Had anxieties before coming along to a Rabble?
Most people do, it’s super scary showing up to your first group based workout. With so many uncertainties joining a new group, what are we going to do? Are you good enough? Is everyone going to be friendly? It takes some bravery to show up. But imagine if all your group exercise experience was negative. Sheryl is an inspirational and brave lady. She’s on a journey to explore her body and it’s capabilities, pushing herself well out of her comfort zone and to achieve things she previously didn’t believe were possible. And us, we’re just hoping to help make the journey super fun!
Rabble. More than Just an Hour of Physical Activity
Have you ever had a moment when it feels like the fates have completely aligned in your favour?
That’s what happened the day I read this BBC news article and plucked up the courage to email Charlotte Roach about my latest theatre project, before receiving this reply from her:
Thanks so much for getting in touch. I think you’re incredibly brave and it’s a fantastic project. I’d love to discuss further and be involved where we can”.
So, to put this all in context.
My name is Sheryl Hill, I’m a theatre director and I’m obese.
And I’m creating a theatre production about the complexities of obesity and the way in which weight loss is promoted within the United Kingdom.
The obesity crisis is far from being reversed, with obesity never being far from the news and statistics published by national health organisations indicating that 1 in 4 men and 1 in 4 women in society are obese.
Having been someone who has never been a healthy weight and instead has experienced varying degrees of weight loss, weight gain and compulsive eating behaviour throughout my life I’ve always found the way that we talk about weight loss inherently, if unintentionally, negative.
I know the facts are to eat less and move more (and as for all of the conflicting advice flying around around what we should and shouldn’t be eating, well that’s a blog for a later time) but do I find that focus inspiring? Not really.
I want to give the weight loss dialogue an aspirational make over and kickstart a conversation where we become inspired by what we stand to gain from becoming healthy and fitter and what we will be able to accomplish by doing so.
And so at the beginning of 2017, I launched my Youtube channel ‘Sheryl Talks Obesity,’ which will chart my progress as I train for three iconic events, all of which I have never felt there would be any chance of me doing: a marathon, the Three Peaks Challenge and cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
You can find out more about my theatre project here.
Ok, but what does this have to do with Charlotte and Rabble exactly?
One of Charlotte’s questions to me was how ‘have I found team sports in the past?’.
I literally just cannot remember ever playing a team sport since secondary school. Working in theatre, I play a lot of drama games…but something that you would actually call a team sport. Yes, secondary school. So I haven’t participated in a team sport for over twelve years.
I remember preparing to start college elated at the fact that never again would I be forced to participate in sport! At college, sport was optional and having found P.E. enough of a humiliating experience at an all girls secondary school, the experience of ever participating in sport with boys my age was one I was determined to avoid.
I was very much the loud, class clown at school; popular with my peers it was easy to put on the front of being ‘the funny one’ in the group so that was what they saw and not my obese size.
Despite that method of survival that I had cleverly developed over the years, P.E. ,with its hideous (and incredibly ill-fitting on me) little lycra shorts as part of the uniform, the dreaded ritual of having to start by running three laps of the sports court (destined to always be last and by a long shot), the humiliation of being the first one to drop out of the bleep test and the bright shade of red that I used to turn as we exercised (which haunted me more than my obese body), goes down as some of the worst times in my life and something which I had to endure for over a decade.
I didn’t even start to consider doing any form of exercise again until years later.
In 2015, I joined my local running group’s Learn to Run course. Despite being plagued with doubts, the confidence I had slowly built up over the last few years gave me the courage to apply with the aim of this time finishing the entire programme. Suddenly finding myself running with a diverse group of people (no longer just older women) meant I was facing one of my biggest fears; exercising with men. My learn to run group was one of the best bunch of people I have ever met and when I crossed the line on our final 5k run it was one of the most emotional moments of my life. I, yes me, Sheryl Hill, had run an entire 5k without stopping!
For the first time in my life I had an ‘in’ to sport, even getting up to training for 10k, although because of injury never making the race and subsequently stopping altogether. Once again I started dabbling in going to exercise classes, because being fit was something which I aspired to want to become.
But I can’t pretend I found those classes exciting. Probably why I never kept going up for long. I enjoyed them, but did they make me feel ridiculously excited at the thought of doing them? No.
Exercise was a means to an end, once again to be something that you know, you just get through.
No wonder we’re struggling to reverse the obesity crisis, hey, folks?!
And so, when I found myself one morning in late 2016 casually checking BBC news before starting that day’s work (and by this point, having decided to pursue making my theatre show about obesity) and I stumbled on the article about Charlotte; it was a real light bulb moment.
Someone who wanted to make exercise fun? And as I read on, ‘Stuck in the Mud,’ ‘British Bulldog,’ things that I had played at school and loved, because they weren’t part of P.E., they were just the games I had played whilst on lunch time breaks as a small child and had loved doing so, with no judgement being passed on me.
And whilst I felt like I was completely chancing my luck; this obese woman emailing in randomly stating that I was going to go from being inactive to cycling 874 miles after eighteen months of training, I just had to do it.
And as they say, the rest is history.
I’m three Rabble sessions in. And well, what can I tell you? I was so terrified before playing my first Rabble. Suddenly I was exercising with a lot of men and women my age. I was sure I was going to make a total fool of myself.
How wrong I was. Even though inside I died a little bit each time I failed to catch the ball, I never once felt like my fellow team mates were mocking me for doing so; everyone was so supportive. And I never thought I’d say this, but I was having such a laugh!
I found myself working harder than ever before in an exercise environment, so keen to play the game that I had a few times where I had to stop because of pushing beyond my fitness levels and realising I was close to vomiting. Thankfully there was no vomit, but a whole lot of fun.
Everything I had LOVED about break times at school and everything I LOVE about theatre and the games we play was in front of me in a sports context. My body worked hard and so did my brain.
I look at my diary and actively try to schedule work around being able to make a Rabble session whereas before it was I’ll get to a class if I have time.
But it goes further than that. The culture of Rabble is one in which I finally feel accepted and that sport can be something that I can do as well. That I’m not going to be shamed or humiliated, as has clouded most of my previous experiences.
I obviously have a long way to go on my journey to John O’Groats and don’t get me wrong, all of those anxieties still remain. I won’t just get rid of them straight away but Rabble feels fun, inclusive and safe; a community for all. It feels like somewhere that I can grow and achieve my goals.
And so much of that is credit to Charlotte. From being a complete stranger, Charlotte has become the most amazing of allies and a good friend. Her support has been unrelenting; both for my project and my own journey into Rabble and I’m so very glad I made the decision to email the woman I had just seen on the BBC news!
By the time this blog will have been published Rabble would have just had its third birthday. May it have many, many more birthdays to come.
And finally, to finish this incredibly long blog, in our very first meeting Charlotte heard all about my project and called me a ‘change-maker’.
Well, I put it to you, Charlotte, that you are the change-maker. Look at what you’ve created and what you have given to so many.