stay active. I eat well. I've maintained my skinny gay boy body that, in my adulthood, I've realized people like. But at the same time, I've hated that my past has dictated my feelings about going to the gym and being accepted there. Gyms are a big part of gay culture for many people, but not for me. I've never felt like that kind of gay guy.
In May, I decided to try to change all of that. Through my work, I get a pretty good deal on a gym membership to the YMCA (insert gay joke here). I signed my partner and myself up and I've been going 1-3 times a week since. These are small steps, but I'm doing it. I've discovered I enjoy spinning classes, which has been a plus. It's not easy, because I've never made formal exercise part of my everyday life and, like many people, I kind of hate it. I also know that I'm approaching my 30s and I should start exercising more and keeping myself in shape. I also have an unhealthy fear of gaining weight, but that's another blog post.
I've upped my challenge by signing up for The Smart Ride, which is a 165 mile bike ride from Miami to Key West. It happens every November and raises money for people living with HIV/AIDS. This is a cause that my partner and I have been devoted to and we both decided to push ourselves and do this ride. This will help me with the gym, because I'll have a good goal to work toward. It will be a big challenge, but one I'm excited about. The ride ends in Key West just a day or two before my birthday, so we are planning to stay a few days and celebrate my 29th birthday in Key West, which sounds like a pretty great time (that is if I can still walk after the 165 mile bike ride). I will post again about the ride, but if anyone is interested in supporting me now, you can donate money here.
I know many people look at me as someone with a lot of confidence and courage, and I have some of both, but that doesn't mean I don't have insecurities and my own challenges. I've spent most of my life thinking I can't be good at sports or exercising without ever really having the proof. Here's my chance to prove myself wrong.