By Spencer Retelle
Problem 0: The Prologue
I turned 27 this past spring. Which is to say, that I now pay rent on the 1st day of the month rather than the 5th, that I am reeling though my sudden adult-onset lactose intolerance, and that my mother still reminds me every fall that it’s not too late to apply to grad school.
27 has always been lucky token for me. In my family, we are very superstitious. Should that periodical Powerball super jackpot come along, there are only few numbers that the Retelle family knows you should bet on: 3, 4, 17, 27. Typically, whoever is betting will insert their own birthday date to decide the last two numbers.
I became a member of the Solcana community 27 months ago (I know, it sounds like I am making this up but I’m not). When I first joined, I had only touched a barbell a handful of times. Even though that was years ago, I am still at grips with insecurity. And yes, both of those are weightlifting puns.
My personal journey is years in the making, but it doesn’t distinctively begin or end with my membership at Solcana. The first day I came through that garage door, I came in as a person with a mood and history. And someday, I will walk out with an attitude and future. But for the time being, I’ve got 27 problems, and a _____ ain’t one, because we don’t say that word in this family.
Problem 1: Gym Class
Gym class was always my least favorite period of the day. The concept of shirts versus skins gave me more anxiety than a times test in math. Being an effeminate pudge that loved butter more than himself probably didn’t help. But I always found myself standing by the popular girls on the sideline, arms crossed and eyes rolling, saying things like: “This class is so stupid.” “I can’t believe this is a requirement to graduate.” “Like, isn’t that illegal?” “Yeah, I just came from Ethics and this is totally unconstitutional.” Typically, I was the one calling for legal action. But there was one version of physical education that never let me down: dance.
My love affair with dance started in seventh grade. The two weeks of Tae Bo just ended, and Mister Friedl addressed the class as seriously as he could in his green and yellow Zubaz. It was the first time we would be split into two groups, by our own choosing. There would be a weightlifting side of the gymnasium, and the other side would be, you guessed it, dance.
The next day, we shuffled into class, where he told us what we all chose. In a class of twenty, 17 selected weightlifting. Whereas myself, and the only two female students of color, chose dance. The three of us had a good time because we’d been friends since elementary school. And we had the best time choreographing our own number to Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty. I specifically still remember the line, “Sweating till my clothes come off,” where the three of us unzipped our hoodies and threw them to the side (I just wish I could remember the look on Mr. Friedl’s face).
All of this is to say, tangentially, that it was clear who felt included in the traditional physical educational experience, and who would decided to opt-out and not feel embarrassed. This class wasn’t for me. And it wasn’t serving us.
It wouldn’t be until college, that I would finally take a stab at athletics. On a whim, I joined the long distance track team, and I immediately loved it. Probably because I was surrounded by six-foot men that weighed less than 140 pounds, but that’s besides the point. I fell in love with it because I was the slowest and could always see them running away. Jk, you guys. I fell in love, because for the first time, I had a coach that was willing to meet me where I was, and a team that celebrated me for exactly who I was. During my first practice with the long-distance team, the group naturally separated into a few groups. I gave it my all to be in that fastest group. I didn’t care if all of these other people had been athletes their entire life. I didn’t care if my legs felt like I was constantly falling. I didn’t care about anything, except making a point to say that I belonged, and that I deserved to be a part of this team.
So it was to my dismay, when Coach Matt pulled me away on the turn-around point, and said, “You’re running back with me.” Throughout the few miles back, he made a rule, “You aren’t allowed to run in front of me.” And whenever I would try to sneak past him, he would just hold his hand out and settle my pace. At the time, it felt like this was seventh grade all over again. But now, I know that he was teaching me control and pace. All the while, I was plotting in my brain about how I could charge him for reckless sweating endangerment.
After college, I struggled for a long time because that support system evaporated almost immediately. There was no one to go on ten-mile runs with, which is a long time to be by yourself for someone like me. And worse, there was no coach figure that I could talk to about my struggles, successes, and goals. No one to hold me accountable to the positive self-image I have of myself.
That is, until about July 2014.
I’ve known Coach Hannah since high school, and we even went to the same college. So she’s seen me as all the different versions of myself. Which made me all the more excited when she told me that she was opening a gym. Not only would I be able to support a friend in something new and exciting for her, she would be able to lift me up and show me the impossible. And there would be new team and community around me, celebrating each other all over again. And best yet, the gym would serve all of us.
Since I’ve joined, it has been an amazing couple years, filled with PRs, solo practice, crop tops, no reps, broken bones, recovery, and sleeping through class. But those are all stories for another time, like two weeks from now.