Learning to think like an athlete

I surprised myself this summer. I discovered I can still do 10 push-ups (from the knees). I can plank and count up to 12 without collapsing. I can execute 15 triceps dips and as many torso twists without losing my breath.

I-can-do-it. But do I want to? No, not so much. And therein lies the problem.

I need to do it. Must do it. Having hit the half-century mark earlier this year, I know that committing to regular exercise is as critical as knowing where to find the next restroom stop on the 401. Sadly, irregularity rules in more ways than one these days.

Things have not yet reached the desperate stage. I swim at least once and sometimes twice a week. I go for a 30-minute walk equally as often. Earlier this summer I signed up for a one-hour zumba class, and have six of the 10 lessons completed. Occasionally, I ride my bike.

My bike is a Jeep.

But it’s all slightly random, an erratic exercise effort that can’t really be called a routine. I know it’s not enough.

So here’s the question I’ve been contemplating:  what will it take for me to commit to regular exercise? Thirty minutes to an hour every day. Or maybe every other day. Or perhaps four out of seven days.  Doesn’t everyone deserve a day or two off?

You see my problem? Already I’m slipping and I haven’t even begun yet.

My older (and wiser) sister Lois tells me I need to start thinking like an athlete. That’s the message her coach, Anne Campbell has instilled in her during nearly a year of aggressive boot camp.

Lois, to my great admiration, has been getting up at 5 a.m. most weekday mornings and taking herself off to the Dartmouth Adventure Boot Camp in a park. She runs a loop around a lake. She plays tag games. She squats and lunges and skips. She is getting into shape and loving it.

She committed herself to this rigorous routine 11 months ago, having decided that this was the year she was getting back into shape. She is just one month away from completing her goal, but she’s far from finished with exercise. In fact, she tells me she loves it.

My sister leading her boot camp: the kids were slightly more energetic than I was.

She, obviously, has learned how an athlete thinks.

“I’ll never think like that,” I tell Lois as we huff and puff through the mini boot camp she organized for us during a recent shared vacation. I know this is negative thinking, and that is not normally my style.  But I have 50 years of experience of not being an athlete, so I might be forgiven my pessimism.

Personally, I blame it on the agony of handstands.

When I was seven or eight, I faced a school gym test which required somersaults, handstands and who knows what other kind of bodily contortion. The somersaults I could master. The handstands I could not.

I still remember piling cushions from the couch against the French door in our living room and trying my best to pull my stubby legs over my head; to stand straight and tall, palms on the ground, everything upside down.

Over and over again I tumbled to the floor, eventually my face crumbling into tears of defeat and discouragement. I was so distressed my mother called my teacher, who diffused the situation by assuring us my inability to perform a handstand would not cause me to fail school completely.

Even so, I never really wanted to commit to any sport afterwards, although I learned to play them all, from basketball to racquetball.  I liked sports. I was just never particularly good at any of them.

I could hit a softball, but only to left field. I could bowl, but with a decided curve, and usually ended up with too many gutter balls to garner much in the way of points. I have always been able to return a low, smooth ball in Ping-Pong, and I’ve won lots of matches over the years. But I’m no ace player.

I give up easily and have never felt inclined to go beyond playing for fun.  I am neither determinedly active nor eager to endure pain for the sake of gain.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I spent my 39th year working out. I lifted weights, jogged on the treadmill, swam. I wanted to climb a mountain for my 40th birthday and I knew I needed to be in shape to do it.

I mastered that goal, then promptly tossed my hiking boots in the closet and settled back into my sedentary life.

I must admit, I am rather inclined toward a sedentary life.

Maybe, though, I’m ready to stir things up again. I did seven boot camp sessions with Lois during my holidays, and swam nearly every day.

I may not know how an athlete thinks, but I might be getting a sense of how one feels. Energetic. Exhilarated. Pretty good, actually.

I like the feeling. So much so, that I think there may be more push-ups, planks and triceps in my future. Maybe even every day. OK, let’s not stretch the truth. Every other day. With weekends off.

Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. This column is published in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Contact her at lmacgibbon@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter@lyndamacgibbon.


7 thoughts on “Learning to think like an athlete

  1. Boy, do I know what you mean about the handstands…a lover of high school phys.ed I was not. Sports and athletics in general intimidated me, but it was mostly because of performance anxiety. The reason why I attached myself to running later in life was for its non-competitive aspects. I didn’t have to do it with another soul (although lately I’m finding that trying to keep up with others improves my speed) therefore no team was depending on my prowess as a runner. The only competition that existed is the one I host daily with myself.

  2. Interesting. I, too, have been pondering that big question…what shifts to inspire someone to commit to XXX? For those of us who do not have a naturally competitive spirit, what tips the mind to embrace a new direction or a new regime with the utter determination and will to achieve? I’ve come to this conclusion: Certainly a goal helps, but I have discovered that I need to be careful defining that goal so that it becomes a direction setting tool, not the destination. For example, let’s say I know that my brain works better when I am moving, so rather than making exercise or getting in shape a goal, I choose a morning walk (or whatever) as my quiet, contemplative, creative time. As time passes, I gain the peace and creative flow from this time alone, but also begin to up the ante on the walk…increasing length, speed, time, so that the offshoot of my creative time is improving my physical endurance.

    Hmm….this sounds like such a great idea that I might actually have to try it.

  3. Having just returned from the Olympics I appreciate your sentiment. Going to the events though made me feel like there was this active inspiration for participating as we walked to our transportation often traversing multiple levels of stairs to get to the tube or buses, then hiking from them to the venues, and upon arriving stairs again. It was motivating to get in shape as I was expending more effort to get to the games to watch super athletes than I have exercised in a long long time. On many signs everywhere in London was written Inspiring a generation. Well that was achieved with the effort it took to get to the venues.

    Also I learned to appreciate the benefits of life in the big city of London without a car. You can get anywhere using their efficient transport system and doing your part of walking to and from it.

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