How I Became Athletic (A Love Story)

People talk sometimes about being picked last in gym class, but they’re probably exaggerating. Maybe they were picked second or third to last. But me? I was actually picked last, more times than I would like to admit.

And that’s because I was terrible. In fourth grade, we were playing basketball, and I got the ball for the first time ever. I ran down the court, feeling like a star — but the gym teacher blew the whistle, completely ruining my moment. I was pissed until he told me why he blew the whistle — I wasn’t dribbling. Because I didn’t know what dribbling was.

I wanted to play sports, but I completely sucked.

In middle school, I tried out for cheerleading and the flag corps, and I didn’t make it on to either team.

By some miracle, they let me play volleyball and basketball. My mom would drive me to games that were really far away. I spent most of the time on the bench, but that was okay, because I was on the team. But it turns out they let everyone play volleyball and basketball in sixth grade. They start cutting people in seventh grade. I cried about both volleyball and basketball.

So sports and I weren’t really friends. I didn’t interact further with sports until I was about twenty. I stayed on my college campus for the summer and my roommate taught me how to use all the machines at the gym. It was really nice of her.

After that, I’d work out for a month or so, and then I stop working out for three months. It was a pattern, and it was because working out wasn’t fun (although I felt better afterward). The elliptical was pretty boring, even if I was listening to my favorite music.

How I fell in love with Zumba

But I kept hearing about this Zumba thing. My friend who lives in another state was a Zumba instructor, and she was always posting about it on Facebook. I joined my gym in January of 2012, and that’s when I set foot in my first Zumba class. The instructor played all my favorite artists: Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber (yes, I’m a fan), Beyonce. I was hooked immediately. And I had the inkling that one day, I wanted to teach Zumba too.

There was one problem: I sucked.

How I got better

I went to Zumba class every day for three months. None of my friends saw me during that time. I started scheduling my whole social life around Zumba. My boss asked if I was going to leave the company and start teaching Zumba full-time. (No. Zumba doesn’t pay that well. But it was a nice idea.)

Zumba classes last about an hour, and at the beginning, I was sweaty, red-faced, and ready to be done about three songs in. But I kept going to class. Eventually, I wasn’t tired until the fourth song, or the fifth song, and later on, it didn’t seem like such a big deal to dance through the whole class.

Becoming an instructor

I went to instructor training — in hindsight, probably sooner than I should have, but that’s okay, because I was passionate about it. My first class was great because I practiced endlessly. But one day I forgot to stretch between classes and tore my hamstring. It was a three-month recovery that made me red-faced again, just trying to get through class.

After I recovered, I started subbing classes at my gym. If you go to a group exercise class you haven’t been to before, maybe you’re a little scared, because you don’t know what to expect. But I promise you that new instructors are just as scared — it takes practice to lead an effective class, and it’s scary to do something new.

The sub who sucked

Sometimes, when people saw that I was the sub that day, they would walk out of class. It didn’t do much for my confidence. Sometimes I would forget the moves and stand in front of the class and stare at them. This happens to all Zumba instructors, but it happened to me a lot, because I was just subbing – not teaching regularly.

Upping my game

One of the instructors stepped down last year, and they put me on the schedule for real. I had a weekly class, and that was when I knew I had to step it up. I started to do things to entertain myself. I started by adding a lot of songs by my favorite rapper, Drake. I danced to “Hotline Bling,” sang along, and had a great time.

I was having more fun, and my students were having more fun, tooI started practicing more at home, because teaching Zumba was something I liked, instead of something I dreaded. And my classes started to grow.

Sometimes, when I subbed, I would have just two or three people coming to my class. But now, on a big day, I have more than 30, and the studio is full. And I can say that I’ve never been sad that I went to a Zumba class – even if it’s hard to get up off the couch, I always have a good time.

Why I love Zumba

I love that Zumba is inclusive. Unlike cheerleading, the flag squad, volleyball and basketball, we don’t turn anyone away. You come, you have fun with us, you practice, and you get better. I think back to middle school Kristyn, who got picked last at gym class and cut from all the teams, and I feel healed, somehow.

Permission to suck

What can you take away from this? It’s important to give yourself permission to suck. These days, I am giving myself permission to suck at yoga. Trouble balancing during poses? No problem. It’s all good. By allowing yourself to suck and showing up to practice — that’s the only way you’ll get better. It can be the same for anything. Blogging. Recording videos. And not just creative things — relationships, too. Speaking up. Being vulnerable. Saying what you mean.

We are so afraid of being judged. But it’s like I tell people who come to my Zumba class for the first time — everyone was new once, and we all remember what it was like. If you’re not willing to really be terrible at something, then you’ll never improve.

I suspect that there’s a sport for everyone. You just have to keep trying things. Give yourself permission to be new, and permission to suck. And then just show up. Maybe you’ll have an okay time. Maybe you’ll hate it. Or maybe you’ll fall in love.

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