I am not a PE person.
This probably does not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me even in passing. While I was on the dance team in high school and college, the variety of athleticism that lends itself to playing basketball with sweaty classmates for an hour in the middle of the day? Yeah, I don’t possess it.
I enjoyed those early days of physical education, when gym class meant surrounding a huge parachute with twenty of my classmates, whoofing it full of air, and running into the rainbow dome underneath. Those blissful parachute days were, of course, marred by that horrible spectacle of elementary-school aggression known as dodge-ball. But what can you do.
Once I entered middle school and the parachute was folded and stowed away for the younger set, gym class lost its last redeeming qualities. I was left with only one feeble light in the dark world of physical education: the flex-arm hang.
I did pretty well on the Presidential Fitness Tests, even though there were tasks — such as the dreaded sit-ups — that I looked upon with the kind of disdain usually reserved for aforementioned dodge-ball. But I rocked the flex-arm hang during those years when girls can substitute it for pull-ups.
I distinctly remember one fitness test cycle when I was living in Cary, Illinois in which I clung endlessly to the metal chin-up bar outside the school building. The bar was perhaps cold enough in that slate-blue air of the midwest that it numbed my palms and made my flex-arm hang painless and, therefore, interminable. I actually settled quite comfortably into that hanging position, eyeing the other students standing in the damp mulch in their royal blue shorts and goldenrod tee-shirts as my gym teacher held a clipboard and stopwatch.
It’s awkward and quiet when you’re mid-hang. Do you make conversation? Do you remain stonily silent? I think it was more the strangeness of the situation — the sense that I was just hanging there through no exertion at all, and unfortunately the center of attention — that finally made me will my clamped hands to release.
I was relieved that my moment was over, that another kid was now subject to the unflinching progress of the stopwatch, but I still remember the flex-arm hang as a rare moment of athletic triumph. These days, as I’m trying to power through a run that just won’t get any easier — no matter how many times I’ve braved the Houston humidity to put in a few miles, and no matter how hard I try to compose the perfect, motivational playlist — I try to remember that the flex-arm hang is proof that my body is capable of exerting a kind of tenacious, stubborn strength.
I may not be a natural runner, but I have a flimsy certificate with a gold-foil seal that tells the world of my epic flex-arm hang.