It baffles me when people talk about the P.E. courses they took in college "for fun." I’ve never been what one might call “athletic.” I lack an awareness of what my body is doing at any given moment and possess a strong aversion to using my muscles to move me about for any reason other than fetching the remote or another cookie. My limited attempts to do anything fitness related have usually ended in humiliation.
When I was in 7th grade, the criteria for fitness were set by the federal government. Really. Regan (or whoever was president back then, am I old enough to remember the Regan administration?) had come up with standards regarding how fast one should be able to run, how high one should be able to climb a rope, how many situps one should be able to do without passing out, etc.
I’m sure the criteria were established using the mean or the median or some such nonsense that you’d have to be a statistician to understand. It’s completely over my head. Anyway, we were tested against these standards and assigned a grade accordingly.
I hated all graded physical activity equally, but I reserved an extra bit of rancor in my soul for the chin-up. Sure, let me hang on a bar like a rotting bloated manatee carcass in front of the whole class and writhe and grunt while not lifting my body a single fraction of an inch. Yes, please! May I have another?
I was delighted to learn that this year an alternative to the chin-up was presented. It was the Flex-Arm Hang. Those of us who were unable to complete even a fraction of a single chin-up were given the option to be boosted up to the bar and then timed on how long we were able to remain in the flexed arm position with chin above the bar. Surely, 30 seconds or a whole minute would not be difficult. For the first time a glimmer of hope surfaced. Would this be the first P.E. activity at which I would be at least average? Dare I even hope for above average?
I wiped my palms and the teacher boosted me up. He gave the signal to the stopwatch operator. “Ready, set,… GO!” He let me go.
I crashed to the ground immediately.
“Uhhhh….one second? She was up for… one second?” the stopwatch operator reported tentatively. He consulted the table to see where that put me in the rankings of all children in the
“The lowest score is 3 seconds.
What should I do?”
“Never mind,” the teacher said. “It’s the best of three tries. You were just unprepared for this one, I think. Remember, when I let go just hold yourself above the bar.” Got it. Now that I knew what was expect, I was psyched and ready.
He boosted me up, gave the signal, and let go.
Again, I crashed to the ground immediately.
“That was an even shorter time this time, I think,” the timekeeper said. “I couldn’t even push the button all the way down before she hit the floor.”
(If I was a wiseacre then like I am now I would have quipped, “That’s because I’m getting tired.” Why do I always think of these funny things to say 26 years later?!)
Thoroughly mortified, I muttered to the teacher that I would waive my third attempt and just take a zero on the exercise.
It never occurred to me during all my schooling through the years that P.E. was something you could learn to do and become good at. It was just something that some kids could do and some kids couldn’t. I never thought that non-academically inclined students would feel that was about math or reading. And I believe the reason for this was that in P.E. were we always just tested. Tested out of the blue on one horrifying and humiliating afternoon. Here are the standards. See how you measure up. No before and after. Let’s just take a snapshot in time and that’s your grade. At least with an academic subject you have a teacher to answer questions and homework to help you learn. I never experienced that with any of my P.E. classes.
During a unit on volleyball in high school I had trouble serving the ball over the net. I asked the teacher what I was doing wrong because, whatever it was, I was doing it consistently as the ball ended up in the same spot in the net every single time. It took a lot for me to muster up the courage to ask for help. She looked at me like I was a total moron and told me to stop hitting the ball into the net. She said that I needed to hit it OVER the net. No advice like, “You need to throw it up higher” or “You need to jump so you can hit it before it starts coming down.” Just “Stop hitting it into the net.” THANK YOU. I understand that much. I’m uncoordinated BUT NOT STUPID. The grading criteria was that the ball made it over the net in 3 out of 5 serves. Guess who got a zero on that exercise, too?
When I reached college, I decided I’d had enough of this P.E. nonsense dragging my GPA down. I was required to take 2 P.E. classes, one of which was the standard “Fit For Life” course. It was largely graded on book learning and not so much on performance so I did okay. My elective course had to be chosen with care, though.
If you picture a Venn diagram for my decision, the first circle contains Courses For Which I Am Not Required To Wear BYU Issued Clothing and the second circle contains Courses Which Require No Running, Sweating, Or Chasing After A Ball. The only course in the intersection of my two circle was archery. I signed up feeling something akin to the glee that someone feels when she realizes she’s not going to be beheaded but instead will only have one hand chopped off.
I expected that most people have no experience with archery so unlike basketball or volleyball we might all start at a beginner level. The teacher was actually pretty nice and helpful. That was a refreshing change. She would demonstrate the correct pose and move down the line of students making slight corrections to each. “Okay, so your extended arm, your stance and your hips should all be lined up. Straight line, front to back.” She might move someone’s back foot a couple of inches to the side or slightly twist their hips. “Looking good people!” She got to me and stopped. “What you need to do is get everything lined up. Arm, hips, feet,” she said gently.
“Yup, got it,” I beamed, sure of myself for the first time ever in a P.E. class.
“Uh…so, straight line. Front to back. One parallel line.”
“Yup. Got it, “I said again. “Arm out straight.” I stuck my arm holding the bow out. “Body in line.” I swiveled my hips to be in line with my arm. “And feet directly underneath.” I stomped my feet in place for emphasis.
“Uh… no.” She moved my arm a whole 45 degrees to the left. “This is having your arm straight in front of you. And your hips…this way.” She turned them in the opposite direction. “And your feet… your back foot needs to be waaaaaay over here.”
When I said I have no idea what my body is doing most of the time, I’m not joking. I had no clue that I wasn’t all lined up. I truly thought I was William Tell and ready to shoot a freaking apple offa someone’s head.
The archery class ended up not being too bad. It was kind of fun and I got a good grade, probably because 60% of the grade was based on written tests.
The best part about it was one afternoon, the teacher sounded her whistle in 3 short loud blasts which indicated there was a safety issue and we were to stop shooting immediately. Safety was a genuine concern and we’d had a couple of drills and one actual incident when someone had stepped beyond the firing line to retrieve a dropped arrow. We stopped shooting just in time to see that someone had opened the roll-up door which separated our area from the rest of the indoor track and a horde of very determined runners were barreling into the building RIGHT INTO THE MIDDLE OF OUR SHOOTING RANGE. They looked confused and irritated when it was explained that the door was shut for a reason and they were interrupting a class.
They looked skeptical. I guess it’s not really P.E. unless you are running.