OK. So maybe that wasn’t the real beginning.
I was a fat kid.
I’m not exactly sure when I became a fat kid, but I feel it was somewhere around 4th grade. It’s not important why I was a fat kid, just know that I grew up fat. I was last to be picked for sports because I was fat. I got picked on because I was fat. I felt the pain all fat kids feel because kids are mean and fat kids are really insecure.
Just when I was starting to be comfortable being fat, things changed. It happens to some extent with all kids. I had been playing hockey for few years. What position is perfect for the fat kid? Goalie, of course. All things being equal, the fat kid takes up more net.
I was really having a great time playing hockey. At the end of my junior year of high school I decided it was time to get serious about it and try to get in shape and get myself into a college hockey program. After asking around, I decided I would join the cross country team. That’s right. Running.
I thought it was tough being a fat kid in high school. Try being a fat kid on the cross country team.
My only consolation is that I was not the only one. There were three of us that I considered fat. One guy was not as big as me, the other was bigger than me. All three of us were about to be seniors. Each and every one of us was probably on the verge of quitting after the first week. But we all stuck with it. We ran all summer. The varsity squad, and the “real” runners on the JV squad were doing all sorts of funny sounding work outs. We were just trying to make it to the turn around point and BACK. All the way back…
The summer went on, and we (the group of fat kids, and the rest of the team) were feeling pretty good about the upcoming season. The fat guys liked it because fall meant the weather was cooler and there was a chance we could finish a run without sweat pooling in our shoes. The rest of the team was excited to race.
And that’s about the time we had to get our uniforms.
The “real” runners had no problem. They went into the room and came out with clothes. No big deal. I don’t think the three of us knew we were hanging back at the end of the line, but there we were. The smaller guy went in first and was able to find things that fit without too much trouble. But he did take longer than the “real” runners. As I walked in, I figured out why.
Coach had thought about the three big guys back in the hall. Bless her heart. Three non-contenders joined her team solely to better themselves and she took the time to think about getting us in uniforms. I remember trying to feel numb. Clothes shopping hadn’t been something I had actively participated in because it made me feel… fat. And here coach had pulled out the biggest uniforms she could find. I remember there were three left. Two were together. One was pulled away from the rest. The two that were together were for me to try on. None of the “real” runners had to try on the uniforms.
The shorts were that 1980’s style of short, floppy running shorts with the high slit up the side, no inseam to speak of. These shorts look really good on some people. I was (and still am) not one of them. The two shorts were the same size, but one was a little older and a little more stretched out. That’s the one I picked. If anything, the waist wouldn’t feel as bad.
Then came the singlet. The singlet is like a muscle shirt, or the wife-beater under shirt. Only these were nylon, also from the 1980’s and had absolutely no stretch left to the fabric. The two shirts seemed to be the same size. So I just grabbed one and wiggled into it.
At this point I was reminded of a phrase my grandpa was fond of saying. I felt like 30 pounds of manure stuffed into a 20 pound sack. But it was on. And it was the uniform. And it was going to have to work. So I sighed and resigned myself. And then it got worse.
I couldn’t get the damned thing off.
It’s important to note that up until this point in my fatness I don’t think I had been shirtless in front of other people in close to five years. In fact, this little piece of nylon some joker called a shirt was the most revealing thing I think I’ve ever been in. And here I was, stuck wearing it. I simply could not get the material to flex enough to get it off of me. Here I was, an insecure 17 year old fat man about to ask for help taking off a shirt.
I must have made a noise, or bumped into something because our coach asked how I was doing. I pulled myself together, walked out to see her, looked her straight in her shoe laces and asked if she could help me get the shirt off. She didn’t laugh. Bless her again, she didn’t laugh. I’m positive it was a funny situation, and I hope she was able to go out drinking with friends and laugh at my situation, but I am so thankful she was able to keep it together long enough help me get that damned thing off me.
I felt… small is the wrong word for a fat kid to use, but I was tiny at that point. It wouldn’t have taken much for someone to simply walk all over me at that point. And coach wasn’t done with me. I’d like to say she looked me in the eye when she spoke, but there was no way I was capable of meeting her gaze. I stared at her shoes, my shoes, the cracks in the tile on the floor – anywhere but towards her face. I don’t remember her words exactly. But she wanted me to keep the shirt. She said something about there being a month or so until my first race. At the time, I didn’t know or understand what she was getting at. All I knew was that damned shirt was coming home with me. That markered number on the tag, and silk screened number on the front and back was assigned to me.
I wandered back to the hall. For some reason, the first fat man was still there waiting with the third fat man. The third fat man. I had forgotten about him. Oh that poor man. I saw the size of that remaining shirt. It was really no bigger than mine. I sent him in. I’m not sure why, but I waited. He wasn’t there long. I learned later that coach was going to take the shirt home, cut it apart, and sew it together with some inserts from a t-shirt to fit.
For some reason, that made us all feel pretty good. And we kept running.
I owe my tag line to the kid that was bigger than me. I don’t mean anything rude by it. It simply became the mental chant that kept me motivated enough to keep going.
Next up: Noticeable change. Until then…
Don’t let the fat man catch you.