By Madeleine Brown
As children our arch nemeses bragged about their spelling test mark, spotted Furby and Disneyland vacation. As young adults, our current nemeses have outgrown these now petty triumphs. No, our current nemeses get into expensive international grad school programs, date committed boyfriends and girlfriends and exercise regularly.
While I could easily help you identify the faults of the first two so-called successes, I intend to address the third, exercise. Since when did gym time and defined abs become brag-worthy? Why must a friend’s weight loss or muscle gain evoke a false smile across our face and insincere congratulations? And how come I honestly can’t believe anyone actually enjoys exercising?
I came to university a competitive long distance runner, having been a member of my high school and city cross country and track-and-field teams. While I found myself without the time and truthfully the ability to compete at the university-level, I was adamant I continue to run six days a week and follow my high school coach’s e-mailed out weekly workout schedule. I was hardcore—even rising around 6:30 am the second day of frosh week to squeeze in a morning run at the gym my membership to which wasn’t technically effective yet. And despite two periods of injury when I turned to swimming and YouTube yoga videos, I—sort of—maintained this schedule throughout undergrad. Disappointingly I never found a team I loved as much as my high school one. From a social perspective I didn’t fit in with either the high school student-ridden (and now defunct) city club or my neighbourhood adult equivalent. I met with a personal trainer weekly for a semester in my third year to build strength—my lifelong foe—and while I indeed built strength it was a costly relationship to maintain. So in the end given my demanding school schedule and wavering level of motivation, I likely ran various routes, speeds and lengths on average five days a week completely alone. I practically always had my running shoes and a workout outfit on me until I finally invested in a gym locker in fourth year.
Sure, according to my friends, my commitment was admirable. I was fit. And, yes, often those runs relaxed me. But more often than not the pressure to exercise dominated my entire day. I’d wake each morning and ask myself, “When can I fit in a run?” If I didn’t manage, I went to bed with a feeling of guilt. And I felt equally guilty if I laced up and suddenly wished I could just stay home and sprawl on the couch. I was caught between friends who exercised twice a year for two weeks at the beginning of September and January and those who exercised every day in order to sculpt Instagram-worthy muscles.
I wish guilt never had to accompany exercise. I never want someone to feel pressure to. College and university students should exercise for fun and the opportunity to socialize. Whatever other benefits come, come. In my third and fourth year I coordinated a walking and running group, the walking group of which I personally led in its second year of existence. Twice a week I walked with students I normally never interacted with for upwards of forty minutes. We hashed out struggles and celebrated triumphs all the while exploring unknown areas of the campus and surrounding neighbourhood. We never counted steps taken or calories burned. Given my own experience and in particular my participation in this walking group, I left university with the promise to myself to squeeze in regular exercise because, yes, I do enjoy it, but never to guilt myself about it. If I’m too tired or it’s practically impossible to fit in, I won’t run. I joined a yoga studio that provided me the fitness community I yearned for through four years of university. I stopped willing myself to adhere to a weekly workout schedule that no longer fit my lifestyle or desires. If I am an arch nemesis to an individual, I want to brag about other so-called achievements, not the hours I’ve logged at a gym I hate. Sure, I’d love a six-pack just like everyone else out there, but not at the cost my sanity. If you truly want to squeeze in exercise as a student, you will. As the clichéd proverb goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way.