Thursday, July 09, 2015

A Decade on the Couch




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I couldn’t actually remember the last time I had broken a sweat, that is if you don’t count from walking up a flight of stairs or carrying a bag of groceries to the car. That’s how out of shape I was when I walked through the doors of Crossfit Chapel Hill in July, 2014.

I had just moved to Chapel Hill and was ready to turn over a new leaf. For eleven years, from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties, I had lived in Kansas City where I worked as the minister of a Unitarian Universalist congregation in suburban KC. In terms of fitness, I refer to my time there as my decade on the couch.

The purpose of this series of blog posts is to document my own transition from a life of utter physical inactivity to one that includes regular, challenging exercise. I want to write about how I’ve changed as a result of Crossfit. I also want to reflect on stepping into a culture that was completely foreign to me. My adult life up until this past year had been spent largely surrounded by church people, minister colleagues, academics, social justice activists, and liberal do-gooder types. None of these people were opposed to fitness, per se. Physical activity was just something that for the most part we didn’t talk about or acknowledge. In a future post I’ll write about that experience of being part of what I call a “disembodied” culture.

Here’s a brief physical autobiography so you can get a sense of my background in physical activity prior to joining Crossfit:

As a child I liked sports but wasn’t very good at them. I played Little League baseball poorly. I was even worse at youth league basketball. Throughout my childhood I suffered from acute asthma that kept me closely tied to an inhaler and restricted my physical activity. In high school I joined the swim team. I grew up next to a pond and my comfort in the water covered for my lack of size, strength, or speed. I competed in the butterfly and the individual medley but I hated practice and my endurance was a liability on anything longer than a 50 yard sprint.

I attended college at Reed in Portland, Oregon. Reed has a reputation for academic intensity; the Princeton Review always puts Reed near the top in its annual list of schools with students that study the most. Reed’s first President actually banned intercollegiate athletics calling them a distraction from education. Things had loosened up enough by the time I was there that the college offered women’s rugby, men’s basketball, and co-ed Ultimate Frisbee. It is safe to say that “picked last in kickball” is a superlative that would have described most of my fellow students. It certainly described me. I played Ultimate all through college and also earned PE credit for juggling. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being called a jock.

Through grad school at Harvard I played pick-up Ultimate as the weather permitted. The combination of a lot of walking and eating on a grad school budget kept the weight off. Upon moving to the Midwest I quickly settled into a decade of physical inactivity. I played pickup Ultimate intermittently, less and less each passing year. I joined gyms and went a couple of times to walk on the treadmill or ride the stationary bike for 15 minutes, but the money was mostly wasted. I took walks, which I suppose would have been satisfactory exercise for a senior citizen. Fluctuations in weight during my decade on the couch had little to do with exercise or diet and lots to do with levels of stress.

That’s the shape I was in – out of breath from climbing stairs, pulse racing from lifting my daughter, sweat-drenched from carrying a suitcase to the car – when I walked through the doors of Crossfit Chapel Hill for the first time.


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