Spending every afternoon and evening glued to the Olympics had me pondering about sport.
I was a child in an era when school sport meant team sports (netball in the summer and hockey in the winter) or gymnastics. I was no good at any of them. On the hockey pitch on damp, cold, Co Durham afternoons I first learnt that I am completely incapable of anything that involves hitting a ball with a piece of wood. I just can’t do it. I’m equally bad at tennis, badminton, rounders, crazy golf…..you name it.
On summer afternoons, in netball lessons, I discovered that my catching and throwing skills were as pathetic as my hitting skills.
Gymnastics involved physical bravery that I didn’t have. I couldn’t climb the ropes or do cartwheels. I could just about manage a forward or backward roll. One week the gym teacher (she was called Miss Hall and was going out with Mr Ferguson, the Latin teacher – the things you remember) decided that a group of us hopeless cases really MUST learn to do a handstand. She had us practicing for ages, with other girls pushing our feet against the wall from wherever we had very lamely managed to get them by our own efforts. It was horrible, and completely unsuccessful.
If you were good at the standard sports you got to try other things, which, looking back, seems to be a misguided approach. So I never got to try running, for example, at which I have been reasonably able on occasion, and there were no other healthy options on offer like aerobics, or dance or yoga. I hope things have changed in schools now.
All this was years and years before I had any hearing problems; I’m just setting the scene. In adult life I have walked (fell walking, dog walking), flirted sporadically with running and gone reasonably regularly to a gym (before we had the dog – no time now).
I’ve also enjoyed the occasional exercise class. Long ago, when I lived in London, a friend and I went for a while to the achingly trendy Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden and leapt about in leotards and footless tights. It must have been around 1984 or 1985 because the main routine was to the music from the film Ghostbusters. This particular class predated any significant hearing loss but exercise classes are where deafness comes into the story – it leads to challenges beyond the purely physical. The problem is hearing what you are meant to be doing. The trick is to position yourself where you can copy someone else, even if you can’t see or hear the instructor.
Very recently, a yoga class started in our village. Very cheap. Three trial sessions. About 200 yards away. A good friend going. I decided I would give it a go. The young instructor was lovely and had a good clear voice. My positioning, if I might say so, was perfect – in the middle and near the front but not absolutely at the front. The reason for choosing your position so carefully is that you have to be able to copy another participant’s moves when twisted into some damn-fool contorted shape where you can’t lip read the teacher. So – be in the middle so that whichever way you turn someone is there – don’t be right at the front because there will inevitably be some move where the trainer is walking around and you need to be able to copy someone ahead of you. Of course, mirrors would help but our village hall doesn’t run to those.
The only problem is when the person you are copying is doing it wrong. At the yoga class at one point the person I was looking at was twisted into some strange bent-forward position with her upper body twisted to the right and their shoulder hovering about six inches off the ground (we were kneeling down, I hasten to add). I copied the pose. It was a bit of a strain, but achievable, and I felt pretty proud of myself. Suddenly the instructor materialised and pushed a firm sponge something-or-other under my shoulder. “What’s that for?” I gasped. She explained it was to support my shoulder because I couldn’t get it down to the ground. “Oh” I said “that would be much easier – let me try” and, sure enough, resting your shoulder on the ground in the correct manner was much more relaxing. Why hadn’t she said? (Joke)
Actually, there is another problem at an exercise class – the inevitable bit at the end where people lie on the floor with their eyes closed and the trainer talks you through some sort of relaxation thing (at least I think that’s what’s going on). Obviously, you can’t hear because your eyes are shut. In the past I’ve kept my eyes open, lifted my head slightly (to see the trainer) and tried to follow, but that rather defeats the object because a strained neck is not relaxing at all. The best approach is to just lie there and ignore the proceedings for a while, quietly relaxing all by yourself. If you think you may not hear the noise of people getting up keep your eyes open or you might lie there all day…..
These minor problems aside, I think exercise classes are quite achievable with hearing loss. I didn’t carry on with the yoga but I convinced myself that, if another class came along that I liked the look of, I would give it a go.
Writing this reminds me that, about twenty years ago, I decided to learn to ride (horses). I had been a horse-mad child, but the nearest I got to riding then was devouring books about pony clubs and having gymkhanas on the kitchen table with paper cut-out horses jumping over lollipop stick fences. When I decided to have some lessons my hearing loss was not severe but one riding school declined to teach me because of it. I found another, though, and settled in to learn to start, stop, turn, go backwards, trot (sitting and rising) and eventually canter (although cantering was never a strong point) on Merlin and Bubble. In truth, I wasn’t very good at it, but I had fun. At least I did for a while, but then it became apparent that the school was never going to let me out of the training field because they couldn’t be sure that if something happened on a proper ride and they shouted out instructions I would hear them. I could see their point, but trotting round and round the same field got a little boring, so I stopped. You win some you lose some.
I’ve had more success with walking and running. I’ve always been very happy with my legs. They wouldn’t win me any Victorian prizes for the best turned ankle but they are sturdy and dependable and carry me along with quite little effort which, after all, is what legs are for. I’ve written before about the challenges of walking in a group when you have hearing loss but otherwise walking and ears are not much linked. I would perhaps say that cars sneaking up behind me on quiet country lanes are a problem but even people with perfectly good hearing seem to experience that. Hereabouts, if you have arrived in your car inches from a dog walker without them or the dog noticing, which happens quite frequently, the trick is to call politely out of the window or rev the engine very slightly……..don’t sound the horn unless you want to watch someone leaping into the ditch in a panic.
Running has been something I have dabbled in very occasionally, once (a very proud moment) completing a charity 10k run in Leeds (the Leeds Abbey Dash 2007 – I still have the photos). On some of my favourite dog-walking routes quite a lot of people run with their dogs and, as they charge past, it often occurs to me that I should give it another try. Izzy might enjoy it (she would just have to trot along a little faster) and it would be good for my fitness. Indeed I think I’ll start tomorrow…….
(PS Blogging gap coming up – off on holiday).