With rivulets of sweat soaking my ill-fitting, stained Hockaday gym shirt, I pump my fists in the air, exuberant as I finish the last lap of my mile. Immediately after crossing the threshold, I collapse on the grass, panting. Physical Education coach Ella Stanfield checks her stopwatch and recites my mile time: 11 minutes, 24 seconds.
For anyone who has ever watched a classic high school movie, this scene of the school’s resident nerd floundering in gym class will not be unfamiliar. The shocking twist of this story, however, is that I met neither mocking jeers nor derisive glances. Instead, my classmates high-fived me and warmly quipped that I had knocked nearly 10 seconds off my previous time.
In these moments of jest and comradery, I realized that I truly loved physical education class.
Had you entered the locker room merely 20 minutes earlier, you probably would not have drawn the same conclusion. Like a guerrilla army preparing to launch an attack on the oppressive regime, my fellow physical education students and I plotted to protest the impending mile. Banding together in solidarity, we left the locker room determined to revolt when coach Stanfield instructed us to proceed to the track.
Nonetheless, after coach Stanfield said the fateful words, each of us knowingly stared at one another, failing to muster the courage to defy our teacher.
During our vain attempts to prevent physical exertion, my classmates and I forged a true bond of friendship, something I dearly missed from my brief stint as an athlete.
Before my seven concussions (yes, you read that right), I played every sport imaginable. I loved the adrenaline rush of the competition, the euphoria following a particularly challenging workout and, mostly, the comradery of team sports.
Once sports were no longer an option, I longed to find a supportive community that rivaled any of my teams. This quixotic odyssey appeared impossible until I attended my first class of physical education during my freshman year.
A motley crew comprising all grade levels assembled in the Penson Athletic Center lobby. With each of us dreading the class, we commiserated with one another and found comfort knowing that we were not alone in our animus toward athletics. None of us had scored a winning goal in field hockey or finished our 100 meter swim at an Olympian speed.
Over the next few months, our class bonded over the never-ending Britney Spears remix that played on repeat every day, the intense games of Gaga Ball that always concluded with some student sprawled on the ground and our love for the days when our teacher would allow us to simply walk as our form of exercise.
By the end of the year, I found a community that never judged a 12 minute mile time or the inability to lift more than 10 pounds. My insecurities regarding my severely diminished athletic prowess evaporated; in fact, I even learned to proudly brandish my flaws.
I recognize that physical education classes tend to receive a bad reputation, but I challenge you to set aside your preconceived notions and take a physical education class even for just one quarter. You never know what you may find.
Mary Orsak – Special Magazine Editor