the accidental athlete

As a young immigrant growing up in NZ in the 70s, it was a challenge for a non-athletic girl. I was uncoordinated; a bit unfit and not really interested in sport, either participating or watching – it didn’t make living in a sports obsessed country that comfortable.

I swear most NZers are born with a pair of trainers and sports embedded in their DNA. Even 50 years on, although I really enjoy watching rugby now and vociferously support the next generation from the side-line. I still really don’t “get it”…

At school one of the roots of my being bullying was my lack of sportiness. Hopelessly uncoordinated, I could not catch a ball to save my life, “Butterfingers” was one of my nicknames for years. Teachers would never relent on the need to “keep up”, “run faster”, “you are not trying”. And I was routinely picked last for teams. I joke with my bestie of 50 years, that we never got to play on the same team, because as unsporty as me, we were always the last 2 picked. My parents encouraged me to play sport, but never really followed me playing. I would bike to Saturday hockey, play abysmally and then bike back home.

None of this made me want to embrace physical activity as an adult. Not even my, way before her time, High School Headmistress. She was a formidable old school, tweed wearing woman in her late 50s. Miss Kelt was not to be crossed. But she knew girls and young women, and in our last year at high school, our PE was changed to include many “solo” sports – squash, archery, golf, yachting etc. In the hope that we would continue to include exercise in our lives after we left school…Sadly the bullying that had followed my entire “sporting career” continued, even into these solo sports. Being uncoordinated is not helpful in archery or squash. But I did admire her foresight.

So, in the age of the leg warmer, aerobics, Jane Fonda and Jazzercize, I lived life like most of my friends – exercise free. I did go to a gym once, to do aerobics and hated it. Not just the exercise, but the whole anxiety that met me at the door. Unless you have had bad exercise experiences, it will be hard to understand how confronting the “Temple to Fitness” can be.

When I was approaching my 40th birthday, I decided I needed to address my health. I am lucky I have pretty healthy genes. But I was unfit and overweight. And those milestone birthdays always make you ponder where you are in life. About 5 years previously I had done two 10K fund raising walks. And decided walking was the way. So, I dieted, and rose every day at dawn and walked. The weight dropped off; I lost 2 dress sizes. Was the thinnest I’d ever been as an adult. I LOVED the compliments and the attention. But I was also a bit peeved. The outside wrapping had changed, but I was still the same inside – I realised how superficial some people are. The world certainly views you differently when you are thin. I did feel healthier though, and mentally I was in my best place. I felt like I was acceptable and belonged…. I successfully completed 2 half marathons! The feeling of crossing the line will never leave me. I finally “got” the exercise high!

Sadly, Life has a way of happening. And within a couple of years the Series of Unfortunate Incidents that were to hit my family started. Over the decade and a half that followed, life turned away from self-improvement and to survival. The weight piled back on, and the fitness left. I didn’t have time to exercise, and stress turned me to comfort eating – and food that was just quick and easy.

And I began the cycle that is…..

Depression ➡ lack of exercise➡ bad food choices➡ too tired to exercise➡ seeking a quick energy boost➡ snacking ➡exhaustion ➡exacerbated depression ➡etc

And once you are in the thick of it, it is seemingly impossible to make any change to get out of it. And when you are primary caregiver for people who are unwell you devote all your energy to them. Which of course you can’t do indefinitely – but at the time, you feel you have no choice.

August 2019. A huge fight with one of my whanau members saw me leave the house. To give us some space from each other. Initially I drove and then I pulled over at one of the nearby bays and got out and walked………

…….and as I calmed down, I remembered how good the act of putting one foot in front of the other, in the fresh air, listening to the sound of the sea, felt……

And so, I started my daily walks again. Once I had reached out for help for my depression, those walks on the beach became the time I talked to the people who were waiting to help me. I listened to music, read supportive messages, and breathed….

…..I wrote poetry…

…and began the inklings of Moving Meditation

My brain is busy! Those in recovery talk about the washing machine brain. Thoughts swirl endlessly, and I could overthink for the Olympics… But I found that the combination of moving and music in my ears busied enough of my brain that I could slow the thoughts.

