So it was with amazement when some 40 years later, I discovered that the story I had been telling myself all these years maybe wasn’t true after all, that that strength had been there, I just didn’t know how to tap into it, until I discovered SPENGA. I know, kind of a weird name, but it’s a melding of spin, strength, and yoga—twenty minutes each in a one-hour session. Suddenly my body is taut in places that I was convinced would jiggle forever. I’m doing planks and pushups and mountain climbers and other assorted Yoga poses that I don’t even know the names of. It is kick-ass hard, and I can’t do everything, but each day, I’m a fingernail better, my pushups just a wee bit closer to the ground.
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I used to dread the annual day in grade school when they tested all the girls and boys on their physical fitness, like how many pull-ups and pushups you could do—Pull-ups. Zero…Pushups. One. But the thing I remember most was being asked to climb a rope that hung from ceiling to floor in our grade school gymnasium. That rope was like the main attraction in the Big Top at the circus. I mean, everyone could see if you could climb that rope or not. Not like over at the pull-up station. Pull-ups were kind of off to the side, against the wall. No one really noticed if you couldn’t do a single pull up. But sure as hell everyone knew if you couldn’t climb that rope! That rope was the thing of elementary school nightmares, when your whole vulnerable grade-school self could be stripped naked in a single moment, snickered at, pitied, reduced to nothing more than a rope-climbing loser. And if that wasn’t enough, you had to wait in a long, slow-moving line that only intensified the feelings of impending doom.
I marveled at the little monkeys who shimmied up at astonishing speeds, slapped the ceiling, and shot back down to shouts of cheers and looks of admiration. It seemed nothing short of miraculous. At last, my turn would come, I’d lift my arms heavenward, grasp the rope, squeeze with all my might, try to hoist myself up, only to dangle, defeated at the bottom of the rope. I’m pretty sure when God passed out upper body strength, God forgot to give me any. And that’s the story I’ve been telling myself.
I wish in grade school I would have had a Carrie or Beth, my favorite instructors and motivational gurus: “Do it for you!” “There’s more in the tank than you think.” “Leave everything you’ve got on the floor!” “Embrace yourself wherever you are right now.” They really rock!
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” I used to hold firm to the belief that I would never be able to do pull-ups and pushups, that I just wasn’t born to climb ropes. But now I’m not so sure.
My Spenga experience has reminded me how important it is to challenge those defeatist stories we tell ourselves. That there is always “more in the tank” than we think—thanks, Beth! That we need to “thank ourselves for showing up”—thanks, Carrie! We just have to keep doing it, a little bit everyday. But those little bits add up. And, Gosh darnit, I’m pretty sure in another few months, I just might be climbing that rope.