an open letter to High School PE classes

An open letter to High School PE Classes, published on

Dear High School PE Classes (or The 2 Hours a Week I Magically Had My Period. Every Week.)

I’ve been watching a lot of Olympics on the telly and not just because a handful of people I went to high school with are competing. I’m not name dropping – it’s just my high school seems to produce either amazing athletes (exhibit: them) or quiet arty types who got their mums to write notes so they didn’t have to do the swimming carnival (exhibit: me and Guy Pearce). (I don’t actually know if Guy Pearce bludged the swimming carnival. I’ll have to ask next time I’m in Hollywood.)

Anyway, all this Olympic watching has got me thinking, High School PE Classes: you made me think I hate sports when I don’t really. I mean sure, I prefer to watch other people do them but I also kind of like them myself. And this is entirely despite your best efforts to make me detest it.


Remember the school swimming carnival?

I don’t have a degree in How Not to Give Adolescents Deep-Seated Complexes but I just feel that forcing a bunch of awkward self-conscious teens to wear swimming costumes and compete against each other in what is essentially a competition in not drowning whilst the ENTIRE SCHOOL COHORT WATCHES is not the best way to encourage a lifelong love of physical exertion. But what would I know – I’m probably going to end up one of those parents who believes at the end of the race every kid should get a prize and that prize is a hug.

Remember the cross country?

How I once came eighth out of eight and every year didn’t finish until it was basically dark and everyone had packed up and gone home? And how it always rained and because we had to run along the creepy path by the river the incentive to finish became not so much glory but the joy of not getting abducted and murdered? And how the fast boys in the next heat always passed us because there’s nothing like having the cutest boy in the school yell at you to get out of his effing way while you’re simultaneously trying not to cry and vomit from running, and the teacher who is marshalling keeps shouting over her thermos of coffee that you need to try harder Claire because she needs to get home to mark essays whilst watching Big Brother and eating Lean Cuisine? This is definitely one of life’s hallmark moments. They should produce greeting cards for this: In commemoration of the day another piece of your soul died.

Or school athletics day when I won second place in the Year Nine Girls Under 15 Javelin despite having never touched a javelin before because all the other competitors but one tripped? And when the teacher announcing the results over the loudspeaker got to this he sounded confused, started laughing and said ‘that can’t be right’? And when I showed my family my second place ribbon they asked who I’d stolen it from?

Or the annual nightmare of having to do the beep test and be measured and weighed in front of everyone, and the patently ignorant optimism of the sports teacher when he said ‘Everyone be mature and don’t tease each other, even if some of the girls do have the BMI of a baby whale’. This was the same teacher who gave me an F for aerobic fitness, ruining my straight A report card with this Mickey Mouse category of assessment. Though really it was a fairly good effort considering my display of aerobic fitness pretty much equated to sitting on the gymnasium bench pretending to have my period.

Or the times we had to play volleyball. Like in an American movie. Like in Carrie.

But despite all these things, High School PE Classes, I still actually like sports. I’m crap at it and my version involves more swearing than is appropriate for pre-teen audiences but I don’t hate it despite your best efforts. I whinge and complain but I’ll do it. If you put a mountain in front of me and tell me there’s a nice view or a really good ice creamery or Guy Pearce at the top, I’ll climb it.

If you hand me a ball and tell me which direction to run I’ll do it, until my team mates form a coalition and ask me to take on refreshment duty so that we stop getting own goals.

I like it even despite the fact the Olympic Gods of my Hellenic forbearers in their cruel humour gave my brother a doctorate in sports science and me a pair of kneecaps that a chiropractor once called ‘almost too small to be practical’ and implied that it was modern medicine and not Darwinism that was keeping me from being picked off by the rest of the pack.

So that’s what I wanted to tell you, High School PE Classes. In spite of your best efforts you couldn’t make me hate sports. What I do hate, though, is you, High School PE Classes, with your whistles and competitiveness and cruel jibes about how slow and steady wins the race. The only thing slow and steady wins in an encouragement award and getting picked last for team sport. Oh, yes, I hate you High School PE Classes and I’m going to do all I can to bring you down. I’m going to put an end to your brutal ways. And then we’ll all get hugs. You is goin’ down, High School PE Classes. Later. After the Olympics finish. If I remember. And if my kneecaps allow it.

Yours in nemeses,


4 thoughts on “an open letter to High School PE classes

  1. Per wikipedia: “From the age of 15 to 22, [Guy Pearce] was a competitive amateur bodybuilder, leading to the title of Junior Mr. Victoria. He also partook in fencing.”

    1. Junior Mr Victoria in bodybuilding!? This seems to be where the youth years of myself and Mr Pearce diverge in a distinctly diametric direction then!

  2. Claire, once I was the last one back out of the whole class running laps, the teacher made me run around the oval two more times. Felt like I’d die. I so know what you mean!

    1. Gosh, that seems like a COMPLETELY logical way to encourage your dormant love of running in circles around a big grass field…You know, Miche, I’m starting to suspect most people have a The Time I Was Traumatised By PE Class story locked away in the dark recess of their psyche!

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