I learned mindfulness – focussing my brain on the sights, smells, and feeling of the sand beneath my feet, or the sun on my face.

I learned to breath…

….Feeling the air go in and out…

…Pausing…

….I (accidentally) walked a half marathon

As my distances grew, I was proudly walking over 10k a day. I reveled in the kudos and all the compliments that I got…

I thought, I had found the complete answer to my MH issues….

…..i was wrong….

those bloody shoes!

….I ignored a new niggling knee problem. (Ignoring things is one of my superpowers)… I had bought new shoes, and they were not as comfortable as my old ones. They did not fit as well, which I knew.. but I ignored that (see above re superpower)…. The knee got worse. But I persevered. Thinking that once the shoes were worn in it would right itself. It did not, and I had to stop walking and get medical advice.

At the same time, I had lost 1 of my vital support people and was in the process of losing my special haven place. The perfect storm inevitably happened. I was devastated to find myself floored by depression again. Angry that the couple of things I had put into place to help had been “taken away”… and almost a year to the date when I started my recovery journey, I felt like I was back at the beginning..

The medical advice was to take up hydrotherapy. For a person who has body image issues the mere thought of having to get into a swimsuit seemed a bridge too far. But I knew enough to know that I needed to keep moving. So, I started water jogging and exercising. In the summer it was in an outdoor private pool. But once winter hit, I needed to move to an indoor public pool. That first visit, my anxiety was through the roof. Appearing in public in nothing but a swimsuit, is my idea of hell.

But an amazing thing happened… by the 2nd or 3rd visit, I realised that I could meditate in the warm darkened pool. The mindful breathing and warm, almost cocoon like atmosphere helped me regain my zen – those moments of utter peace that I had learned to crave.

I had begun walking again. But could not do the distances I had been doing before. My knee is really not up to it anymore. And within the year I was back seeking more medical advice. This time I saw a specialist. He confirmed my knee was stuffed, but that I was too young for surgery. (Yay! Lol) He recommended cycling…… Now if I thought the whole swimsuit thing was hard, I knew that going to a gym to hop on an exercycle was definitely never going to happen. So, the only solution was buying a bike…

So, Christmas 2021 saw Freddie arrive in my life. Bright pink, old fashioned, basket on the front and a blue spangly helmet…. After a few practice runs in the driveway (It had been 40 years since  my last bike ride after all), and I started tentative rides on the streets….

…..it was bloody hard work! I do not remember that from  my childhood lol

Freddie and I now go out 5 or 6 times a week. We have a couple of regular circuits and then every Sunday we go further afield. A leisurely ride, stopping to take photos, have a drink, or just sit and watch the world go by..

2 and a half months in and I realise that it’s no longer hard work… that on my regular circuit my mediation has come back. That I am sorting out the stuff in my head that I need to work on. That the Bitch Troll voice, has turned into a voice that makes me think about the choices I make. That the Black Dog who still visits, has become more manageable…..

For the first time ever I’m listening to my body. I’m trying to not overdo it. I still measure the distances but am content to cycle… just enough. Would I like to bike 20k a day? Yes! But I realise I cannot.. I only share my progress occasionally – not wanting to fall back into the need to feed off others’ opinions of my achievements.

Am exercising just for me…

Oh, and this is the weirdest feeling ever, I am finding I’m actually enjoying exercise and miss it the days I can’t get out…..

And a recent downturn in mood has been managed by going back to basics, and not giving in to the inertia/comfort food cycle… I kept moving, and knew that this would get me back to where I want to be…

This part of my recovery has been more than just getting out and moving. I have learned about myself and learned to love this body; and to respect it by looking after it. I have worked out I need more that just 2 tools in my recovery toolbox. And that variety is the key to maintaining my MH..

I have learned that difference between sport and exercise and that I am an athlete – accidentally, and of sorts….

I am The Accidental Athlete.

Whakaoho

Mauri tū

Mauri ora

Motivation

An active soul is

A healthy soul

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