Kaiser Permanente has this ad campaign that’s kind of everywhere in the Bay Area right now called “Find Your Thing.” If you live in a Kaiser service area and watch TV, you may have seen this ad, which I want to be annoyed by because I’ve seen it a thousand times but can’t hate because the sad Wii Mii makes me giggle.
I also can’t hate because I see a lot of truth in it. There can be a lot of pressure to do some particular athletic activity — running, crossfit, zumba, yoga, whatever. And when you don’t love it, it seems like there must be something wrong with you. Or at least that’s how I felt in college, when my friends were always running and going to the gym, and I was like, “… but I hate these things!”
Fact: When I went away to college, I didn’t exercise. Like, at all. I have memories of going to the gym once as a freshman, and it was right before sorority rush, and I hated everything, and anyway, I just didn’t exercise for basically two years. I wasn’t proud of that, or not proud of that; it’s just how it was.
As a kid, I danced — competitively for several years in junior high, then less competitively but still regularly throughout high school. Long nights in the studio, or marching around a parking lot at dance team practice, seemed like plenty of activity, and I never really gave much thought to the idea that I’d need to replace it when I stopped. And I didn’t really grow up with other sports, other than a brief devotion to summer YMCA softball (I have terrible depth perception and can’t hit or catch, but I was a weirdly good slow-pitch pitcher) and the occasional game of tennis with my mom. So with dance out of my life and a pretty good sense that I didn’t want to go to the gym, I was pretty lost when it came to physical activity.
And then, in my 20s, I started slowly picking up sports. My motivation varied — friendship; vanity; a change in my physical environment; a new schedule; a crazy thing I read on the internet; a desire to “get in shape” without needing to set foot in the gym — but the pattern was the same: I’d throw myself into each of them for a while with an almost fanatical devotion, then jump to the next, then the next. In my quest to find “my thing,” I might have found too many, which is why I’m now a runner and aspiring triathlete who’s also a novice rock climber who still dreams of getting her yoga teacher certification and has too many Pilates groupons. It’s kind of a mess, but it’s a better kind of mess than the one I was in when I was 19. Looking through some old pictures the other night, I started thinking about all the stops on the way from there to here. And the first of those stops was:
I was living in Erie, PA, and working as a newspaper intern, and two of the full-time reporters I befriended had started rollerblading around a state park. It was a gorgeous summer, and I was desperate for social interaction, and before I even really processed what was happening, I was at the local Dick’s Sporting Goods (where you will be instructed to check your firearms at customer service — holla, Western PA) buying a pair of skates. I skated a mile of the path, then two; I think by the end of the summer I was up to four miles. I’d always turn back before the path became one-way, because I couldn’t imagine skating all the way around a freakin’ peninsula, but it was still miles further than those first wobbly steps away from my car.
I took my rollerblades to Chicago that year and discovered the lakefront path, where I learned that Presque Isle had not prepared me for stopping on even the smallest hill. (There’s a cabbie who saw me grab for a railing on a bridge by Navy Pier, flip a 180 while completely airborne, and land on my stomach, and he somehow managed to ask if I was OK without laughing in my face. To this day, I am thankful for that cabbie.) At some point, I learned to stop, but not before careening through a farmer’s market while visiting a friend in Redondo Beach. (If ever you need to decide whether to skate into a wooden fence or a metal chain-link fence, I say take the metal — no splinters and you’ll bounce off.) During my internship in San Jose, I skated almost every day — in the morning in Los Gatos when I worked the night shift, in the afternoons in Shoreline Park when I worked days and the traffic getting back to my sublet in Santa Clara was too annoying. It was the first time in my life that I had done something physical on a daily basis just because I wanted to.
Before I left the Bay Area that spring, I skated for the first time on a path that I now run — from the Ferry Building to the Giants’ stadium and back up to Pier 39. That summer, back in Erie, I made it all the way around Presque Isle while listening to Tom Waits’ The Heart of Saturday Night on cassette on my hand-held walkman — a detail I remember because I remember every second of how awesome it felt to accomplish something that had seemed impossible. During my senior year in Chicago, I’d drive to a particular parking spot on the North Side and skate the path all the way down to the Museum of Science and Industry; I just calculated it for the first time, and that route was 16 miles. Sixteen miles! I guess I know how I started loving endurance events.
When I rented my first apartment in Mountain View after college, I picked it partially because it was skating distance from a trail to Shoreline Park. I still had that same silly walkman, bruised from hitting the ground first every time I fell, and I’d skate after work as much as I could, taping my favorite CDs and NPR programs to keep me company. (Yep, it was 2004.) Somehow — I mean, through the internet — I met a girl who also skated, and we signed up for an inline skating marathon in Napa, my first-ever race of any kind.
The race itself was kind of a disaster — I had issues with a skate and barely made it up the last set of hills at the end of the first half before calling it quits. (<– Aaaaand this is the moment that I realize my psychological problems in races date way back.) But I loved every second of the training — pushing myself to skate longer and tougher terrain, getting to know this stranger who happened to share my weird hobby. There will be plenty of echoes of this in my running story.
I mostly put my skates away when I moved to San Francisco in 2006. There’s not a ton of friendly terrain around for skating that’s long enough for the kind of workout I wanted to get, and at this point, when I get up the motivation to drive to my old favorite paths, I’m running them instead. I do miss it, though, and when you put me in a place with a long, flat stretch of multi-use trail, I’ll be the girl looking up nearby rollerblade rentals.
Next up: Hiking.