I was a spindly, un-coordinated teenager and found the whole ordeal deeply embarrassing. You didn’t want me on your team or behind you in a relay. My ability to conjugate verbs at the speed of light in French was no comfort to me on the sports field – my body let me down big time.
And the effects have lasted a long time. The memory of being laughed at as I lay with my legs in the air after a poor attempt at the high-jump have made me afraid to exercise in public ever since.
I’m 26 now and until recently I remained convinced that if I joined a gym I would be laughed out as soon as I stepped onto a running machine. I had visions of slim, trim men and women putting down their weights to point and laugh at me as I attempted to get in shape.
The years I spent struggling to fit in as a teenager fooled me into believing that the whole world was out to get me. Days when my clothes, hair and figure came under constant scrutiny by the pubescent boys at school are long gone, but the shattering effect it had on my confidence has taken years to shake off.
And I thought I had, pretty much. Well into my twenties I know who I am, what to wear and the limits of what my hair can and cannot do. All I needed now was to face my fear of public exercise and say a final farewell to my teenage anxieties.
Ever since I heard about zumba I’ve wanted to give it a go. Jumping about, swinging my hips and punching the air is my idea of a good night out so doing it to keep fit sounded ideal.
But when I couldn’t find anyone to come with me I was too scared to brave it alone. How could I possibly survive such an embarrassing 60 minutes?
But then I decided to just stop being ridiculous and go for it. I am a grown adult and refuse to let my 16 year old fears rule my 26 year old head. I can’t just stay completely still for the rest of my years in case someone laughs. I’m getting married next year and don’t want to be out of breath by the time I get to the altar.
With my pulse racing so hard you’d have thought I was about to make a speech to 1,000 people not move about to music, I stepped into the studio at my local YMCA gym. Clutching my water bottle and nervously adjusting my sports top, I waited for the music to start.
And then we were off. And no sooner had we started than my worries had melted away. I was surrounded by a group of women of all ages, shapes and sizes, all on their own and with a very mixed sense of rhythm. But everyone was smiling, everyone was moving, and everyone was definitely having a seriously good work out. And nobody was laughing at anyone, except perhaps a little bit at their own sweaty reflection.
I realised that just as I wasn’t judging anybody else in that room, nor were they judging me. Everyone was there to try and get fit and even have a bit of fun at the same time. In truth, nobody cares what I look like, they’re much too busy trying to figure out how to stamp their foot, wave their hands and spin around in a circle all at the same time.
I finally felt the fear and did it anyway and now I just can’t wait to go back and do it again.