Push-ups – a short story

Katrina and her school-friends talked in awed voices about one armed push-ups. Their interest was spurred by the American action film GI Jane, released on August 22nd 1997. The movie stared Demi Moore as Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil and told the fictional story of O’Neil as the first woman to undergo the rigorous training as an equal to the male recruits in U.S. Navy Special Welfare Group (equivalent to the Navy SEALS). Along the way O’Neil faced sexism, and intense physical challenges on top of demeaning political conniving by U.S. Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) who selected her for the experimental program. 

GI Jane was a box office success and grossed $11,094,241 its opening weekend, when it playing at a total of 1,945 theaters. Katrina, an incoming High School sophomore, saw it with her friends that opening weekend. They immediately identified with Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil. After all, they rationalized, wasn’t Mrs. Riley their drill team sergeant bit like the enigmatic Command Master Chief John James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen)? They thought of their past year’s rigorous training sessions when Mrs. Riley had attempted to advance them from “girl” push-ups (push-ups from the knees) to “boy” push-ups (push-ups from the feet.) Some, including Katina, had painfully made the transition. But now they were agog with admiration as they watched Demi Moore perform multiple one armed “boy” push-ups, Extraordinary, they thought, and yet Demi, with whom they identified as being as female as themselves, seemed to perform the feat with ease. Katrina, a type ‘A’ high-performer, was especially fascinated. She thought that if Demi Moore could do it then she could also do it. When she shut her eyes she could see herself rising on one arm, and convinced  herself that all she needed was a little training.

Performance in real life proved much more difficult. Katina went into her bedroom and got down on her white Berber tuft carpet. She did a few “girl” push-ups to warm up then advanced to “boy” push-ups. All is well, she thought. She felt good and strong, so she tried on one arm. A disaster, she couldn’t even lift herself off the carpet. She felt as weak as a baby trying to sit up and gave an almost inaudible wail of anguish. She rested prostrate on the floor. She felt alone and disappointed. Her cat, Peanut, stalked up to her and nestled her nose into Katrina’s face. Katrina sneezed and then sat up to pet the cat. The cat crept into her lap and purred soothingly.

“If it is possible I will do it,” she whispered into Peanut’s ear, “I will, I will.” Then Peanut leapt off her lap onto her bed. Katrina took this show of feline agility as an affirmation that the cat agreed and understood.

Katrina was intrigued and first wanted to make sure that the push-ups weren’t a result of trick photography, to verify that it was a realistic goal for her to undertake. She invited her parents to go with her to see the film a second time. After this second viewing she walked out of the cinema convinced that the feat was real. Now she was convinced that it was within her grasp.

When she got home from the movies she retired to her bed-room again and stood on her head. The pose calmed her as it always had for standing on her head was not new to Katrina. She had learnt to do so when she was in Kindergarten. The summer before Kindergarten she had seen her Uncle do it and had imitated him practicing in secret until she had it mastered. First she would find a soft spot to use then she would kneel down and position her head with her hands on the ground on either side. Then she would slowly unfold her body into an upside down erect position. First her back and torso and then she would unfold her legs into their straight position feet skyward. The experience had shown her that she liked to stand on her head. She had spent so much time on her head in Kindergarten class that her teacher wrote a poignant note on her report card to the effect that in class she saw more of Katrina’s rear end than her face. This state of affairs might have been disturbing except that Katrina was also exceedingly smart and out-classed her classmates academically. Some even speculated that perhaps the upside-down pose gave more blood to the brain and accounted for her intelligence. Perhaps it did, for Katrina developed her plan of attack that day as she stood, alone on her head in her room.

The plan of attack was simple; push-ups, and then more push-ups. Katrina set herself a schedule five sets of ten (that’s 50) push-ups every morning before school, another five sets after she got home, from Drill Team practice, in the evening and a final five sets before bed. Initially the push-ups varied between “boy push-ups and the easier “girl push-ups but soon she was able to dispense with the easier variation. She was glad when Mrs. Riley called for push-ups in class because she could then get feedback on technique, “Back straight, butt tucked in, body like a board!”

All Fall Katrina maintained her regimen. Occasionally she attempted a one arm without success. By the time that her arms had buffed up so much that none of her shirts fitted she was becoming desperate. She needed outside help. One day, right after Thanksgiving, she managed to catch a private moment with Mrs. Riley.

“Mrs. Riley, what is the secret to one arm push-ups? You know the push-ups that Demi Moore did as GI Jane?” Mrs. Riley was happy to explain that once the arms and body was strong enough it was a question of balance. “You need to make a slight shift and twist of the body to place its center-of-gravity closer to or over the arm which is to act as support.” Katrina went home and tried and sure enough by the beginning of December she did her first one armed push-up

Katrina’s body sang in secret pleasure as she spent the rest of December perfecting her technique. When school restarted after the Christmas holiday she thought of herself as a one arm push-up pro as good as GI Jane. Katrina was accustomed to acing everything which she did, and so she didn’t brag or tell anyone of her new accomplishment – only she and Peanut shared the secret. But at their first Drill Team session of the New Year Mrs. Riley screamed at the team in frustration – everyone seemed lethargic after their Christmas recess.

“How are we ever going to look good on the football field?” She yelled, “Push-ups, I want twenty push-ups!”

The team groaned and got down on the floor. Some could only manage ignominious “girl” push-ups, some, along with Katrina, did “boy” push-ups. Katrina worked with ease. Anna-Marie on the floor next to her suddenly blurted out in a loud voice to be heard by all, her voice charged with derogatory bitter sarcasm,

“Go on Karina, do them on one arm!”

“OK,” came the happy response.

© Copyright, August 2914, Jane Stansfeld

9 thoughts on “Push-ups – a short story

  1. This is very satisfying story: economical, straightforward and thoroughly captivating; I like Katrina; Mrs Riley too; but I’m reserving judgement on Anne-Marie.
    I usually concentrate my WordPress browsing on poetry but Cynthia Jobin’s recommendation led me here and I’m very glad I visited.

    • What better person than our wonderful poetess Cynthia to give a recommendation, she is a dear? Thank you for visiting and for your kind comments.
      Cheerio,
      Jane

    • Thank you for your visit, You and Cynthia voice real concerns and I can only hope that Katrina is also blessed with empathy and an ability to foster friendships,

  2. It seems character portrayal trumps plot in this one, Jane, as you give us a talented, intelligent, ambitious achiever of goals to follow to her lovely triumph–which appears inevitable. That Katrina doesn’t brag or show off, but simply demonstrates her superior achievement at the right moment is neat…..yet I am left with sad thoughts about all she may have to learn about envy in others, and loneliness, as she matures. There is also the hope that such a child would not learn from envy and loneliness the practice of “hiding one’s talent under a bushel.” Thank you for a good think.

    • Of course you are right Cynthia, such a character could possibly have a lonely path ahead, Fortunately, if the over-achiever is also blessed with empathy (perhaps another story) and is able to parlay this empathy into friendships loneliness may be avoided, indeed may be eclipsed, I also wonder about hiding talents and often ask when is it necessary to reveal and when is it necessary to conceal? Your comments trigger quite a dialogue.

      • That question of when to reveal and when to conceal is a good one. Of course, in a true and deep friendship, there’s no question of concealment, but in shallower associations it may be important.
        I’ve also always been amused by the expression “over achiever” as if there’s some optimum standard that one should not exceed….Ah well, as I said before, this is a thought provoking piece…

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