Dear Coach Wachtel: I am sorry.
I never had asthma.
I knew so many kids in school who had asthma attacks. They would stop suddenly while running in gym class, eyes wide, mouth open. They would suck and gasp for air. An adult would run over and promptly give them a small inhaler and everything would be fine in moments. It was rare that an asthma attack was severe enough to warrant a visit to the nurse’s office and I certainly never observed any “worst case scenario” situations while in school.
It looked awful. The poor kids who wanted so badly to play badminton, kickball, or even just go for a jog outside had to be constantly monitored by an adult. On particularly humid (or pollen-filled) afternoons, the Guilderland High School track saw its fair share of a child, doubled over, trying to regain his breath.
The same thing happened to me. I would run, play a sport or even climb the bleachers. Suddenly, I had to stop. Doubled over, I gasped for air. Adults would run to me, frantic, asking me about my inhaler.
But I never had asthma. I was just an overweight kid.
It was embarrassing. I would try my hardest to keep up with kids in my class. Along with the awkwardness of being 6’0″ at the age of 16, I was matched against thin, beautiful teen-dreams who easily lapped me as I struggled to finish “The Mile” in less than 15 minutes. Eventually, I began faking asthma attacks. Sometimes the adults would not remember that I did not have asthma. Sometimes I think they played along and let me sit on the sidelines and watch, content to give up just as I had done. I would make jokes about running and eventually just stopped doing it. My gym teacher– a Vietnam vet named Coach Wachtel– would try to encourage me, telling me I would regret my inactivity when I got older. I ignored him and went back to fake-gasping like a fish plucked from the water.
Eventually, I started skipping gym class. I would walk around the hallways and attempt to avoid the hall monitors. I would sometimes stop into the cafeteria to see if any friends were eating lunch (I, of course, did not eat- chubby kids would not be caught dead eating in front of others). I skipped class so many times that I actually failed gym class. Twice.
On May 31, 2014, I ran a 5k. Willingly. Without a predator chasing me.
Coach Wachtel was right. I trained (mildly) for about two months before the race. Because I never ran, I had never before experienced the pain of shin splints; frantic late-night Googling had me convinced that I fractured any multiple of bones. I trained enough to get rid of them but not that heavy-chest, hard-to-breathe, holy-shit-I-cannot-breathe-I-need-to-stop-I-need-to-stop-I-NEED-TO-STOP feeling that came over me during that race.
I finished the race– while running. I know that sounds like an obvious statement; I was not about to walk across the finish line. I finished #3550 of #3611. It took me just over 53 minutes to run the race.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Completing that race proved to me that I can actually do it. That I do not have to be trapped in that same defeatist mindset that I had when I was younger. That I really can do it– and not keel over from a heart attack at the ripe old age of 29. It exhilarated me. It motivated me.
And I’m doing it again. Willingly.
The Color Run and Inflatable 5k are next on my list!
Do you know of a great 5k happening in the Capital Region that I should try? What about your hometown? Leave it in the comments!
Posted on June 10, 2014, in Entertainment, Fitness, Opinion and tagged 5k, asthma, asthma attack, fake asthma attack, fit, fit before 30, fitness, freihofer, freihofer's, freihofer's run, freihofer's run for women, freihoffer's, friehofer, gym, gym class, gym classes, gym coach, high school, high school gym, high school mile, mile, overweight child, run, run 5k, run for women, running, the mile, wachtel, women, women's run. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.