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Susie Ekberg Risher, Published May 13 2014

50/50: Learning to do the things that scare you

‘I’m scared. I don’t really want to do this, but I think I have to,” I say to Andrea, my trainer.

I look around the workout room at the big rope, the medicine ball, some weird things hanging from the ceiling.

“Oh this is going to be FUN,” she says. “Pick up the rope and start slamming it into the floor.”

The first three slams are quite remarkable. I feel powerful, strong, invincible. Then my heart starts to pound, my shoulders start to ache, and I mumble, “This is what I was afraid of. I’m tired. My heart’s beating too fast. I don’t think that’s good for me.”

Yes, I’m pouting. Yes, I’m a wimp. I don’t like feeling tired. I don’t like sore muscles. I know I need to go through all of this to get to where I want to be strength-wise, but this had better be a ton of fun or I’m just not going to keep doing it.

“Now hold the rope with your left hand and do some jumping jacks!”

Now she’s just being a little too perky, and I can see what she’s trying to do. She’s trying to trick me into thinking this is all a fun party time.

I hold the rope in my left hand and jump. Once. My right knee starts to hurt.

“My knee! My knee!” I yell. I stop jumping. This can’t be good for me, all of this jarring movement.

Andrea smiles and asks if I can continue. Of course I’ve stopped after one jump to tell her about my now-injured knee, but I bravely tell her that I can continue through the pain. I bend my knees a little to cushion the blow and keep jumping for the last 10 seconds.

Before you judge me too harshly, 15 seconds is an eternity when you’re doing jumping jacks holding onto a heavy rope. By the time I switch sides I’ve figured out how to jump without any pain.

Then she hands me a medicine ball and we go back to back.

“Now twist and hand me the ball.” And she moves it around her and hands it to me on the other side. Almost instantly I start to feel dizzy.

“I’m dizzy! I’m dizzy!” I yell. I have Meniere’s syndrome – it’s a real thing. I get dizzy easily. It can be dangerous. I could fall.

“OK, we’ll slow down,” Andrea says.

By the time we switch directions I don’t feel dizzy anymore.

I make it through the twisty plank, the slap hands push up thing, and finish with the scary hanging thing (it’s not that scary – I just have to hold onto it and lift my leg up and down behind me, but since I have horrible balance, I start swaying around like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz).

“OK, now let’s do it all one more time!”

I feel like an old woman, timid, fragile, weak and careful. I never used to be like that. When exactly did I age?

When I was playing basketball I didn’t think twice about falling or getting scratched or bumped. I’d jam a finger and quickly tape it to the one next to it and run back into the game. After a particularly bad ankle injury I had the trainer tape me tightly, and limped right back onto the floor.

I’m aiming for somewhere between the two extremes of old woman and reckless teen, and I think that’s a worthy goal. Maybe Woman of Strength, or Moderate Girl or maybe even Wonderful Woman.

One of the doctors at the Mayo Clinic told me that I shouldn’t give in to my vertigo, but purposefully keep moving my head around to keep my inner ear working.

My doctor’s advice got me to thinking: What else in my life am I being careful about?

I have nine more sessions with Andrea. She’s awesome. She doesn’t humiliate or push too hard; she doesn’t scream, and she smiles a lot. I like that.

I look at her hanging upside down during our silk yoga session, and I wonder if I can ever do that again. Then I think, “Why not?”

I used to do somersaults and handstands and backbends. I used to twirl around a metal bar at the playground and ride the merry-go-round. I used to run and jump and ski and skate.

Sweet body, I’m sorry for thinking you can’t handle an active life. I think I may have transferred my fears onto you, calling “Be safe!” instead of “Have fun!”

I should trust you to know your limits. I used to trust you when I was younger, but I think life’s bumps have scared me into paralysis, or at least into a significant slowdown.

I’m going to do one thing this week that scares me, pushes me. I’m going to do one thing that I think I cannot do. Then I’m going to smile. I’ve got this.


Susie Ekberg Risher is a writer living in Fargo. Follow her on a yearlong journey to lose 50 pounds – half through emotional work and half through physical effort. Readers can reach her at tall_susie@yahoo.com.