In 2009, I had a hip replacement and lost the ability to walk.

In 2015, I did two half marathons.

This sounds like the beginning of an inspirational tale, but it’s really not. Doing a half marathon when you have avascular necrosis, are on your second hip replacement and don’t have a gluteus medius on your left side is a bad idea. I messed up my knee and my back, and within a year was unable to work out altogether.

Today, I have trouble bending down to pick up my daughter, and I struggle to walk for more than a few minutes. I’m back to using a forearm crutch. Is this all because of the half marathon? No. But a lot of it is due to my desire to push my body to the point of breaking. Sometimes, the impulse leads to good things: novels and grad school diplomas and Paralympic medals. Rarely, however, has it ever been good for me.

I love exercise. I can do very little exercise. I’m not very good at holding these two contradictions at once. Historically, the minute my back has felt even a little better, I’ve jumped right into some workout program with a name like “the 30 day Shed n’ Shred!” (The only thing I shredded is the last bits of my gluteus medius). I’ll say things like, “Wow, I am really loving this Body Bootcamp Extreme Plus! Did I mention that I can’t feel the side of my right foot? And that the side of my kneecap is swollen so it looks like I have two kneecaps, kind of like a bum, but on my knee! Bad luck, I guess. Total coincidence.”

For years, I’ve done no exercise, because I need the function to take care of my daughter. In August, however, I started getting trigger point injections every few weeks. They don’t help with the disc stuff, but they’ve taken the muscle spasming down enough that I can start moving my body a little more comfortably.

Last month, I randomly signed up for the Be.Come Project, which offers body-neutral workout videos. I thought they might help me build some more core strength, which might help my back pain. They’re gentle enough that I’ve been able do them, though I’ve needed modifications. Honestly, workout videos get a bad rap. They’re the most accessible form of exercise for me. I’ve tried to attend group fitness classes in the past before Covid, but the instructor inevitably says something like, “You need to stop buckling your knee in during that lunge” and then I have to give the Coles Notes version about why I would love to do that, but I do not have a gluteus medius and so literally can’t, and then the instructor usually cheerfully tells me that it’s important to try/stay positive and I have to explain — while music blares and the other participants stare at me — that I physically do not have the muscle required to do the thing, no matter how positive I am. With workout videos, I can flail around at home and only my cat can judge me.

But the important thing is that I was able to stick to doing just 3 workouts a week. Not 5. Not 7. Just 3. Just 30 minutes per session. At the end of every session, I stretch to “This Year” by the Mountain Goats.

After a month, I look exact the same. I’m proud of that sameness. I’m proud that I didn’t go too far, that my primary motivation wasn’t to punish myself or overcome myself. My body has demonstrated time and time again that it won’t be shedded/shredded/sculpted/bootcamped/fatblasted. As I’ve learned more about fat liberation, I’ve stopped seeing thinness as a desirable goal.

I still miss sports. I really do. I miss working out with other people. But it feels good right now to focus on gentleness, on endorphins, on stopping when it hurts in the wrong way, on drinking a cool glass of water after a just-long-enough workout as The Mountain Goats remind me that I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me.