I think one of the most surprising things I learned about myself was that I actually enjoyed exercise. When I was growing up, I definitely wasn’t the athletic type. I could run pretty fast, I learned how to swim when I was quite young, but I hated playing football or rugby. I wasn’t a big fan of contact sports, preferring to go swimming or a long-distance sprint by myself. Even to this day, I don’t think I ever developed the competitive gene, and I prefer exercising alone.
Because I didn’t enjoy playing team sports, especially ones that boys were ‘meant’ to play, I think my parents thought I was a little odd. I’m sure they wanted me to play for the school or local football team, or show some interest in attending a game. I did actually enjoy playing basketball and tennis, but these sports were always only played short-term at school.
Once I had left school, I barely showed any interest in exercising. I never really gained weight even if I only ate junk food, so I never thought there was any reason to exercise. I joined the university gym, but barely went so in the end it was a waste of money. After coming out to my parents and friends, and being more accepting of myself that I was gay, I started to realise that gay people for the most part take care of themselves. Unfortunately, looks are very important in the gay community, and being muscular and good-looking are very significant.
I have never thought of myself as particularly good-looking nor ugly. I’ve always thought of myself as mediocre; someone you probably wouldn’t give a second glance at, but not somebody who repulses you. For the longest time, I thought there wasn’t really anything I could do about the way I looked. I didn’t enjoy exercise so that was out. I wanted to dress fashionably, but looking back on some photos I can’t say I ever achieved that.
When I was about 25 years old, working as an English teacher, I would sit down for pretty much most of the day. The only mobile time would be to walk to the station and back. I lie on my bed at home, sit down on the train, sit down at work, and just move to get lunch or go to the toilet. I wasn’t fat so I thought I was okay. One day something suddenly pulled in my back sharply, and I started having this dull ache. I didn’t know where it had come from and I figured I must have just sat or lay in a funny position, but the pain continued. After researching about lower back pain, and realising how common it is (despite believing I had a tumour on my spine), I read about the causes. I knew I had terrible posture, and that I would always round over and hunch my back.
I joined a gym and I started swimming. There was a compulsory orientation session of the machine gym, but I knew I would only use the pool, so I just nodded along. I would go there, on and off, after work. It was close to my home so it was convenient, but it was kind of run down and there was an old man who used to go around shouting all the time. After a while, it closed down and I just kind of forgot about exercising at all. My lower back pain was still troubling with me, and one of my colleagues talked about her Zumba and yoga classes at her gym, so I decided to join. Again, I thought I would only use the pool area and attended my compulsory orientation of the machine gym area.
The monthly price of the gym wasn’t cheap, and I figured it was a waste of money to just use the pool, so I challenged myself to try the weight machines. Like a fish out of water, I had no idea what I was doing. I wandered around aimlessly and tried pushing a few weights and doing a bit of stretching. Too shy and intimidated to ask anyone for help, I wasted my time on machines thinking they were helping me. After a while, I finally asked one of the instructors for help, and she taught me how to use some of the machines. She also recommended taking her power yoga class. Everything was new and a bit of challenge, but I plucked up the courage to follow the routine they had given me and joined her class. I’m embarrassed for myself now just thinking about it. I couldn’t understand what she was saying or doing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as terrible. But I kept going back for more.
I’m far from a fitness freak. I still get a little tired from walking up the stairs at the station .. However I can now do a lot of things that I never thought I could do. I know how to stretch properly, how to lift weights and do a push/pull-up. I can use the machines properly, and can work out with a barbell or dumbbells. I often think I haven’t changed much since joining the gym. But when I look back on that first class, I can see a huge change. I’m much healthier and taking more care of myself. I love the feeling after a good work-out, and I love sweating because of exercise and not just because it’s hot!
I still have a long way to go. There are many things I want to achieve in fitness and health. I would also like to pay more attention to my nutrition. The only reason why I started exercising was because of my lower back pain. Now I exercise because I enjoy it. I want to go on adventures and travel the world and challenge myself to do many things, and I can only do that if I’m in good health and taking care of myself.