I was once known as “the bread thief.”
When I was a kid, it was always my job to slice the Italian bread for dinner. I’m not sure if this task was self-imposed, or if I was assigned this by my parents, but everyone knew that slicing bread was my jam.
Of course, the bread basket never really made it to the table as full as it should have been. One crusty end was already eaten by the time I sliced up half the loaf. And by the time I was finished slicing, another slice or two was inexplicably missing.
By the time dinner was actually served, a good third of that loaf of bread was missing.
“The bread thief struck again,” someone would snicker, reaching in to the less-than-overflowing basket.
That’s how much of my childhood passed. I loved carbs; I hated meat; and this was reinforced when I made the decision to become vegetarian in my 20s. And while I was healthy for the most part, there was just one thing: I didn’t move much. At all.
Up until my 30s, my few athletic endeavors were all failures.
I lost foot races when I was a kid. Running always made my sides hurt. I didn’t like it.
I struck out whenever I was at bat, so I skipped gym class every Spring when we went outside for baseball games.
And I tried to defend my brother from the neighborhood bully one day, but all I could think of to do was hit the kid with one of those over-sized, red plastic whiffle ball bats.
The force of that bat was meek, like me.
Even the one somewhat athletic endeavor I had as a child – ballet – was a failure. When I was just about 12 years old, my ballet peers were starting to move up to pointe classes. I’d been taking ballet since I was 3 or 4, and while I was never super enthusiastic about it, I thought I might want to give pointe a shot.
My teacher was a childhood friend of my father’s. She told my parents I’d have to take extra classes, probably 2-3 per week, to really get myself up to speed. Some of the girls were already in multiple classes, so I presumed this was to help me catch up.
In class one day, however, as we were practicing our positions, my teacher came over to correct my legs. As she helped me adjust my turnout, she touched my right leg, just above the knee, to guide it, and said, “Us Italian girls with Italian thighs probably shouldn’t be ballerinas anyway.”
I was done with ballet after that.
No pointe. No extra classes.
And thus my only foray into any kind of lasting physical achievement as a child ended when I was 12.
It wasn’t until I was almost 32-years-old, after joining a gym with my brother, that I experienced any kind of impulse to be athletic. I had a few free sessions with a trainer, and after considering my history of incapability when it came to sports, I realized that all of my prior accomplishments, as a student, teacher, and a writer, had never been enough to make me feel fully comfortable in my skin.
I knew a lot of wonderful things about the world, about literature, and about life, but I was lacking in a very important way.
I didn’t know shit about my body.
And it was time to fix that.
I started lifting, and at first, I was a weakling, squatting just a 12-pound body bar.
I did boot camp classes where I was the slowest person in the room. When our class went outside for the first time and had to run laps around the plaza, I walked most of the distance. Because I had to. I couldn’t keep up.
But every small failure, like not being able to run a lap around a building, gave me a new goal.
I ran a few times a week precisely because I sucked at it. I trained until I could squat real barbells, not rubber-coated aerobics-class accessories. I matched my diet to my training goals.
And I found myself in love with my body for the first time — and not just because I liked how it was starting to look.
I loved my body for what it was starting to do.
That epiphany spawned a series of life events that permanently changed who I am:
Regardless of the places in which I have found myself, however, one thing has remained constant:
I am forever following fit.
Because, like life, fitness has no finish line.