Two weeks before my freshman year of high school, I went out to join the cross country team. In retrospect, I don't know exactly why I did- unlike most kids, I had never been on a little league team or played indoor soccer. I was a bookworm, and most days the hardest workout I got was maneuvering the computer mouse playing "Warcraft II". The best idea I can come up with is that my older brother ran XC and I heard about the team through him. But that decision ended up making a huge impact on my young life, because I not only fell in love with running, but I ended up meeting some of my closest friends there.
Our very first workout had us running down the street to a local church that let us use their field to practice. It was only a half a mile away, but I was so non-athletic that I couldn't even make it TO the workout without having to stop and walk. The coach came up behind me and asked simply, "Are you ok?" "Yeah, I'm fine, I just have a bad side-ache." He looked over his shoulder, where the high school was still actually in sight. I can only imagine that he was thinking "what am I gonna do with this kid?"
Over the next few weeks, I got better, at least enough so I could finish the workouts and get through a 5k race in hot September weather. It was my first time being on a sports team, and I loved the camaraderie. Even the older guys teasing the freshman seemed strangely affectionate. Our coach, Jim Smith (who, despite his intensely anglo name, would often tout his Native American heritage and lament the raping and pillaging of his people at the hands of the "white man") would shout advice to us as we came around a turn during practices. And his advice for me was always the same: "STRAIGHT FEET, COLIN, STRAIGHT FEET!!!" My feet turned out quite a bit, which is a really inefficient way to run. And if you saw 14 year old Colin, you would understand why his form was bad: I was 5 foot 6, and I only weighed 105 lbs. I looked like a baby dear six weeks into a crash diet. I just wasn't strong enough to run with good form, and no amount of feet-straightening effort would pull those toes in.
A few weeks ago I was jogging into the Field House to workout in the weight room, and I could see my reflection in the glass door. To my amazement, my feet were straight! Really straight. I wondered how, but the answer was as clear as the reflection staring back at me. I'm not the same gawky kid I was all those years ago; heavy strength training has brought me up to a brawny 124, with enough muscle spread out over my thin frame to keep my shoulders back, my chest up, my knees high, and my feet as straight as the two rails of a train track. If only coach Smith could see me now!
My first post on this blog was "Why I Love Exercise", and in there I explained that the magic of exercise is that it changes you, shapes you, reforms you. As a teenager I saw my feet naturally turn out as I walked and I thought that was just how my feet were, and nothing I could do would change that. But I was wrong, I could change, all I needed to do was to get stronger.