40 More Days: The Presidential Physical Fitness Test

Notes: This was originally posted on April 17, 2014. A few updates have been included here.

It was all fun and games until we started getting scored in percentiles…

I’ll never forget my tenth birthday. My parents got me a blue ten-speed bike and told me I was allowed to get my ears pierced. And in gym class, we got to play with the parachute.

The parachute!

What was better? Nothing. Gym class was the best. We learned to skip rope and climb the rope and do the peg board and juggle. (Although I never really got the hang of that one.)

And then we grew up and went to middle school.

And everything changed.

For those of us outside the circle of jocks, The Presidential Physical Fitness Test was the stuff nightmares and urban legends were made of. Did you hear three people puked all over themselves last period? It was because they were forced to run a mile. A MILE. And you’re next.

I was the smallest in my class from kindergarten through my senior year. (And into undergrad and both graduate programs.) At 4’10” I had some… issues…. with my physical capabilities. Now I have learned to embrace my size (except when I’m trying to buy clothes) and realize it has very little to do with athleticism. But in middle school it was easy to blame. “How can I possibly do well on these tests when I’m SO SMALL???”

Because I really- really- did not do well.

Yesterday I approached the test with all of these memories not-so-far back in my mind. But I had a new understanding of my body trying to override the negative memories. I ran the 1.5 miles reminding myself that a year ago I couldn’t have run that far at all. I did the flexibility test with a gentle reminder that I have always had problems in this area. I couldn’t touch my toes in preschool. It is an area on which I already plan to focus this year. I did “girl” push-ups because I don’t have anything to prove. I focused through my half-sit-ups knowing that I have always had a strong core. And I did a plank until I got bored. (The plank, by the way, is not on the official test, but is part of another challenge TBA.)

And I plugged in my results.

And I scored in the 28th percentile for people my age.


Now, I have enough of a background in educational statistics to talk myself back from the ledge. I was able to remember that this was the BEFORE test, and I need room to grow, right? (Also, I have been standing behind a keyboard eating Oreos for the past three weeks working on a show. So that probably didn’t help.) But more importantly, these percentiles are not of everyone in the country my age. They only represent people who took the test. A self-selected group. And thirty-nine-year-olds only take the Presidential Physical Fitness Test for one reason: to prove how fit they are.

But my competitive drive was raging. Doesn’t this test know that I test well? I am not a 28th percentile person. Where do I enter my education here- that has to count for something, right?

And in a moment, I was back in the eighth grade defined by a silly number that I didn’t feel represented me at all. All I needed was Guess jeans tight-rolled at the bottom and curled bangs and it would have been 1988 all over again.

And then I ate some cake. Don’t judge, it was my birthday.

And now that I’ve slept on it, well, I still don’t like scoring low. But I am able to see through the emotional clutter enough to remember. This was a BEFORE test. And one year from now, on my fortieth birthday, I plan to make that test my bitch.

Update: As I repost this from last year, I’m starting to get worried. Has my fitness improved enough for me to crawl out of that 28th percentile? When I take the “After” test on my birthday, will it send me back to therapy? I am so tempted to spend the next 40 days working only on the 1.5 mile run, the flexibility test, sit-ups, and push-ups. Of course, this goes against absolutely everything I believe in as a teacher. My Masters thesis was about teaching skills versus teaching to the test. But man. It’s tempting.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amy
    Mar 08, 2015 @ 09:15:55

    Anxiously awaiting the results of this year’s birthday test. Have you read Mindset? Fixed vs. growth is brewing in this post.


    • Thoroughly Modern Mommy
      Mar 08, 2015 @ 12:53:58

      Thanks, Amy! I haven’t read it, but it sounds like a perfect thing to prepare me for “The Big Test.” 😉


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