For too many years to remember, I was humiliated by presidential fitness test. Out of morbid curiosity, I went online (do we ever really leave online these days?) to see what the requirements were. Maybe I could do a little better at 38 than I did at 12. I was shocked to discover that they were discontinued in 2013.
Thanks, Obama. No, really. Good fucking riddance to that piece-of-shit test, I say.
I'd always had a hesitant, uneasy relationship with organized athletics in my youth. Middle school gym isn't exactly a good place for someone with developing self-confidence. As a kid who was sliding from husky to fat when these classes were mandatory, a slightly stinky locker room full of insecure males was no place to be. Between the hormonal changes in my body and the intense desire to not display my corpuscular body/genitals to my peers, I am certain I took some unwarranted liberties with my hygiene in middle school.
Physical education classes pretty much suck universally. This goes double for a big 'un like me. The stress I felt going into mandatory PE classes would be akin to putting a borderline special ed (or whatever the current PC term is) kid in an advanced math or science class - they're not supposed to be there and it ain't gonna end well. They could tell you it wasn't going to go well and I could have told you the same thing was going to happen to me.
I get PE. Hell, I enjoyed playing dodgeball or basketball or whatever low-effort game the coaches-who-needed-a-job were in the mood for. I think I even lost a little weight when these rolled around. And if they would have just left well enough alone, I might have lived a very different life.
But that's not how it is, is it? We can't just let kids run around. We have to do dumb shit like have us do timed sprints. In front of the whole gym class. We did this in middle school. People are pairing up and I'm desperately looking around for someone slower than me, only to realize that the other fat kid takes early gym and, while I was looking for him, the lazy who'll take the F and the smokers have already paired up and the only one left is the speedy kid with ADD who wants to embarrass me so he'll feel better about himself. And now I get to be publicly humiliated by him. The only choice I have is whether to jog it and lose big or go all-out, which reduces my margin of loss but at the cost of added jiggling of my burgeoning gut and man-tits will be doing.
Thank god there were no cellphone cameras yet.
Then in high school we had more PE. Just one semester, but we had to run the mile. Then we had to run it again if we didn't run it fast enough. Bitch, I ran 12:40 on an honest, about-to-throw up effort and you think I'm gonna go 8:30 two weeks later? Really?
But at the center of all this crap was the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Let's just call it what it was - a pissing contest designed to humiliate the unhealthy kids.
I have never told another human being the story I'm about to tell. I'm 25 years out and I'm CRINGING right now thinking about it. You may remember that one of the tests was pull-ups. A pull-up wasn't going to happen. Oh, there's a flexed arm hang option? All I have to do is hang from the bar like the cat poster that says "Hang In There"? Yeah - let's try that.
Now, this was a mistake on my part. Two mistakes, actually - not only did I have no idea how unpowerful my upper body was in relation to my mass, I also agreed to an untested physical exertion in front of an audience.
The moment the stool was removed, gravity and mass asserted themselves in their familiar patterns and I was done for. Immediately, I began to slip. Like a total bitch, I was going down, toot sweet.
Going the 20 seconds or whatever required to pass wasn't going to happen. My goals became quite modest. I just needed long enough to make it look good. Six seconds. Three seconds. Anything. However, as my chin began to dip below the horizon of the bar, I heard the beep of the coach starting his stopwatch. Unless I did something, I was going to finish with a negative time.
Let's be crystal clear here - I am at 100% effort (more than 100%, probably, considering the adrenaline) and it's barely enough to slow my beefy plummet back to earth. Hell, I may not be strong enough to dangle with arms extended. I am simply too fat. All of this is happening in front of a group of peers who will remember this (and share the story) for three more years.
I did the only thing I could do - I jammed my chin into the bar, using the added leverage to halt my slide. It worked. Barely. The bar was jammed so far into my throat that I can't breathe. My carotid artery is compressed; I am literally putting myself to sleep. And I'm OK with doing it, if it buys me a few seconds of illegal hanging.
The coach is telling me to pull my chin back up off the bar (as if that's an option!), this doesn't count. I ignore him. Time becomes flexible. My vision turns gray at the edges and the master alarm in my head goes off. Finally, shuddering, exhausted, I drop to the ground, masking my pain and fatigue as best I can.
The coach checked his watch. "Four seconds," he announced. "Want to try again?"
I was only able to pass one part of the test: the sit-and-reach. That's all about pain tolerance. I could basically will myself just far enough down the board for a low pass, then I'd snap back to my height.
I never thought about how I could improve for next year. All I could fixate on was how much I hated PE. It took 140 more pounds for me to get my shit together. I'm not blaming anyone but myself, but that test sure didn't help.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.