The Coaches of My Youth, Part 1

I read this post this morning about a truly horrible elementary school P.E. teacher, which prompted me to think about my early role models for physical activity, if not actually exercise.

I was a tomboy. I loved playing outside, and didn’t mind getting rough. I recall a few bloody noses from football and, once, a fight.

In school, K-3, we had P.E. daily. Our coach sometimes had all of us run a lap around the jogging track, which was a quarter-mile; other times, we played kickball with those fabulous red balls that make the metallic ca-THUNK sound when you kicked them.

As girls, we were always given the option to play or watch. The boys always played, no matter what. I distinctly remember standing around during P.E. watching the boys.

At some point, the campus got an obstacle course, complete with things like the rope wall to climb over which, in today’s environment, would probably be marked as a death trap and banished from the playground.

My favorite obstacle was an upright with a bell hanging right in the middle of the crossbeam, and two poles suspended you could climb to ring the bell. Please excuse my basic illustration, but I think it will help:

The poles were on chains, which, though they were pulled fairly taut, made the climbing a little dicier than it would have been on a fixed pole. You shimmied up either one or both poles to ring the bell. If you used two hands on one pole, you could wrap  your legs around that pole to help.

My favorite way to do it, however, was to grab one pole in each hand and just go up using arms, no legs. I’d either let go with one hand to ring the bell, which sometimes meant sliding back down on one pole, or, my favorite, headbutt it. Because what elementary school kid doesn’t take every opportunity to headbutt whenever possible?

Our P.E. teacher would have us race each other up the poles. I always won, beating not just girls, but boys, which delighted him to no end. He was also so amazed at my two-arm/no-leg technique that he got permission to get me out of class to demonstrate to some of the older kids.

I’ve never really reflected on what a positive impact that clearly had on my self-esteem and ability to see myself as athletic. Climbing that pole is one of my most vivid early elementary school memories. I have always thought of myself as athletic, even though, save for 2-3 year bursts of activity twice in my adult life, I’ve been a completely sedentary desk worker.

I’m so grateful for those poles.

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