Thinking about competition and winning and losing, I thought back to my two very different experiences with gym teachers. Mr. Graven was my teacher throughout elementary school. Mrs. Allen ran the physical education program at my high school
For Mr. Graven sports were for fun with competition playing a minor role. All the girls in the seventh and eighth grade were on the school teams, both volleyball and softball. I was short, not particularly skilled, and pretty nearsighted. Nonetheless I played with heart in both sports. Mr. Graven used to take me out of rotation every time I got to the front row in volleyball, wisely realizing I was more likely to walk under the net than to get the ball over it. I was a pretty good batter, but a pretty mediocre fielder. Right field was perfect. At the end of the eighth grade I got a letter in recognition not of my ability but about my playing to the best of what ability I had. I didn’t feel patronized, but grateful that he had seen me.
High school athletics, run by Mrs. Allen, were a different matter. Team sports were just for boys. Gym class seemed aimed at shaping our bodies to cultural standards. We actually did one exercise where we chanted “we must, we must, we must build our bust” and another to the tune of “go you chicken fat go.” Our teacher wore a skirt and nylons and yelled at us to work harder. I learned that our bodies were unacceptable and needed improvement. Needless to say, I came to hate exercising.
As those of you who have followed me for some time realize, I eventually came to love exercise for the way it makes me feel. As I work out in my “home gym,” I often experience the same joy I felt with Mr. Graven. It is good to move with the body I have, not the one that Mrs. Allen would have approved of.