It’s a well known addage that if you fall off the horse you’re supposed to dust yourself off and get straight back on it. Well what if you can’t get off the horse in the first place? What if, as a 13 year old girl you find yourself frozen in place on the back of a huge beast of a horse surrounded by people pleading you to get down for over half an hour and the reason you can’t or rather won’t get down is because you don’t want the bitchy ‘Jemima Pony Club’ girls to see the size of your bottom.
Ridiculous really but at the time I was utterly paralysed by the fear of what they would think. Of course wailing like a bloody banshee on the back of a behemoth called Spencer in the middle of the yard drew far more attention to me than quietly dismounting would have done. Ahh the beauty of hindsight.
Add to that, in the first week of secondary school telling my perky blonde PE teacher that my parents couldn’t afford trainers/PE kit and therefore unfortunately I was going to have to sit out FOREVER and you can see that PE and I were not friends. Off the back of my lie, Mum was called into school for a meeting which should have made it crystal clear to all involved that I had issues with physical education.
I wasn’t lazy, I was self conscious to the point of being crippled. Having hit puberty with a vengeance in primary school I was riddled with self doubt and laden with a fairly sizeable set of breasts that made me stand out from the crowd even more than my height and large arse did.
It didn’t help that my brother was the sportiest man on the planet (or so it seemed), turning his hand to every sport going with flair and aplomb. As a relative of this sporting giant, I was expected to follow in his footsteps when actually the thought of showing my body in PE kit made me want to weep or stuff my face, both of which I did, sometimes at the same time.
I didn’t manage to get out of PE entirely no matter how hard I tried though and in fact I do have a nice memory of one afternoon playing hockey outside in the sunshine. I was out on the wing, free to run and gambol about like a spring lamb and I loved it, but one good memory out of five whole years isn’t good enough. The extent of my sporting career was being press ganged into doing the shotput at sports day and at a couple of county athletics meets. You can imagine how helpful that was, the terribly self conscious lardy girl doing the one sport that makes people instantly think of lardy Russian women who look not unlike lardy Russian men.
So what’s inspired this frankly embarrassing trip down memory lane? Of course it’s that little event happening in East London that’s got the nation waving union flags and weeping at the television as our athletes show the world what they’re made of. Looking back with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight I wish I’d been able to overcome my self consciousness and get involved a bit more, growing up with sport in my life may have altered the path of things entirely. Had I had a healthy attitude to exercise, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bloody struggle now and perhaps I wouldn’t have almost died in my late twenties.
People are talking about the legacy of the Olympics, about the lasting impact of staging the greatest show on earth. For me it has to be about getting people more involved in sport from a young age so that they continue to make healthy choices throughout their life, right? I’m learning that exercise and the personal challenges it enables you to set yourself (alright, myself) is key in making one feel good about themselves. If exercise equals self confidence, what do we do about those who don’t have the confidence to get started?