I had a new experience recently.
I experienced exercise in a group setting, where no-one could see me, and therefore no-one could make any assumptions about my capabilities. And perhaps even more importantly, I couldn't make any assumptions that other people had made assumptions about my capabilities. I experienced fitness without prejudice.
At 46 I'm probably the fittest and strongest I've ever been. But as most people who know or follow me are aware, I've been 'overweight' all my life. Fitness and the battle to be lighter has been a lifelong struggle.
And in spite of being a qualified & experience Sea Kayak Coach, a Mountain Leader, a qualified Personal Trainer, an experienced runner & cyclist and having a gym in the back garden, I still experience prejudice because of my size.
During a cold spell this winter, I signed up to Zwift. Now, for those not into indoor cycling, Zwift is basically a video game controlled by sensors on your bike. It's a virtual platform that hosts a number of virtual 'worlds', in which people ride bikes on roads that are either invented (in Zwift's fictional world, Watopia), or designed to replicate real roads in the real world. There are climbs, and sprints, group rides and races, and thousands upon thousands of cyclists.
Within Zwift, there are opportunities to ride on your own, or to join a group ride, a time trial or a race. You're riding with real people, also on stationery bikes, all over the world. I happened upon group rides organised by one of the groups with the largest membership on Zwift - The Pack - and began to do group rides with them. They're a friendly, encouraging bunch, and their group rides are superbly led and organised.
So, nothing particularly unusual so far. Lots of people use virtual platforms for exercise, and for many of us it's been hugely important during the restrictions of Covid. But what I began to realise recently, is the freedom that this affords.
My Avatar on Zwift looks a little like me. But she's not me: she's just a picture. No-one can see me, and I can't see them. The only things you can be judged on in Zwift is how you ride your bike, and whether you're a nice person, willing to help other riders out. Other riders can tell I'm female, because I was truthful in building my profile. But otherwise, they don't know if I'm fat, thin, tall, short, black, white or anything else. They just see a woman on a bike.
For the first time in my life, I found freedom from feeling judged on how I look. And it feels amazing. That freedom allows me to push as hard as I like, and to achieve what my body is capable of without limits. I'm beginning to learn to sprint, I'm improving my climbing, and I'm getting stronger & more skilful on my bike by learning from more experienced riders. Whether those limits are imposed by the assumptions of other people, or by our own expectations of other people's assumptions doesn't really matter: we all come armed with preconceptions, some of which are helpful, and some of which aren't. Unconscious bias is powerful exactly because it's what it says: unconscious.
So what have I learned from the experience?
I've learned that sometimes those assumptions are just my own, not those of the people around me. But I've also learned that it doesn't matter whose they are, they're still powerful and limiting. So I'll be working to look beyond them in my own world, even more than I already do.
Would you like to train in an environment where no-one makes assumptions about your capablities? Where you can surprise yourself every day, just by putting in the work? Take a look at my Fitness & Nutrition Coaching, and take the first step towards that reality. Want to talk to me about this post, or about coaching? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sea Kayak Coach & Personal Trainer based in the Scottish Highlands. I love paddling, running, lifting weights, cycling, and moving well- and I love helping other people to do the same. I have to work really hard to build and maintain my skills on the water and my fitness, and I hope that helps me to understand how hard my clients also have to work!