Early on this semester, my friends and I were hit by the sudden urge to work out and get in shape. It wasn’t surprising, given that Spring Break was just around the corner. It was interesting and sometimes funny to see the varying degrees of enthusiasm with which different people hit the gym. Some seemed to be genuinely motivated and others just went because, well, everyone else was going. I was somewhere in between; it had always been my plan to start on a healthier lifestyle this semester, and seeing my closest friends go regularly sometimes pushed me when I would have normally stayed in bed watching Netflix.
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Most of us didn’t really know what to do at the gym once we got there, so we’d kind of do our own thing and keep an eye on each other at the same time. The fitter and more experienced among the herd would pass on their wisdom and guide us in our efforts, but even so, few of us really knew what was going on. Still, it was better than sitting at home and ordering in No Thai, and, besides, healthy competitiveness between friends is never a bad thing.
We kept an eye on each other, more than we’d care to admit. It was hard not to when you work out with four other people. I usually did my work on the running track and never stepped with my friends into the weights room. Some of them teased me for “running around like a dog” on the tracks instead of doing something less mundane than running in circles. It was funny, and sort of true — running in circles can get a little boring. But, I always did it; I can’t recall a time when I went to the gym and didn’t step onto the track.
I’ve always wanted to be a good runner, ever since I saw the training sequence from the first “Rocky” movie. Seeing Rocky sprint on the docks against the backdrop of a massive ship as “Gonna Fly Now” built up still gives me goosebumps. This is why, in high school, the annual 2.4-mile race was so important to me. As a perennial overweight underachiever in school, winning the race in front of a massive crowd was literally the stuff of my dreams.
One day senior year, I declared my ambition to win the race. Amused, my friends decided to set $100 at stake and give me eight months to undergo whatever preparation I needed to finish in the top three. The conviction with which they told me that I was going to fail hurt me and purely out of spite, I backed myself to prove them wrong.
On the day of the race, I was more fit than before but in no condition to compete for a spot on the podium. At some stage, the passion to run had been replaced by the obligation to, and I had lost motivation. I realized that ambition cannot be fueled solely by the desire to prove others wrong.
Since I was expecting my friends to mock me as I sat on the sidelines, the ordeal was brief and painless. However, once they knew I wasn’t participating, the effect of peer pressure waned. I realized that this shouldn’t have been about their doubts of my ability. This was about my insecurities and now, I had the chance to run that race and conquer them.
Ecstatic, I told my friends I was going to run. One of them looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t be stupid, sit down.” Doubt, insecurity, and fear took over once again and I was brought down to size. The whistle blew, and I was left wondering instead of realizing a dream.
It was then I realized that regret isn’t the sadness of making a wrong decision. It’s the agony of realizing how easy it was to make the right one. I felt it as I watched each contestant run past me. I could’ve easily stepped onto the track to run the race, but I did what people expected of me. I didn’t even try; I just stood there watching as others lived my dream.
I wouldn’t have even come close to winning, but that really wasn’t the point anymore. It was about winning self-respect so I could look at myself and be proud of something I did. The underachiever in me needed a heroic act and that was my chance to prove to myself that I was more than what I thought. Three years on, I’m no longer obese. I look and feel different. However, that twinge of regret still remains. Although it inspires me to live freely, I know that I would much rather have the memory of completing the race motivate me rather than the regret of being a coward.