Friday, April 13, 2012

the size and shape issue. a belated response to an ex-friend

Noodle is a dog who's very long from front to back and very short from top to bottom, which makes it hard for him to dig for bones. One day Noodle finds a wishbone, and the dog fairy arrives with a flip-flap of wings to grant him a wish: "What size and shape do you want to be?"  - Noodle

Three years ago, give or take, when it was first becoming generally apparent that I was bucking the mommy trend of acquiring a Honda Pilot and driving everywhere having instead opted to start bicycling a now ex-friend asked me "Why are bicyclists so fat and out of shape?"

I didn't know what to say.  I'm an engineer of questionable social skills and I thought maybe she was telling me that I might be doing a bunch of bicycling but I was still ugly or maybe she was just voicing general displeasure with her own tomato-like shape.  I muttered something uncertain and vague.  Now I want to revisit her statement.

A story from my past.  It is over twenty years ago and I am exercise serious, loving my bicycle, running, and vain about my pre-pregnancy figure.  I'm also an insecure loser but whatever.  A family visited my family and they had a nanny, Madelon.  It was a Dutch family and a Dutch nanny.  Madelon was huge by my standards, weighed in at probably seventy pounds more.  She was also quite a bit taller.  She had a general wish to "lose a few pounds" but I remember Madelon as quite beautiful and confident and at ease with herself.  

Madelon and I decide that we will go for a bicycle ride, something in the ballpark of 20km if I remember correctly.  I had my ancient steel road bike and she had something not much better.  I looked at the size of her rump and concluded that Madelon was out of shape and would be slow and that I would be able to easily show myself as the faster bicyclist.  You're thinking that I'm an ass and you're right, just remember I was young and I was an idiot.  

Madelon cleaned up the road with me.  And she didn't even know it was a race and she wasn't trying particularly hard.  She was faster than me on the downhill, the uphill, and the straightaway.  She was faster from start to finish.  I had made the novice mistake of associating size with lack of athletic ability.  Madelon was Dutch and she'd been biking since before she could walk and her legs were really powerful.  

What we get, our shape, our legs, our everything, is what the genetic lottery seeks to give to us.  We are tall and short and we have powerful legs and we have slender arms.  We have huge shoulders and we have thick hair or we have reliable knees and strong calf muscles.  It is what we do with ourselves that matters.  

The gift of bicycling is that it is suited to a wide variety of us homo sapiens.  Me?  My balance is not great.  I wanted to be a fearsome skateboarder but I struck out.  I wanted to cover miles on roller-blades but I was never very good at it.  I love to run but ultimately it seems to weaken my hips and tendons to run more than ten miles at a pop.  

You see all sorts of people on bicyclists because it is a sport that is generous to people of all different height and weight.  There are few sports that level the playing field as much as bicycling.  We can all ride to work and back.  Or to the store.  Or just out in the countryside.  

And finally, plenty of us are just in it to get somewhere.  A runner is almost always out to improve their fitness in some way.  Plenty of bicyclists are just out to run an errand or stop by a friend's house.  We don't need some negative middle-aged insecure woman in an SUV peering out her window and saying "well you don't look good."  

We look good.  And we're not looking to see our reflection in your eyes.  

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