I hated sport at school. But now I embrace my middle-aged body and love it.

I was at pilates last week, doing one-legged pushups on a light spring. Every muscle in my 40-year-old body was screaming, droplets of sweat pooling on the reformer bench below. I felt equally like I might die and that I was the toughest bitch in the world. The instructor paused at my station and said, “Anna, you’re so strong!”

This isn’t meant to be a brag. I mean, maybe it is, a little. Perhaps that’s the point of this story – I’m a middle-aged woman who loves to do a flying split. There are so many of us. My social media feeds are full of gently reluctant women apologising but they did a 100 kg deadlift or held a new yoga pose or won their netball final or swam further than they ever have before.

Every muscle in my 40-year-old body was screaming.Credit:iStock

Feeling good about sharing is almost as hard-won as the achievement itself. On the inside, even in my most overpriced squat-proof leggings, I’m still a girl in Year 9 PE class waiting to hear how, specifically, I will suck today.

I actually liked sport a lot. This only occurred to me as an adult, when I was finally allowed to love myself. I played all kinds, from cricket to basketball, and I even looked forward to it. Saturday mornings were often spent in the mist on a half-frozen touch footy pitch, hollering at friends who had become teammates, planning a play, tearing down the line. Afterwards, covered knee-to-ankle in handprint bruises, came a sausage roll and a Gatorade from the kiosk, and the heart-full sensation of having won or lost.

None of that mattered. In the 90s, there were few acceptable ways to be a girl. Every magazine cover featured models in low-slung jeans, cheekbones hollow. Body positivity movements were still decades away, and my own body was a soft, curved one with a BO problem.

Going to PE was a terrifying mystery. Anything could happen: big balls, small balls, round balls, oblong balls. It could be capturing the flag or running laps, or it could be being weighed in front of your enemies. Or, worst of all, you might see a tennis court laid out with orange cones – the beep test, which was just failing but at increasingly short intervals.

Going to PE was a terrifying mystery ... Twice a week, we attempted to master a brand-new skill while the whole class watched.

Going to PE was a terrifying mystery … Twice a week, we attempted to master a brand-new skill while the whole class watched.Credit:AP

No one encouraged you to play to your strengths. Twice a week, we attempted to master a brand-new skill while the whole class watched. In summer, there might be the added shame of bringing a note to please excuse you from swimming, which the teacher might also choose to read aloud to the class for reasons I’m sure made sense to them at the time. We were taught to be ashamed of our effort – our failures – to perform.

With each passing year, I became convinced not only that I was bad at sport but also that it would be gross to try. Trying to be good at something? In front of everyone?

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