As the 18-pound medicine ball blistered toward my midsection, my hands steadied to match its trajectory and my muscles braced to convert its momentum into stillness. But on this particular catch my arms lacked the strength or full preparedness to arrest the ball’s progress before it ricocheted off my rib cage. In the momentary sting of contact and humility that followed, I had an epiphany about my choice of workouts.
Though a loner by habit, for months I have been an avid joiner. I have been a regular at group exercise classes, especially those in which my best efforts left me noticeably behind the curve of the vastly fit. I have puffed and growled and willed myself through those workouts, feeling like a victorious survivor every time a class ended and I was still standing…albeit in a puddle of sweat.
Though my sincere efforts to rise to the challenge have rewarded me with growing strength and confidence, they have never placed me in danger of moving to the head of the class. But when that 18-pound sphere thumped me, I felt like a champion. The physical knock made me grateful for every second of those grueling workouts for numerous reasons.
First, nine months ago I would have fled such friendly fire, effectively turning the medicine ball toss into dodge ball. But today I was eager to put my body on the line. I stood my ground and tested myself against dozens of hurls of previously unknown mass times velocity and was rewarded by catching far more throws with my hands than with my breadbasket. Today, I can state proudly that my desire to move to a higher level trumped my fear of being knocked off my pins.
Second, I felt as if the classmate on the launching end of the ill-fated throw had deemed me worthy of their best. Though decidedly superior in physical strength, my toss partner had judged me equal to the task and hadn’t held back when I asked them to really throw it. The big dogs had accepted me! This was truly startling. Where I had spent every workout seeing dishonor in my struggle to keep up, those around me had been seeing something quite different. How silly that for all those months I had focused on the shame of not being first, when I should have focused on the honor of being welcome in such company.
Third, the gaff made me grin wickedly as it excited my desire to pitch the ball back even harder than it had been thrown at me. That moment of competitiveness crystallized a new goal of getting strong enough to field any killer lob and throw as hard as anyone in the gym. I was suddenly flooded with gratitude for a workout partner more muscular than myself. That flubbed catch had taught me that my skills would only raise when challenged by a superior athlete…and here was one ready to help me. Soon I began to wonder how long it might be until I would be able to give and receive a pepper-laced pitch of a 25-pound medicine ball.
Fourth, I had held on. Despite the wallop, my hands and arms had held fast and as a result, now cradled the 18-pound ball as if it was no heavier than a kitten. This accomplishment made me realize that what I lacked in overall strength I made up for in determination. To improve we must work out with those whose skills are superior to our own. But to truly progress, we must be determined in our efforts and willing to believe that we are capable of far more than we have been able to do in the past.
People talk a great deal of comfort zones. My comfort zone would be watching the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice for the 47th time while sipping an ice cold Pepsi. But in that scenario nothing new would be happening. No growth would be occurring.
We must leave our comfort zones to advance, achieve or blaze new trails. Without challenge, we stagnate. Without new goals, life grows stale and we lose interest. No matter where you are in your fitness journey, status quo is a no go. Unless – of course – your status quo includes perpetually leaving your comfort zone and daring your body to do more.
Since that first thump – yes, there have been subsequent – I have realized one more important fact. No matter where we currently land along the athletic spectrum, we are all big dogs to someone. Implicit in that fact, we each have a responsibility to welcome others who may be struggling to keep up. To let them know that their best is all that is required to join in the game. Encouraging others isn’t difficult. All we have to do is continue to push ourselves, share a kind word now and then and not hold back when asked to throw with everything we have.