Ode to a Buff Woman

Why all I want for my birthday is hand weights.

When I was in the early days of being a teenager, I felt like I actually resembled a sloth. I could feel the cholesterol from those Reese’s cups solidifying in my arteries. Sound gross? Yeah. I used to hate being lazy. I hardly got any exercise other than riding horses once or twice a week.

In ninth grade, I ran the mile for gym class in 11 minutes and 30 seconds. I felt like the kid who had potential, but sat out of the kickball game just because she wanted to. My gym teacher was the baseball coach, and everyone and their mother in my class was an athlete.

When I was 15, I decided I needed to prove to them, and myself, that this thing I had become wasn’t me. So I started running in the summer. It was too hot during the day, so I started waking up at 7 a.m. to run some loops on the bike trails which weaved their way in and out of the soccer fields at my high school.

It didn’t take long to realize that my level of discipline wasn’t going to hold out. I couldn’t convince myself that it was even worth waking up so early just to run — was I even willing to give up the precious morning hours I was so accustomed to using to sleep in? I came to a conclusion: I wanted a treadmill that I could use it any time of day in the controlled environment of our guest bedroom. I begged my parents to buy one, and to my surprise they actually did.

My treadmill and I became good friends in, well, the worst sense of the phrase. Frustration always set in because I couldn’t run for long periods of time, and I could never find rhythm in my breathing. Seriously, I couldn’t breathe for shit.

I somehow knew it would get easier, but in the meantime I threw my Walkman at the wall no less than five times. I still use that Walkman, but now it’s taped together to keep the batteries from falling out. It’s also missing most of its insides.

Soon, I was using my treadmill up to five times a week. I started around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, because that was when Power 92′s “Live at Five” came on. They usually played about a half-hour of continuous music. I change radio stations often while running — I can’t run to bad rap, Celine Dion, Alice in Chains, Creed, or anything on Lite 98.

I’ve used it for over two years now. But adventuring into the world of treadmills was just the beginning for me.

In 10th grade, I actually joined the indoor track team. I had the build of a discus thrower, but I just wanted to run. I was familiar with only a few people on the team, one of whom was my good friend. (She was also one of the best sprinters and had been an MVP the previous season. I pondered what that would do to my self esteem.) Was I going to handle the pressure of being, in my opinion, the worst sprinter out there?

The first day of practice began on a mild November afternoon; I actually wore shorts. I remember doing various warm-up exercises I’d never even thought about before, and then several 200-meter sprints. After the first practice, I felt quite accomplished, but there were a few things I had already begun to sense.

  • The coach couldn’t care less about me. He never did learn my name, and I don’t think he noticed when I was late to practice.
  • There was no use trying to be a competitive runner, so I would be content with being a recreational runner.

The next several weeks were good times. Even though I wasn’t in “competition mode,” I still made several new friends, and I didn’t feel too out of place. No one made fun of me or looked down upon me, because they knew I wanted to run, just like them.

I even began to conform to my own schedule: I went to the locker room at the same time every day, I sat on the same bench, I always wore the same Atlanta Braves baseball cap — and I ran at my own pace. I even listened to the radio on my headphones before going outside, just to set my mind at ease. I still have a distinct memory of listening to Our Lady Peace’s “One Man Army.”

Another thing I gained was experience running in the cold — despite its name, indoor track isn’t ever held indoors. One day, it even began to snow. It was so cold we all opted to huddle in the weight room for a while.

After nearly a month of practicing with the team, I knew I had improved. Once school resumed after Christmas break, I decided not to finish the season. I hadn’t lost my motivation, though.

I rescued my treadmill from the cobwebs that had begun to spread over it, and I started using it again. After all, once I had started to develop my own style, I decided that I’d rather run by myself.

I think that was when I really knew I had crossed through some kind of barrier. Before indoor track, I felt like I wasn’t making sufficient progress in my effort to transform myself from vegetable to Ms. Active. But now I was much more confident. I knew that I could improve upon my current condition even more. I was bold. I was better prepared to challenge myself.

Now, as I sit here, I am reminded of a conversation I had last night with my friends. We had perused the automobile magazines at a book store that evening and were making fun of the fact that they had random models on the cover that basically sang the words “Sex! Sex! Buy me! Sex!!”

We agreed that women are often portrayed distastefully. I told them how I want to be buff. Not bulky and veiny. I want to be strong.

My friends agreed — they even said that muscular women are more beautiful than those thin bony model types. I don’t like people associating women with weakness, and while I’m not trying to prove anything by having some amount of strength, I know it’s important to me. It’s important because it has taught me so much. I’ve learned to respect myself, take care of my body, and appreciate the benefits of good old-fashioned exercise. It’s quite a change from the Reese’s eating kid who was too lazy to play.

So, my birthday is approaching, and I told my parents that I would like some hand weights. I said, “Well, if we can’t join American Family Fitness, at least let me have some hand weights. I promise I’ll use them; you have my word!”

Of course, my mother is under the impression that I should never lift anything over 5 pounds … not any time, ever. But sooner or later, you have to add weight to improve, no?

I remember the blunt, perhaps ill-advised words of my elementary school gym teacher. She said that if there are two applicants for a job, one who can type around 50 words a minute and one who can type 40 words a minute, it comes down to appearance. The more attractive, physically fit, yet slower (typist) will most likely get the job.

I think it’s the third woman who gets the job: the one who uses hand weights to strengthen her arms and wrists so they can handle the stress of typing. That third woman is me. I’ve proved these teachers and coaches wrong. I tore apart their expectations, and if I weren’t so damn polite, mannerly and respectful, I would go back to them and get in their faces. (“Look at me now, bitch!”)

But I’m not going to do that. Besides, it’s about 4:30, time for me to go warm up for a long run.

Article © 2002 by Lauren Pitts