I have never been what you might call naturally athletic. In school, I avoided PE at all cost. I feigned period pain so often, I am surprised they didn’t send me to a gynecologist! In fact, I avoided physical activity of any description in so far as was humanly possible.
When I was about 21, my mother was getting married, and we both started taking a couple of fitness classes. I can honestly say that that was my first exposure to anything even remotely resembling exercise. I shouldn’t really wonder then, why physical activity doesn’t always come easy to me. I have a long list of things which I have attempted, only to find I lacked the kind of fluency I was expecting to have.
The first time I remember experiencing this was with running. I ran for the first time (certainly in adult life, however, I don’t recall doing much running as a child either,) when I was about 30. I opened the hall door, and just started running, or at least trying to. After no more than about 200m I had to stop. Breathless and exhausted, I had no alternative but to return home with my shame. I was completely baffled. Other people make this look so easy, I just assumed I would be able to do it. They are out running 10ks and marathons, and I couldn’t make it to the end of the street.
Over the coming years, I kept trying to run. Running would routinely come up as part of our workouts, especially in the summer months. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get it figured out. My legs never wanted to adopt that easy rhythm other people had. I seemed always to need to work so much harder, just to cover the same distance. A friend of mine tried to comfort me by saying “you’re just not a natural runner.” (I think she was trying to sweet talk me after telling me I look like Jean Claude van Damme when I run!) As time went by, and I continued to struggle, I began to wonder if she was right. Maybe running just wasn’t in my DNA?
I wish I could tell you that running was the only nemesis I faced in training, but alas there was another exercise I dreaded seeing even more. Double unders! For those of you who may not know, a double under is a form of skipping. Each time you jump, the the rope passes your body twice. Similar to my plight with the pavement, this movement eluded me, FOR YEARS! I lost count of the amount of tantrums and tears I had about this particular exercise.
At the very height of my frustration, I spoke to my mother about it. After explaining it all to her she had this insight “Arwen, you were never a natural at skipping.” And, she’s right. Even as a young child, I wasn’t any good at it. I was always tripping up and tying myself in knots.
With both the running and the skipping, I had little choice but to just get on with it when they came up in workouts. I accepted that I was never going to be the fastest, or even particularly proficient and committed to gutting through it. Every so often, I would toy with the idea of going to a running coach, but the idea of spending a lot of time and money to get better (hopefully) at something I don’t enjoy, seemed a little foolish.
I never learned to swim as a child. I initially took swimming lessons in my 30s, and although I have no fear of water, I more certainly am not a good swimmer. Recently, I have started swimming again. Each week, I go to the pool and try to complete a certain number of lengths without either drowning or swallowing half the water. I started about 8 weeks ago with 15 lengths and last week I managed 22. Slow progress indeed, but going in the right direction. Every length is hard fought and usually involves stopping several times.
Last week, while I was choking on water, and wondering what the hell was wrong with me, a thought came to my mind. You’re just not a natural swimmer!!! I shook my head as though to physically dislodge this notion. You see, unlike running, which I hate, and double unders, which I would happily never do again, I actually quite enjoy swimming. As well as that, I am determined to get better at it. Until such time as that happens, I will have to put up with little kids and adorable old ladies lapping me with ease. I will also have to try not to be embarrassed by my ineptitude and to resist the urge to shout “I am only learning” whenever people look at me!
One of the things I like most about being in the water, is that it gives me time to think. I have spent some of this time mulling over this concept of natural ability. I began to wonder a few things. I mean is anyone ever really a natural at anything? Or is it just that they have put hundreds of unseen hours into honing their craft, so that it now appears effortless? Let’s face it savants and prodigies are few and far between. For most of us, success only comes as a result of hard work and dedication.
It also raised the question for me of whether we ever appreciate the things which come easy to us. Or is it only really the struggle, which makes the end result worthwhile?
For me, the reality is, I have little natural ability when it comes to anything sporty. I don’t think there is anything I can do to change this fact. However, how I choose to deal with it is entirely up to me. I can hang up my goggles and be content to sideline myself from the swimming pool, or I can keep showing up each week and make an honest effort towards self improvement. For once, I have made the decision not to give up. I am determined to prove myself wrong. I have always wanted to be able to swim in open water, so hopefully that can be ticked off my bucket list in the near future.
I think we all have an innate desire to be good at everything. We don’t like coming last or being seen to have weaknesses. This ego all too often gets in the way of true growth and progress. My advice to anyone struggling with something they are not a natural at (and to myself) is just not to give up. Keep your head up, try not to get out of your depth and you never know, you might just surprise yourself. Be well xxx