I feared physical education! Last selected for teams; it was torture! Not that I really cared as I had a strong inner reality. It didn’t help that we had a martinet from a PE teacher in my high school for a year or two. She made us wear military badges on the sleeves of our white uniforms. Of course I was a private person. It didn’t help that I was wearing heavy jewelry over my sports suit.
She stamped up and down, screamed in our faces like a sergeant, and wore her wraparound sunglasses. There are still passages in old yearbooks such as Nordic sagas about her brief reign. I won’t even talk about the showers. I’ve never worked up a sweat.
My locker was a mess with the dreaded white sports suit that was unceremoniously stuffed into it. The padlock was a symbol for the whole atmosphere or for being locked in an unsportsmanlike body. When it was time to climb the rope, I refused! Are you getting rope burns on those artistic hands? I took a “Gentlewoman” F.
I was already a ballet dropout. The teacher, Madame Lanotta, handed out sequins and rhinestones at the end of each lesson. All I could think of was the big Mummer-like costume that was gaudy with gems and feathers that I would make if I ever lasted long enough to earn enough. I spent the last minutes of the class on my knees sweeping the glittering treasure from the shiny floor with a glass in hand.
In order not to excel, my mother joined the twelve-year-old class with a bow in her hair, a scarf around her waist, and golf ball-sized pearls around her neck. And I have the photos to prove it. At that point I gave up, and the gaudy costume was saved for much later in life.
I really enjoyed roller skating and visited the ice rink above the old movie theater that once stood on Rehoboth Avenue in the 1950s. I could even skate backwards! I had my own pom-pom ice skates, a cute skirt with French poodles, and a shiny pink chest to carry in. I especially liked the Yahoo chocolate drinks. My father drove me and a friend there every other Friday evening.
I had another athletic setback in college in New Mexico. I had to take a physical education class. Inland girls born in the desert passed swimming lessons without batting an eyelid, but one girl who grew up on the shores of the Atlantic and dodged the waves failed! I tried square dancing with the same teacher and failed.
Then I got smarter and thought a male teacher could be more compassionate, so I signed up for bowling. I walked blocks to the edge of town (exercise I could actually do) to the Tumbleweed Lanes bowling alley. I finally passed after sending several bowling balls down the lanes. The scorecard was as much a mystery to me as algebra, but the male teacher took pity on me and gave me a passed grade for my only “successful” physical challenge.
Now, however, I have developed impressive upper body strength by squeezing hundreds of tubes of puffy paint. It served me well. Years ago I fell through a single-storey roof while chasing after my cat Rustbelt through the snow in winter. I pulled myself out of the hole I wanted to fall through, even though I refused to climb the rope in PE class in high school.
In any case, my mother, herself a teacher, once told a simple truth. “Physical education teachers should try to get everyone to like something about physical education.” To all the physical education teachers out there, I ask you to come up with something. I know you have to win tournaments and games, but please try to be kind and patient as I know you don’t really want to alienate children. The gym, with its shiny wooden floors, painted circles, and mesh hoops, is an arena where the glaring light of gym-reluctants can turn into a lifelong phobia for some.
Fortunately, in my case, it wasn’t passed down to the next generation. My twin sons played several sports in high school, including lacrosse, wrestling, football, and golf. One even studied sports and, to my amazement, became a middle school principal.
Today my biggest physical challenge is climbing Big Hill in Milton – perhaps the only hill in Sussex County – on one of my rare walks. Once I even carried a box of frames from a flea market on my head. A friendly neighbor in an SUV asked if I needed a drive home, but I politely declined. No, I would prevail and walk the rest of the way to my back door. “Take that!” I said softly to my gym teacher. “I can do something sporty!” I’ve never had to bounce, hit, or throw a ball in my life, thank god!