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I'm Thankful for Parents Who Taught Me to Embrace Fitness (And Forget About Competition)

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On the days I don't move, I feel it. Sure, there are times I don't want to work out—when I dread the mere thought of trading the couch for the yoga mat. But more often than not, I wake up craving fresh air and miles or the high of a spin class. I enjoy exercise.

Recently I've realized that, largely, I have my parents to thanks for my habit of (and passion for) exercise.

When I was growing up, my mom and I would jog various loops around our small town neighborhood. Eventually, I learned them by heart, frequenting them solo after long school days or, in later years, on trips back home. In every city I've lived in—New York City; Bethlehem, PA; Boston—I've forged my own running routes upon arrival, re-visiting them after work or on weekend mornings (including my honeymoon in Tuscany).

My dad taught me how to throw a football, he swam in the ocean with us, he coached our youth soccer teams. In high school, when I realized basketball—and coordination and fast-twitch muscles—wasn't my thing (read: jammed fingers), my parents encouraged me to coach my younger sister's indoor soccer team; to start up my own indoor field hockey league with friends. I did both. I enjoyed both.

 

 

Today, visits with both of my parents often involve fitness. My dad and I regularly walk a 4-mile loop along Boston's Charles River; my mom and I attend studio classes.

I know people for whom exercise was more of a requirement growing up, something they were told to do purely for the sake of looks. I have other friends whose parents pushed them: to be the best, to win the game, to play the Division I sport, to compete. There's nothing wrong with that—or with working out to look a certain way or with competition for that matter. (Sometimes, I wish I had more of a competitive spirit or drive to *finally* work toward a six-pack.) Everyone has their own reasons for why they move and everyone is different. Plus, excelling in something and achieving goals—and learning to do so from a young age—can help build motivation.

But I've also found the opposite to be true: that sometimes, when exercise and sports are all about winning, when working out is about practicing to be the best, when fitness is about extrinsic motivation, it can lose its allure when the structures of school dissipate and adulthood rears its head.

My parents never "pushed" exercise on me. My mom never commented on the score of a high school field hockey game (though she was at every game). She never mentioned my half-marathon time (but she was at the finish line of my first one in Bermuda). She taught me, through example, the power that a morning jog has on the next 10 hours of your day—and 10 years of your life.

 

 

My dad never suggested I play a sport in college (but he took me to meet with college coaches when I flirted with the idea of it). He was behind me in the decision—not the one pushing it forward. Through play, he also taught me that fitness doesn't always need to be something that takes place in a gym. Sometimes, a swim, a walk, a bike ride are enough—particularly if you're having fun.

My brother went on to play Division I hockey in college, my sister plays club soccer at college, and I write about health and fitness for a living. On the morning of my wedding, my siblings and I drove down to the beach where I got married later that day and ran a 2-mile stretch of sand together.

I'm not a parent. And I'm by no means saying that what my parents did is the "right" way to do things. But I think I benefited from it. The way my parents approached fitness impacts the way I think about raising kids someday, too—especially given the fact that I'm married to a fiercely competitive former Division I athlete (there's that competitiveness I've been missing!). Instilling intrinsic motivation in another human being sounds like a pretty darn difficult thing to do, though. So personally, I couldn't be more thankful, especially this time of year.

On Thanksgiving morning, I'm running a 10K turkey trot. It's my peace and quiet, my release for the day, my energy before the mad dash. My parents won't be at the finish line—but they're one of the main reasons I'll be at the starting line.

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