Fat Fridays: Memories

I’m going to tell you a story about my high school PE teacher (physical education). When I was fifteen years old, my family moved from the island country of Haiti to the tiny bush town of Bethel, Alaska, up in the freezing artic. I enrolled in the local high school as a junior. My previous two years of high school had been done through correspondence courses and a couple classes taught through a little mission school in the North of Haiti. I had not done well with correspondence courses and was significantly behind when I got to Bethel. Because of this, I had to enroll in a lot of freshman classes. Classes like Freshman World Geography, an Environmental science class, and PE. I had not taken any PE classes in years and for some reason, the counselor who made my schedule decided to just get it all over with. So, my first semester at a real high school I was enrolled in PE/health and in Teamsports. Because of the way they did the schedule, this meant that on Mondays I had two PE classes in one day, and the rest of the week I had PE every day one week, and then next week I would have PE alternating with health every day. This meant I was in the gym every day, under the mercy of Mr. Power. Yes. That was his name.

Mr. Power was one of those legendary teachers that everyone was a little afraid of and everyone behaved for. I don’t know if he was ex-military, but he LOOKED like he was ex-military and he ACTED like he was ex-military. Every PE class we did calisthenics, all of us in our assigned spots on the gym floor. Then we did running. Then we would learn, in great detail, how to play a certain sport, and then we would play. Very competitively. He graded on a winners/losers scale. When we did running tests, first place would get an A, second place got an A-, third place B+, etc. I ranked somewhere in the C- range. It was not easy to get a good grade in this class. It also didn’t help that half the girls basketball team happened to be in my Teamsports class, all of them very accomplished athletes. I was the one who was always picked last for teams, and occasionally, Mr Power would pull me aside and send me into the hallway with the top girl athlete from the class so she could give me extra practice on how to swing a bat or catch a ball. (I was not athletic, I was coordinately-challenged, and stuck out in the classes like a sore thumb). The only good thing about Mr. Power’s level of discipline in the class was that at least no one out-right mocked me or made fun of my extreme lack of skills. He didn’t tolerate that kind of behavior. 

Teamsports was a one-semester class and I ended up with a C in the class. Yikes. I was an A student. This was not good. I still had one more semester of PE/Health to get through, and my PE grade in that class was also a C. Finally, I found out about Mr. Power’s extra-credit program. If you stayed after school every day for two weeks and ran two miles every day, he would raise your grade an entire letter. But you had to run the full two miles. No walking. If he caught you walking then you had to start all over again at day one. (Ask me how I know this.) 

Frankly, it sounded too hard. Not feasible. But, I had a friend who was running to get her grade up and somehow I got roped in to running with her. (Thank you Terry Murphy!) 

Let me stop and explain for a minute. We were in Bush Alaska, on the tundra, in winter. We ran inside the school building, through the halls. This was acceptable. We knew how many laps we had to make to get our two miles. We were not the only ones running. The wrestling team would be running through the halls, other sports teams, kids who just wanted to run to keep in shape, other kids trying to get their extra credit as well. The high school was a pseudo-community center. Kids stayed late for clubs and tutoring and a bunch of other reasons. I think when I was a senior I never left the high school before five pm every day. 

So, I ran for two weeks. Got my grade up to a B. I needed an A. I ran another two weeks, but somewhere around day seven or eight, Mr Power caught me walking for a second. So, then I had to start all over again and run another two weeks. And then, my friends were still running after school, and I ended up running more. One day, in the spring, I happened to be in the gym, getting ready to run (just for fun) and Mr. Power walked in and saw me. “Esther Picazo! Are you running? Just because?” and then he smirked at me and walked off in a very self-satisfied manner. And I was mad, cause I still didn’t like him or his teaching methods, and it was embarrassing to admit that he had caused me to take up a healthy habit. But he had. The only reason I started running was because he basically forced me to. 

I continued to run after high school. I took a running class in college where I had to run three miles a day. I was never a star athlete or competitive at any level, but it was a form of exercise I had learned that I could do, and I enjoyed it. 

Looking back, years later, I have had an off-and-on relationship with exercise. But, there was always that knowledge in the back of my head that I COULD exercise, and once upon a time, I had enjoyed it. And I have to admit that I owe that completely to Mr. Power, the teacher that made me run. And I am grudgingly happy that I was able to have him as a teacher. 

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