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‘Movement and activity in my life has been a combination of accident and design’

'Movement and activity in my life has been a combination of accident and design' - Vanessa Mayor

Movement and activity in my life has been a combination of accident and design, as I’ve no doubt it has been for most, and I can’t untangle the relationship between my desire to be fit and healthy with the constant drip-feeding of body beautiful messaging that we’ve all been subjected to throughout life.
As a child growing up in the 70s and 80s almost all of our spare time was spent outside playing with other kids in the street and we all had bikes. PE at primary school was delivered by the class teacher so its delivery was dictated by their own relationship with activity. I have a vivid memory of Mr Woods teaching us handball in the playground as he read the rules from a book. That did generally mean, though, that the emphasis was in taking part rather than winning, which suited me. We were also blessed with a wonderful head teacher who would give up his lunch times to play cricket with us on the field with a tennis ball and it was a very inclusive experience that we all loved. It’s an idyllic memory.
At senior school, I was no great fan of the PE lessons themselves, but one of the female PE teachers was full of energy and enthusiasm and ran most of the girl’s teams. I joined the netball, hockey and basketball teams, which I loved, and was part of the athletics squad that we were encouraged to join to stay fit for the winter sports. Unfortunately I was roped into the high hurdle event which never ceased to terrify me. Add to this my 40 minute walk to and from school every day, and I was very active at this point.
After that, as somebody who has never learned to drive, I have either been forced into or chosen to walk everywhere. Even when living and commuting in London, there was always a walk to and from stations in both directions, often quite significant ones. Into this I’ve peppered exercise tapes (an Avon workout cassette to 80s pop songs hosted by the Green Goddess) and running during periods where I had plenty of spare time and low commitments.
After my sons were born I would walk or run with them in the pushchair, but this wasn’t sustainable as they got older and bored. So I bought an elliptical cross trainer that I could do at home whilst they played.
Once I returned to work, I purposely chose jobs I could walk to to ensure there was sustainable activity in my life, particularly when working full-time and having little spare time to then think about fitting additional exercise in. I’ve been lucky to have that choice, but then I have also designed it in by living in cities. This includes my current role at Active Sussex where I walk three miles in each direction twice a week to perform my finance duties.
I have also returned to running. A bout of self-loathing from a particularly brutal hangover resulted in my sticking on a pair of trainers and deciding that I would run a 5K without stopping just to see if I could. I could and I loved it and haven’t looked back. I now run 10 miles twice a week, every week. I find it empowering, restorative and mindful. I have no targets, just a route, and although I check my stats to see how I did at the end it makes no difference to what I do. I don’t listen to anything. I leave my phone at home and just get out on my own and get some really good thinking done. I’m no Olympian and that’s fine because it’s never been about that for me.
I firmly believe that each individual has to include movement and activity into their lives in a way that’s sustainable. Forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, or that is difficult to fit in won’t last, and then you’ll feel guilty and disappointed that you gave it up. The key is to the things you want to do, not the things you feel you should.
To find out more about what physical literacy means, visit www.activesussex.org/physical-literacy-consensus-statement-for-england-published/
Active Sussex staff member Vanessa Mayor at the 2023 Sussex Sport & Physical Activity Awards.
Vanessa Mayor at the Sussex Sport & Physical Activity Awards 2023. Picture by Nick Ford Studio.
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