48. She Called Me Olga

48. She Called Me Olga

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

She Called Me
Olga

The greatest pleasure in life
is doing what people say you cannot do.
 ~Bagehot

Junior high school was my undoing when it came to many things, but especially my fitness and my self-esteem. My gym teacher took to calling me Olga, after Olga Korbut, the gold medal gymnast. I can still hear her sarcastic tone when she told me it was my turn to do my gymnastic routine. I was an ungainly girl, tall and clumsy, and let’s just say that once I survived the year, I gave up on sports. My self-confidence was so destroyed that I didn’t realize that I was in fact a good swimmer, volleyball player and bicyclist. I thought that I was hopeless and I did everything I could to avoid exercise and athletics. I considered myself lucky my senior year when I became so ill from mononucleosis that I was excused from gym class for the rest of the year.

The years passed. I managed to avoid the intramural games at my college and never bothered to find the beautiful gymnasium. I never participated in the softball games in my town or in the parent/child swim meets. Once in a while, I joined exercise classes, but never was successful. And then, one day, I found myself in my 40s, overweight, out-of-shape and miserable. I had just spoken to my doctor, who had given me my recent results and they were dire.

I realized that I was in a now or never situation and so, without telling anyone, I summoned up all my courage and drove to the nearest gym. I walked up to the desk and said that I wanted to join immediately. The woman was surprised that I hadn’t asked for a tour or inquired about the price. To be honest, I was afraid that I was going to give up again, and I just wanted to commit immediately. I couldn’t even get started that day because I had neglected to wear exercise clothes and sneakers.

The next morning, I drove back to the gym and forced myself to go inside. I was nervous about learning to use the machines and about looking like a fraud in my workout clothes. Fortunately, as soon as I entered, I saw a woman who had been a sports teacher for my younger daughter. Bonnie was welcoming and showed me how to use some of the machines. That morning, I managed five minutes on the elliptical, and if it hadn’t been for her kind encouragement, I wouldn’t have lasted a minute.

I went to the gym almost every day. I tried not to make a schedule. I just went whenever I possibly could. And every day I did whatever I could do, and then maybe a little more. Bonnie helped me, always smiling and showing me another routine. I finally got up the courage to stop taking all of her time and to hire a “real” trainer. I told him how afraid I was, and about my junior high school teacher. He told me that it was time to move on, and he was right. With his guidance, I became stronger and healthier.

It’s three years later, and now I’m one of the regulars at the gym, someone who everyone knows. I try to go every morning, and some mornings, when I really don’t feel like going, I go anyway. Every day I do what I think I can do and then a little bit more. I see my friends and still enjoy working out with Bonnie. Lately we’ve been doing spin classes together. It amazes me every time that I can keep up. I’m not going to lie and say that I’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight and am now a size 2. I’m a middle-aged woman and I’ve come to face certain realities. I will never become a size 2, but what I have become is more important than that. Finally, after many years of avoiding exercise, I’ve made it a priority in my life. I’m healthier and happier than I’ve ever been, certainly more than I was in junior high school.

Take that, Miss D—!

~Lisa Coll Nicolaou

More stories from our partners