Movement, physical activity and sport have been important in my life as far back as I can remember. My earliest memory of moving was on the golden beaches of Finikoudes and MacKenzies in Larnaca on the island of Cyprus with my mother and grandmother. Running, jumping and hopping quickly through the sand, not able to stop incase it burnt my feet. Finding relief in the cool waves on the shore, digging holes with my hands for hours right where the waves kissed the beach front. And swimming, always swimming. My parents always tell me I learnt to swim even before I could walk. That I had a natural affinity with the water although if you witnessed my front crawl currently you would never believe it.
I grew up in the levels of Somerset and attended a local Roman Catholic primary school. I still have visions of my PE lessons with Mrs Hazel who taught Year 2 but had a whole school responsibility for teaching PE. They took place in the main hall and my favourite activity was pirates, something I now believe to be banned due to Health and Safety legislation. The hall was filled up with benches, boxes, gymnastics equipment, climbing frames, mats and ropes. The object was to move from one piece of equipment to the other without being caught when on the ground. God I loved that game and could have played it for hours. I was pretty good at it as I was able to get around the hall without ever touching the ground. Mrs Hazel also ran a netball team for the Year 5 and 6 Girls and a Football Team for the Year 5 and 6 Boys. I ended up making the football team at right back in Year 5. I was pleased but I desperately wanted to play up front. It was my first experience of organised sports and I loved it. I was hooked and I wanted more.
However it was out in the moors that I really found out what my body could do. In holidays and summer evenings my parents would allow me out to explore. I walked, jogged and run, and vaulted, and climbed, and crawled, and jumped, and swam. I broke my arm, I got stung, I got chased by swans, I got covered in mud, I almost drowned when I had made my own raft out of salvaged wood and rope. I would spend hours outside pushing how far I went, pushing my boundaries in every sense of the word. Whilst I loved my PE lessons as a child, I couldn’t contain my excitement to get out onto the moors and see how far I could push myself. I’m not sure my parents would have allowed me to do that if I was a child today, I feel something has changed in society. However those experiences have left an indelible mark on me and who I am today.
At secondary school I got all the sport I desired. Rugby, Basketball, Gymnastics, Badminton, Netball, Tennis, Rounders, Hockey, Football, Cricket, Athletics, Cross-County, Swimming and Orienteering. Before I had moved for the pure unadulterated pleasure it gave me. Now I experienced proper competition and everything that came with it and I loved it. The winning, the losing, the training, the reflecting, for ever in a cycle. A mimicry of life beyond the school walls. I also finally got proper coaching, which I never had before. I wanted to try everything. I remember one afternoon I attended swimming, athletics and pre-season rugby training one after another. Orienteering was my first love. Being out in the country side was so natural to me, running through it even more so. I managed to obtain a place at the Jan Kjellström and it is a memory that makes me smile to this day. Later though rugby and athletics became my life outside of the classroom. Athletics allowed me to compete at a level I had dreamed of, but rugby became my driving force because it feed into friendships. School, University and Club. Through rugby I have always made friends and felt like I belonged somewhere. When you play rugby you share in the love of it, either with team-mate or opposition. It teaches you the art of friendship. It has given me so much.
After 24 years of playing I decided to hang up my boots. I still watch, coach and referee rugby. It will always have a special place in my heart, but my body insisted that I give it up. I mourned the passing of my playing career and it took me a while to start moving again. So I’m currently in my mid life crisis of physical activity, trying to find something I love as much as rugby. I’ve taken up swimming in the winter and cycling in the summer. I’m obviously not a real cyclist as I tend to only go out when the weather is perfect. I do HIT training and circuits to negate the effects of my love food and combat an expanding waistline. A PE teacher must try to model what they preach, or be hit hard with accusations of hyprocrisy. I play the occasional game of cricket in the summer, I am truly a Corinthian in my approach. I can feel my flexibility begin to go, and therefore need to readdress this to ensure I can keep moving. It feels my journey in movement has come full circle though as what I look forward to most is running. Sunday morning, through the Chilterns with my partner, brings me the greatest joy and peace of mind that I fail to have during a relentless week of teaching. Murakami in his book sums it up ‘“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree”. I’m seeking out new challenges. Last year it was completing the 3 Peaks Challenge, this year it will be a Tough Mudder with colleagues from my school. Next year? Who knows? What I do know is that I will continue to seek out new ways to test my movement.
I need to thank my parents for giving me the time, space and encouragement to play and move on my terms whilst I was a child. It is one of the most important things I have ever been given, along with my formal education and the support and love they gave me in my formative years. Through playing and moving I became alive, I became myself and I experienced sheer joy. It has allowed me to become a scholar of movement throughout my life and whilst I will never achieve anywhere near perfection, I hope to continue to learn and refine. Life is movement and we are all athletes in it – there is inherent worth in movement itself. Having this thought in my mind must be at the forefront of all interactions with my students within PE.