Athletics were never my thing.
I was the kid who could not climb a tree or jump a fence. In swimming lessons, I thought treading water was code for trying not to drown. I did not like running because it hurt. I did not like climbing because it was hard. In gym class, my level of popularity prevented me from being picked last but I was always given the most forgiving positions such as defence or outfield.
As a child of the 80s, I played outside. I rode my bike and played kick the can. I spent endless hours at the lake or in the swimming pool. And though I was often out and about, I always played within my limits. I never competed with the other children and I especially never competed with myself.
I never grew up to understand the fundamentals of competition. To me competition presented a chance of losing or failing and that chance was not worth the risk so instead, I did the thing that made the most sense and I opted out or I quit.
I remember going to watch a friend of mine play basketball in high school. The coach yelled at her from the sidelines over a misstep of some kind. I spent the entire game worrying about that remark and how it was making her feel. To my utter surprise, when I approached her about it after the game, she had no idea what I was talking about. Her reply to me was equally baffling: “Coaches yell. It is part of competing.”
Because of my lack of experience in team sports, solitary activities have always been a better fit for me. Activities where there is no winner or loser; just me and whatever effort I feel like putting in that day.
When I first started practicing Pilates, it was a means of getting out of my house during my maternity leave and a place to go to heal my post-partum body. As things started to come along, I got comfortable and by the end of my first intermediate mat session, I was strong and confident. Pilates and I understood one another. I had finally found a sport I belonged in.
Or so I thought.
One dreadful night, my instructor decided to school the class. She took that comfortable flow we had all built up throughout the session, along with the new confidence in our abilities as well as our bodies, and she put them on the block.
For the entire class.
I thought I was going to die.
Through the waves of torture I was enduring, I could hear her talking about changing the intention. And it was making no sense. My thighs were on fire, why would I want that? Why did she wait until the end of the session to do this to us? Who would want to buy more classes after an experience like this? Had she lost her mind?
The very first instinct my non-athletic, non-competitive personality felt was anger. This was followed by betrayal. I felt tricked. I was so uncomfortable that I actually considered getting up and walking out. I certainly did not understand what was going on. I felt the class had been great as it was. Why did she have to go and ruin it by making it harder?
After the class ended, I raced home, fighting back tears. When my husband asked me what was wrong, I declared I was never going back to the studio again. The instructor had been awful, I explained. The class was really hard and my body was burning the entire time. I didn`t need a Pilates studio. I would simply go back to my DVD and restore balance in the universe once again.
His expression changed from empathy to frustration as he narrowed his eyes, lowered his voice and said, Amanda, those classes better be that hard EVERY single time you go there. You are the living example of why children need competitive sports. You don`t understand: She wasn`t being mean to you. She was training you and showing you how much stronger your body can be if you try pushing it a different way. She was doing exactly what you have been paying her to do.
As I thought about his words, I realized he was right. Not only did I not know how to compete (even with myself) but the feeling of competition was so terrifying to me that my first instinct was to quit.
That night I had to make a decision: was I going to stay the same and spend the rest of my life working within my comfort level or was I going to change my intention and learn how to push myself to be stronger.
Obviously, I decided I wanted to be stronger.
That story is one of the great AHA moments of my Pilates practice. It is also a moment that I grew as a person and an athlete.
On the days I feel overwhelmed with a position I cannot achieve (like the ROLLOVER), my husband’s words stick with me. I remind myself what it will feel like to conquer that position and look back on the days when it felt impossibly hard. I imagine myself attending an advanced class and surviving without tears. I imagine how I will celebrate when I know I have achieved what I am working toward. And I modify. I modify the position so I can become strong to enough to master it. There was a time, I saw the need for modification as the scarlet letter for weakness. Now I try to see it as a gauge for testing strength.
Instead of scaring me, changing the intention now arouses my curiosity. I am always so intrigued by the techniques I am exposed to in my mat practice. And during each class, as my ability to compete with myself is further developed, my desire to excel and succeed at Pilates strengthens.
My fitness stories are about someone who struggles to overcome an oversight in childhood training and succeed at a sport that understands her, no matter what the intention.