When you're in first and second grade, gym class is nothing but field day. Remember those little scooters you'd sit on and instantly regret running over your finger with? Or the rainbow parachute that never failed to be the absolute highlight of the week? Back then, gym let us enjoy being children—and likely just wore us out so our teachers didn't have to deal with wound up 8-year-olds.
Then along came middle school, and with it came the fitness tests. How far can you stretch? How many chin-ups can you do? Push-ups? How many crunches can you do in a minute? Oh, you don't have hand-eye coordination? It's okay, you're still forced to play dodgeball, and you'll just have to deal with the fact that people hate having you on their team.
During those absolutely critical years of self-esteem building, gym class managed to absolutely crush my heart. I was never the strongest, and never a key player on a team. I was among those who would try to find excuses to sit on the sidelines, always faking a stomachache or cramp. The sad thing is that I know tons of people can relate to me.
Don't get me wrong, I think gym class can be great. I'm not saying anything bad about those who were the class superstars - one of my best friends was a top athlete in the school and I was never anything but proud of her.
The problem I want to address is the fact that gym class often makes people feel inferior if they can't keep up with their more gifted peers, and that leads to putting a false idea of what it means to be "athletic" into our heads from a young age.
I remember being extremely confused as to why they made us measure our athletic ability. I remember gym teachers picking favorites and definitely not being one of them. Essentially, I was convinced that I would never be athletic in any way, shape, or form. It took far too long for me to realize that I didn't need to be a textbook "athlete" to work out or exercise in a way I could enjoy.
There's a quote I love from Nike's co-founder Bill Bowerman: "If you have a body, you are an athlete."
If you are a human being, you have the potential to be an athlete. It's all about finding your own method of athleticism. For some, it's soccer - for others, it's yoga. It can be swimming, walking, biking, jogging, stretching, or team sports. What gym class doesn't teach so many of us is that there is no single skill set that makes you athletically talented. You are not defined by your ability to run laps around a gymnasium or be in your class's top five for the number of pull-ups you can do.
It took me a while to pinpoint why I've had such a deeply rooted belief that I could never be considered athletic, and it honestly came down to gym class. Unfortunately, it's hurt many a student's self-confidence in ways that people might not even realize, just like myself. It's good to see brands moving towards a more inclusive definition of athleticism, and it's a great time for us all to continue redefining it.