Shining the Light On the Ghost of Gym Teachers Past

A few weeks ago (or maybe months at this point), I told you that I had started doing High Intensity Interval Training, otherwise known as H.I.I.T.

I was pretty excited about it and I told you that I would keep you posted. Part of the reason I was excited about it is that it gives you little bursts of energy – bursts of energy that may very well have saved the life of Michael J’s super-friendly, but not overly bright feline, Harlequin. But that’s another story and one that I’ve shared before.

Since that fortuitous day, my love of H.I.I.T. has dwindled.

1) It’s hard.
2) It’s not nearly as fun as spinning.
3) Did I mention that it’s hard?

Or at least that’s the story I kept telling myself – all the while ignoring the fact that I loved how I felt once I was done (partly because it is hard and I really felt like I accomplished something) and how I could literally see and feel myself getting stronger by the day.

So, I sat down and really thought about it. Why do I dislike this so much? Why do I have such strong internal resistance to this particular form of exercise? I mean, seriously. I am a woman who did P90X (three times) with more enthusiasm. So what’s the deal?

The clues to the answer to my question came from two places.

One, I was bemoaning my fate to my Aunt Linda and she said, “I think I might actually like this. It sounds like the stuff we used to do in school. And it doesn’t sound like you need a lot of fancy equipment.”


Something resonated deep down in the depths of my psyche.

Two, I’ve been working with a personal coach who is awesome. She’s been having me do written exercises that will help me bust through the resistance I have to doing certain things in my real life – things like reviewing articles, starting my book, cleaning the house, doing H.I.I.T. exercises.

During the one of the exercises, one of the steps is to write down all of the negative emotions and thoughts associated with doing H.I.I.T. When I got to that part, I heard that same low tone. And all of a sudden, I was back at the gym at Carver Middle School, during the week of the the Presidential Fitness Test – thank you Ronald Reagan. May you be best remembered for terrorizing poor, clumsy, fat kids across America.

I realized that not only did H.I.I.T. remind me of middle school gym class in general (just like they had reminded my Aunt of hers), but it also reminded me of one particular instance of middle school gym class that was so personally horrifying that I didn’t even tell my sister about it until a few months ago (some 27 years after the fact). And when I told Michael J., sometime after that, I cried.

Methinks herein lies the problem.

I’m putting this out there – shining the light on my demons, if you will – to see if I can exorcise them once and for all and hopefully, get on with the act of exercising!

At my middle school, we had a female coach (Coach Holmes) and a male coach (Coach Rogers). Technically, I was in Coach Rogers’ class, who was a very sensitive and perceptive soul. However, during the week of the Presidential FItness Tests, all of the girls went to Coach Holmes’ office to get weighed and measured and all the boys reported to Coach Rogers’. Unfortunately, Coach Holmes, though nice enough, was not nearly as sensitive or perceptive as her male counterpart.

Imagine, if you will, a group of middle-school aged girls standing in line as the teacher for all intents and purposes shouts out your weight to her student aid, who just happened to be her very attractive, athletic, and if memory serves reigning kick-pin champion/cheerleader daughter, Kendra.

I step onto the scale.

Dead silence.

I look at Coach Holmes.

She looks at me.

We look at the scale: 180.

“It must be broken,” she says.

“It’s not broken,” I say. “Why would it be broken now when it wasn’t broken when anyone else stepped on it?”

“That can’t be right,” she says.

“It’s right,” I assure.

Kendra, bless her heart, looks embarrassed.

“Go down to Coach Roger’s office and use his scale. That can’t be right.”

“It’s right.”

“Just do down to Coach’s office and try it again.”

I remember stepping off the scale and marching, face beet red, down to the other end of the cavernous gym, thinking I had never been so mortified in my life.

I was wrong.

Halfway down the length of the basketball quart, I hear Coach Holmes yell, “Coach Rogers, I’m sending Lively down there to weigh, because I think this scale is broken.”

The entire gym fell silent and 60 pairs of eyes landed on my chubby body simultaneously.

Someone laughed.

(Do you blame them?)

I kept my head up and walked steadily into Coach Roger’s office.


“It’s not broken,” I said.

And he nodded silently and laid a sympathetic hand on my arm. “I’ll tell her.”

Maybe there is something valuable about airing your dirty laundry, because as I tell it, it doesn’t seem that bad. But as I carried it around with me for years, it was one of my most tightly guarded miseries. I’m hopeful that tomorrow, when it’s time to exercise, I will not feel that lingering sense of dread, reluctance, or resistance.

By putting it out there for the world to see, to share, and perhaps even to think, “What’s she complaining about? That’s nothing,” maybe it will, indeed, become nothing.

As always, I’ll let you know.

And if any of my old middle school friends read this and you ever happen to see Coach Holmes, give her my best. Because I realize, in retrospect, that that’s what she was only trying to do.

8 comments so far

  1. Shel on

    Oh man. I am feeling you on this one. I remember Holmes, and her daughter. Overall she was a good egg, if not mildly clueless. I feared this was a nasty story about the other female gym teacher there… she was scary.

  2. KJ on

    Rosemary Harper? Sorry, it’s not that kind of blog! And I think she was at Washington if memory serves.

  3. Shawna on

    KJ: What a touching story…if only others could dig and figure out their buttons to overcome what’s holding them back, they may feel more energized to get off the couch. I hope this story sparks some reflection. Good for you and thanks for sharing your story!

  4. KJ on

    Hello Shawna,

    Just so you know, right after I posted that, I went and did YOUR 100 reps workout! That’s a killer and something I will definitely have to work into! Thanks for reading and thanks for sending out all of those great workouts!


  5. Lara on

    You have my deepest sympathy. I’ve been there and done that….and had it done to me. I’d hug you if I could.

  6. KJ on

    Thanks, Lara! I realize now that even the most insignificant traumas can have a huge impact on our lives. As Shawna implied in her comment, they create the hidden buttons that make us do what we do. I’m sorry that you had a similar experience. Hopefully your “Coach Holmes” was simply clueless, as mine was and not vindictive.

    Notably, after I lost that 90 pounds in my sophomore year, I went back to Carver and saw Coach Rogers. I think he thought I’d gotten sick or something! He kept touching my shoulder and asking me if I was alright!

  7. […] issues, many of which have their origins in childhood, but were undoubtedly reinforced in adolescence as well as in […]

  8. […] Instead of finding a pair of cheap cotton pants to shlep around in in the morning, I ended up checking out some Danskin Now exercise clothes. At only $5.00 per piece of clothing (yes, I know, can anyone say sweat shops?) I bought a cute little pair of shorts and a matching top. Once I got them home, I realized that if they had been purple and white, instead of blue and pink, they would have been scarily close to my old junior high gym suit – that is the junior high gym suit that I wear in imaginary land where I didn’t weigh 185 pounds at age 13. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: