I was talking to some former fat kids the other day, sharing horror stories about the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school. Even though I wasn’t fat, I was weak. So we had mutual scorn for gym teachers, rope climbs, and the beautiful-faced rich kid who dominated every event in his brand new pair of yet-unreleased Air Jordans.
The Presidential Fitness Test was invented by that same jerks who brought us Boy Scouts, energy drinks, and Michael Bay. Some sweaty-stomached gym teacher with no hair, a high voice, and a whistle resting on his paunch likely drew up the plans to force unwitting kids who just wanted to eat clay and color pictures various shades of green to run a mile, jump!, do something with a box, and like swallow golf balls or whatever. It was terrifying and pointless.
Like war trauma, we bonded over our memories of the rope climb. The rope climb is only useful if your best friend goes to some asinine “corporate-team-building” camp for his lame-ass birthday party, or if you you’re being chased by sharks, I guess. Waiting your turn, you’d stand in line, watching your peers go one-by-one, wriggling their chocolate-stained Lee’s denim-covered butts up to the second knot on the rope, the gym teacher squawking “Come on!” before they’d drop like stunned pigs to the wrestling mat.
It was institutionalized torture. I don’t care about the obesity epidemic. The only thing I learned is that despite evidence to the contrary, the world does not want me to be honest. Honesty would be me giving up, walking to the teacher and saying, “Listen, this isn’t going to happen. You know as well as I know that I haven’t gotten past the third knot in about four years. Let’s forgo the embarrassing spectacle.”
Once I told my seventh grade football coach that I would not stand in front of one of the big, hairy-balled kids to get tackled. It was a simple drill. But I refused. “Why not?” He screamed. “Because he’s going to kill me!” I yelped. Then I ran to the back of the line like a coward. Like a breathlessly courageous coward.
This was the only truly courageous moment of my junior high athletics. Everything else was complicity and subterfuge and tears in the locker room.
The surprising thing I remembered when talking to these former fat kids, though, is that fat kids were good at the Z-Sit-And-Reach. This was their annual golden moment. When their chubby fingers and arms would seemingly detach from their pumpkin bodies in grey T-shirts, their bowl-cut heads would scrunch up, and they’d basically grab the end of the wooden box in a U-position. The class would squeal.
Otherwise the series of events were a gauntlet: the sit-ups made me stay up all night in advance staring at my spongy abs, during the pull-ups I’d dangle like some crude motionless slab of meat in a butcher’s shop, and the long jump was an exercise in ass-slamming humiliation.
For both weak and fat kids, though, there was hope in the mile run. Not because we ran fast. But because the joy of finishing the mile run and watching someone else (the girls, the other class) run a mile is a smugness I’ve yet to know since.
That’s what we had over the fast kids. They’d look at their damn watches, curse themselves out for failing to improve over last year’s time. But the fat kids and the weak kids would just raise our hands in faux-glory as we crossed the finish line and collapse onto the ground, rubbing our face in the sweet mud and grass of mediocre victory.