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Karen Bergreen Headshot

One Flabby Duckling

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To say I wasn't a sportsy kid is like saying Rush Limbaugh hasn't joined the National Organization for Women.

I dreaded physical activity. I was terrible in gym. I couldn't run fast, I had no coordination, strength or flexibility. I went to a school where they forced you to take gymnastics, and our teacher, a product of East German athletic academics, screamed our grades out after every vault, handspring, and beam move. "SEE PLOS" was my highest achievement under her regime.

To make matters worse, I wasn't a thin kid. Not enormous, but not slender. My freshman year roommate assessed me perfectly when she volunteered that I was "mushy."

I had flabby ankles, several knees, and what felt like twelve chins.

My mother has always been thin and angular. I hoped to inherit some of this, but I remained closer to a garment bag than a wire hanger. Nothing happened. Not a cheekbone in sight. A shoe never looked good on my foot. Shorts frightened me.

The summer before college, I visited a friend at her beach house on Cape Cod. One night, she dragged me to party with the cool boys. Cool because they drank and were tan. One asked me what I would be doing for the summer. I said I was a go-go dancer. Although drunk, his response was clear. "I saw you in a bathing suit today. You are no dancer."

Stinging words.

I took up exercising in college -- a little jogging some days, a low-impact aerobics cassette tape others. I got myself a used Nordic Track machine, which also served as a coat rack

But I kept going. Every single day. I was never fabulous, but I remained committed. I even said no to a bunch of social events because I had to work out.

I do this still. And even now, 20-plus years later, many of my friends ask me how I, a type B+ person, can be so disciplined.

In the beginning, it was driven by vanity. I wanted to look better. But eventually, the workouts made me feel better. They got me though job stress, bad breakups, deaths of loved ones, a variety of illnesses, and the challenges of being a mother. I will pay a babysitter, I will beg my husband, I will attempt to manipulate a friend to watch my kids... anything so that I can go to the gym.

I can justify it: It costs less than Lexapro, is much cheaper than all of those shrink visits. It is also something concrete I can check off my to-do list. I'm not proud to admit this, but despite my aspirations to write a poetry anthology and prepare a brisket, I can go an entire day producing nothing -- unless of course, watching a Friends marathon translates into something. Yet I always manage to work out. At the very least, it is time for which I can account. And, just as they claim in the promotional athletic literature, it occasionally inspires me to write a sentence and do some laundry.

I have regrets that go back to the cutting of my umbilical cord, but I have never worked out and regretted it. Never. Not one time.

The truth is, I'm grateful that slenderness and sports didn't come to me naturally Those gifts often fade as we get older. Nowadays, I often have the fantasy of the mean beach boy; he is stuck in a chair somewhere, holding a Schlitz, unable to get up because he weighs 432 pounds.

Then I work out for an hour and forget all about him.

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