No, not the roller coaster of dieting. We don’t do diets here. This is a story about finding joy in body movement.
How The Roller Coaster Fitness Plan Was Born
At the end of last year, I bought a season pass to Adventureland, the closest amusement park to me. The last time I was there (several years ago), I walked 20,000 steps. I was exhausted. But I got to ride The Monster, which is the single most beautiful and fun roller coaster the state of Iowa has ever seen.
See, I’ve loved roller coasters since I was a teenager. I was terrified of them because I got a little nauseated on my first ride, so I avoided them growing up. But I eventually braved it again. Then I was hooked.
As everyone says to make movement joyful, it only made sense for me to use my love of roller coasters as motivation. I wasn’t sure how to make it happen though. I do live in a place where winter lingers for six months. Plus, I’d have to go once a week to make it worth it.
That’s where the season pass came in. It aided my motivation to move in five ways:
- Timeline: Based on when the park opened for the season and their selective open dates, I could ease into movement.
- Measurable Goals: Certain areas of the park could serve as milestone for my movement.
- Price: The season pass cost me $165, which was comparable to some gym passes except it included parking, those roller coasters, and skee-ball.*
- Fun: Fucking coasters, man.
- Accountability: Keep reading . . .
*Skee-ball is absolutely a workout if you haven’t played in ten years. Trust me and my arm on this.
Why It Took Roller Coasters for Body Movement
My relationship with working out, exercising, getting fit, or whatever you dub it proves contentious at best. For the last several months, I’ve worked on eye movement and desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for body image because I couldn’t talk about my body with my therapist without crying. But thanks to fibromyalgia, a recent diabetes diagnosis, and countless other physical maladies, I knew I needed to stop treating my body like an immoveable object. The question was: Doing what?
I’m not new to exercise. I’ve tried a lot of stuff in my 40-plus years. What was lacking each time was the reward. I thought I was supposed to exercise for exercise’s sake. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using food as a reward, it did still seem counterintuitive to me. Plus, I was also in therapy to work on re-finding joy. If you ask me what I love, roller coasters will be in the top five things. That much I knew about my joys.
It seemed so straightforward once I thought through it:
Get a season pass. Go once a week. Set landmarks in the park as milestones. Ride a roller coaster as a reward. Leave. Repeat.
The end goal was to walk through the whole park, ride each coaster once, and leave for the day.
I marked dates out on my calendar. I visualized what it would be like. My husband and I drove out there to put eyes on the parking situation. I set my landmarks. I was good to go on opening day.
I Panicked on Day One
I got to the amusement park before it opened on their first day of the season. There was a line to get into the parking lot, and the lot itself was already busier than I expected. That’s when I panicked.
Over the pandemic, my body decided it didn’t like movement at all. Soon, I was unable to walk or stand more than five minutes without back pain. I’d also hurt my knees with my right knee much worse than my left. And I no longer had any cardio stamina. I’d done physical therapy for six months but hadn’t seen the results I wanted. I’d restarted, this time in hydrotherapy and had been doing that for eight weeks. Hydrotherapy gave me the strength I needed to finally feel like I could actually follow through on this plan.
I told Hubster my landmark goal on day one was the carousel just inside the park gates. No rides. Just get that far. It all depended upon how far I had to walk in the parking lot before even getting in.
When I saw the lot and parked further out than I liked, I was discouraged right away. I sat in the lot for 10 minutes wanting to cry and give up.
But I was there. I’d gotten out of bed, made the commitment, drove 20 minutes, and waited in line. Plus, I had the accountability I mentioned above. I didn’t spend $165 to give up. I was gonna get my money’s worth. If I didn’t, each dollar would haunt me throughout the summer.
Did I Make It?
I got out of my car with only my phone and keys in hand. And I walked. Then stopped.
I’d made it to a concrete wall outside the gates before I had to rest. It was way sooner than I wanted to make my first stop considering I hadn’t even made it inside. The old me–the me previously controlled by Shitty Shoulds–would’ve cried at the perceived failure.
But I gave myself time and grace. It was, after all, only day one. It was my first effort on land to get moving. (By the way, gravity is a fucker when you’re used to moving in water.)
I scanned my body, noted the pain, let my breathing slow, then got back up.
This time, I made it to the line at the gates and waited. That was a test in itself. I was able to stand the whole time without back pain. That was a huge win!
Once inside, I made it to a bench by the carousel. That made me happy.
I decided to keep going. I wanted to see how far I could get before my body said, “Nope, we’re done.”
I made it to the end of Main Street where a hopeful and promising view greeted me.
Of course, I still had to walk back to my car, which filled me with dread. I’d stopped four times to rest getting to that picturesque point. I wasn’t convinced I’d make it.
The seemingly endless crowd filled with teenage band students carrying their instruments did, however, convince me it was time to go. On the way out, I stopped five more times.
In all, I’d walked 20- to 25-minutes’ worth over a 45-minute span.
Yes, my body hurt. Yes, I knew I’d be out of commission for the rest of the day. But day one of the plan was in the books, and I knew what to expect from there on out.
How’s Body Movement Going?
I’ll be honest; it’s not going as I hoped. Day one was three weeks ago, and I’ve not been back since. I re-injured my knee slightly, which set me back.
I’m starting to see improvements in my knee though. My plan is to return twice in the upcoming week. Holiday traffic might deter or delay me, but I *will* get there at least once. I’ve yet to get my $165 worth, yo. I’ve yet to ride The Monster let alone any rides at all.
What’s also keeping me going are future plans and the landmarks I’ve set:
- In the very near future, I have a massive vacation in a city that requires walking, and I will not be kept from that joy.
- I’ve set monthly goals for events that require walking to keep me from giving up once I’ve met my initial goals.
- I can’t end The Roller Coaster Fitness Plan without riding all of the coasters.
- There are 5,705 roller coasters on this planet. Even if I only want to ride the top 100 record holders, I’ve got a lot of work to do.
When I made this plan, it felt overly ambitious. I kept thinking, “Yeah, it sounds fun, but will you actually follow through?” Buying the season pass surprised me. I did it, then realized, “Well, shit. Now you HAVE to do this, you idiot.” It hung over my head throughout late winter and early spring. It felt like a school project I dreaded starting. I kept thinking, “There’s no way your body can handle this.”
Yet I still started it.
And I’m going to get my money’s worth even if it takes me all summer.