I have a confession. I was emotionally, mentally, and physically bested by a piece of rope. To be fair, it was a big, long one: 1.5 inches in diameter and probably 15 feet long, but it beat me and I can’t stand it.

It probably beat you too. If you’re over the age of 35, chances are good you had enforced in school Physical Education classes, and a part of those classes, for my school system anyway (circa 1980-something- I-don’t-want-to-give-away-my-age), was the President’s Fitness Challenge. The criteria were fairly simple, you had to be able to do sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, throw a softball, do a 50 yard dash, a 600 yard dash, and a standing broad jump. For some reason I’ve never figured out (maybe it was different then), our challenge also included climbing the big rope.

Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the President’s Fitness Ambassador when I was in middle school, and this was in his ascendance to pop-culture glory, so we paid attention. But we were also girls, and I in particular was a drama and choir kid, a full-on a Gleek before anyone had a name for it. You want jazz hands, grapevines, a high C, I’m your girl. A single pull-up, or a run of more than a few feet? Not going to happen.

The pull-up bar was beyond challenging, and the PE teacher (an assistant football coach) was not exactly supportive of girls’ fitness, but he followed the protocols and modified the pull-ups for the girls, so I was able to do one. Just one. At least that box could be checked off the form. Sit-ups, push-ups, throwing, and the jump, I had just fine. The running was just a joke, but I wheezed and clod-hopped my way through it.

Then, there was that rope. There were three of them, anchored to the metal beams of the gym ceiling. Now, I know it was only about 15 feet long, but it could have been 100 for all the good it would have done. My developing body, and general physical awkwardness, not to mention a general lack of upper-body strength defeated me before I could even try. I did give it a go—I think I made it up one knot—before I had to be helped back down. I psyched myself out, and it’s haunted me since. I didn’t get a cheapo metallic coated, plastic medal on a ribbon and a certificate with Arnold’s name auto-pen signed on it.

I’m older (a lot) and wiser now. The Terminator may never sign my fitness certificate, but those ropes now hang in gyms and fitness centers all over the place. I’ve decided the time has come to kill that rope. I’ll buy my own medal afterwards.

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