I used to teach people to drive trucks. You know, the 18-wheelers. Stick a 53 foot trailer behind a Peterbilt, Kenworth, or Freightliner, and you have a vehicle nearly 70 feet long, 8 1/2 feet wide, 13′ 6″ high, and weighing anywhere from about 34,000 lbs to 84,000 lbs…or more if you’re pulling certain oversize loads.
Now, when you take someone off the street who has maybe never even touched a big truck before and put them behind the wheel for the first few times, THEY ARE SCARED! I have seen ex-cops and soldiers who have been in gunfights and battles quit because they were in fear of the pure mass and size of the truck. I knew an ex-bounty hunter who came through our school who was terrified of the truck.
Getting past that fear is often just a matter of putting things in perspective.
When Gina first got in the truck, she was one of those with no previous experience, and she was scared. Her background was wife, mother, and occasional Wal-Mart clerk.
On the first day with a student, I showed them around the truck without a trailer (bobtail) and gave them a little driving and shifting practice (how’s YOUR double clutching?) in a secluded training area. In fact, we had what we called the “shift track” where we could teach students to go through some of the 10 gears and to turn corners. The shift track was a little bit smaller than a football field, with stop signs at two opposing corners so that students could learn to start from a stop and take the truck around the corner. At the other two corners they could practice downshifting and making the turn on the move. If they seemed to be in control on the track, I took them to a nearby industrial park which had very wide corners and very little traffic and let them practice their skills.
On the second day with a student, I took them back to the shift track, only this time we got there AFTER I showed them how to safely couple to a trailer and did a “demo” drive around a few streets in the area. Then I put them in the driver’s seat, with that big ol’ trailer hanging behind them, and talked them around the track a few times.
Gina was up first.
As she pulled up to the first stop, I told her that I was going to talk her through a left turn (which is actually generally easier than the right turn). As she sat there, she looked at the turning area and shook her head emphatically, and said, “There is NO WAY this truck will fit into that space!”
I had her pull forward, and she was obviously distressed because she was SO CERTAIN that it was impossible to make that 70 foot vehicle negotiate that turn. However, as she followed my instructions while the truck moved forward at the idle, we went through the process of the turn from picking the starting point, bringing the trailer around, and closing out the turn.
Now, I won’t take you step by step through the rest of her training or even the rest of the day, but for a while, she shook her head at every turn, still finding it hard to believe that it was possible to put that big truck into such a small space.
That was the perspective she had based on the lack of experience she had with the process.
It seemed impossible.
A little over a week later, Gina had been driving a big truck all over the Dallas area, even taking it downtown, crossing the spot where President Kennedy had been shot, and had cruised the Interstate and several tricky little courses I liked to use. It was now graduation day, and Gina and I had just returned from her last ride around the area.
As we pulled through the gate, she asked, “Can we go over to the shift track for a second?”
I agreed, not knowing what was up.
Gina pulled the truck up to the first stop sign where I had showed her how to make a turn. She sat there for a moment, staring at the turn, and then she began to shake her head slowly, almost the same way she had that first day.
For a moment, I was afraid that Gina, who had definitely had a hard time in the training, had gone back to day one and was thinking that this was all just too much.
However, after a moment she turned to me, and in almost exactly the same tones she had used previously when she was convinced the turn was impossible, she said, “There is SO MUCH SPACE out there! That area is HUGE! I cannot believe it ever seemed so small!”
Gina was not the first to have those same reactions. I saw that many times. As a noncommissioned officer in the U. S. Army, I often had to show younger, less experienced soldiers things that they did not think would work, or that they would not be able to do. A few weeks later, they were usually showing other, newer soldiers the same things as if they had been doing them all their lives.
BACK TO THE SUBJECT OF EXERCISE AND FITNESS
Exercise is really just another set of skills used to achieve fitness. Like any skill, at first it seems difficult, perhaps even impossible to those who have not been doing it. Like any skill, the person learning has to start small and perhaps take baby steps…steps that might not look anything like what the pros are doing, and steps that will not immediately produce the results that we see in accomplished and experienced bodybuilders or other fitness professionals who have been at this for a while.
Like any other skill, progress will be based on the opportunity to practice, the willingness to commit to the program, and, in the case of exercise and fitness, the genetic makeup of the individual. Just like there are good musicians and great musicians or good truck drivers and great truck drivers, it will be a combination of these and other factors which will determine the ultimate outcome.
Not every exerciser, no matter how dedicated, will become an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Cory Everson, but every dedicated exerciser WILL experience the benefits of better health, reduced risk of many major and minor health conditions, and increased ability to enjoy life to the fullest if they DO commit themselves to a lifestyle of regular moderate exercise and healthy eating habits.
Nobody feels surprised when they start a new job and feel like a “newbie”. However, we all know that after a period of training, experience, and mistakes we will eventually reach a point where we look and feel like an old pro. Fitness is no exception.
Put exercise in perspective and begin the path to fitness and health today.