I admit I was never a committed athlete. I have athletic abilities when pushed, but have never developed an interest in sticking with a sport very long. However, I understand the importance of physical health and admire my friends who dedicate their mornings or evenings to this task. I recently realized, however, there’s nothing like a fire drill at work to get you motivated to stay in shape.

I had just arrived at work and made my way first to the break room to grab a cup of tea. Still donning my coat the alarm rang, and I joined several colleagues down the nearby stairs to the lobby. Most of the time when fire drills occur in our building we are given some warning, like it will happen sometime that day or week. This had not been planned and was caused by elevator repair that had been taking place.

When we began to gather in the freezing temperatures outside the building, management hurried to let us know we could go back to our offices because of the false alarm. I happened to be in the back of the crowd heading out the door, which meant I was the first to return to the stairwell.

There’s a pressure knowing you have to ascend the stairs ahead of a crowd of people. Add to that these people are your colleagues and know where to find you to give you shit for losing your breath up the stairs, and there’s a real panic about to take place. Mind you, I am not one who uses the option of taking the stairs instead of the elevator to stay in shape so this was new terrain for me.

I looked for the usual signs. Breath begins to resist entering your lungs as if you’re no longer worthy, you start seeing stars here and there as oxygen is no longer able to reach your stressed brain. Your calves remind you of glue that at once was fluid but now is hardening with each step. The flop sweat is last to come as you surrender to the hand rails and motion everyone to go on without you.

Yet, I found none of these symptoms. Just because I’m not athletic doesn’t mean I’m not competitive. I refused to allow my body to fail this task and kept a steady pace all the way to our floor, and only when I stopped climbing and was walking to my desk on even ground did I feel a little winded and wobbly. Relieved, I was grateful I didn’t bring attention to myself amidst such peer pressure.

This is probably a good time to say our office is on the 4th floor. However, that was still a great accomplishment for me to hold my own that far. It is also a good reminder that there may be opportunities for me to have to step up physically in an unexpected situation and I can’t let myself or those around me down. I’m also getting to the age where I can’t let my future old lady body down by not taking those exertive steps now, whether figuratively or literally.

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