I have a funny (mostly hate) relationship with physical exercise. Mainly it’s based on memories of PE lessons. Which I was terrible at. And which, more importantly, were taught by callous unimaginative bullies who lacked any empathic skills. They taunted the weak, encouraged bullying, actually enjoyed seeing un-sporty types suffer. If there was any way I could have enjoyed sports lessons, they drained that enjoyment out of it. Yes I was the last to be chosen for teams. Yes, I was shouted out, demeaned, bullied, hit, excluded (along with all the other unsporty types) by the rest of the girls. I remember one, just one, games lesson, in my entire school years, that I actually enjoyed. We were allowed to self select our teams. All the un-sporty girls made up 2 teams. We were allowed to spend the lesson playing each other at Rounders. We didn’t suck. Not as much as we would have done if we’d been too scared to lift our heads for fear of the next taunt. I actually caught a ball!
So that’s the background. Sport and me don’t go. I do NOT do sports.
But physical exercise doesn’t have to be about competition. It certainly doesn’t have to be about bullying the weaker players. I spent a lot of years playing Co-operative Games – as a job, or at least as part of it. A colleague and I once invented co-operative volleyball. Yes it was as silly as you’d imagine. But fun. And skillful. And very energetic. Between 1992 and 1996 I played more “parachute” games with more children than you’ve had hot dinners. I’ve organised and participated in crazy wide games involving throwing things, running up things, down things, around things, balancing stuff and balancing on stuff, lifting heavy things, catching things. And I’ve been a juggler. I never made the hockey team, always avoided catching the netball, and could barely do the Egg and Spoon, but I did all of that.
And ten years ago I was a bit of a gym bunny too. I had the lycra (black, not lurid, you’ll be glad to know), I had the trainers, I had the expensive gym membership. I loved it. Getting there was hard work; between work and school run and being a single mother, it was sometimes damn near impossible, but I really enjoyed it.
But then in the last decade, my lungs have got worse, and just walking down the street gets me out of breath. I have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It’s caused by Alpha1 Anti Trypsin Deficiency which is a genetic disease that attacks the lungs amongst other things. I have the lungs of someone who’s smoked 60 a day for 80 years! I’m not in that good a shape. To give you an idea, the average person of my age would be able to expel 80% of breath from their lungs in one exhalation. I can expel a measly 30%. Walking to the shops and back is quite hard. Running for a bus is impossible. Gardening is becoming very difficult. I’m basically knacked!
The COPD nurse wants me to go to the Rehabilitation Clinic for an 8 week course. I was very resistant for a while, until I realised, hang on, the NHS is offering to make my life better, give me a personal trainer and access to load of equipment, for eight weeks, why am I turning this down?
I’m waiting for an initial appointment, and it could be a long wait. But then I thought, actually, I don’t have to wait. I used to enjoy the gym. I’m going to do this on my own.
Now, bearing in mind I am skint, broke, brassic, how the hell have I afforded to join a gym? I’m gonna tell you a little known secret. Leeds City Council have this thing called Leeds Lets Get Active. You can join the gym for nothing. Yes, that’s right, nothing. Then each session costs £2. If you use more than 5 sessions a month, it’s worth paying a £10 Direct Debit per month, but I’m thinking I’ll see how I go to start with. The sessions are limited to awkward times and only on certain days, but being self employed that doesn’t pose a problem for me. Plus, I live a 10 minute walk (yes, that would be a 5 minute walk for you) from the nearest council sports centre.
So today was my introductory session. A very nice young woman called Adele listened to my requirements. Turns out she’s done a course in COPD and understands more than I thought she might. She’s drawn up a programme for me that includes improving speed and distance on the treadmill and some upper body resistance training. She’s shown me around all the apparatus (apparati?), and gave instructions on how to use everything. The machines have got more sophisticated since I last stepped on a treadmill. Now you can pretend you’re running (or in my case strolling) through a temperate rain forest in New Zealand, care of a screen, which is surprisingly appealing. The music is still bloody awful, so I’ll have to invest in some decent headphones. Don’t be put off by the term “Council Gym”, my local one is easily as good as any of the private gyms in the area. Anyway, I enjoyed it so much, I’m thinking of going back tomorrow !
Oh, and my trainers probably need replacing.