48. She Called Me Olga

48. She Called Me Olga

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

She Called Me

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

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

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