On your bike!

9th July 2004 at 01:00
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Fundraiser Jo Lally saddles up and rides on out of town - slowly.

Spend four hours on the last weekend of the Christmas holidays packing shopping bags in Safeway to raise money for the synchro teams? I'd rather run a marathon, cycle 100 miles, teach French to the bottom setI Then again, not French. And preferably not children either. I'm a comprehensive escapee and happily teach willing young adults in a sixth-form college. Bottom sets - and my failures with them - taunt me only during my lowest moments. But money must be raised to send the Basingstoke synchronised ice skating teams to the British and world championships next year. The London marathon, then?

Sadly, I had to reject the marathon. Blame the doctor. He told me to stop running because it was damaging my knees. It's still a long-term aim. After all, I have to live with myself when I see disabled children, old men and people with terminal illnesses crossing the finishing line. All I have to do is eat less. Cycling remains as a fundraising option. I like riding, but 100 miles is a long way. So I have compromised, and said I will try to raise money by cycling 30 miles in August.

Thirty miles may seem laughable, but I am obese. Not just fat. Obese. And I am feeling seriously victimised. I can't turn the television on or open a newspaper without learning that I am a threat to society, an expensive self-abuser who should be forced to fund my own healthcare. Even The TES and its Get Active campaign has been trying to get us to deliver education while skipping round what's left of the sports field and taking a major detour around the chocolate machine.

I have always felt rather inferior about sport and have almost accepted the fat, intelligent image. Except when I see Jordan parading on TV with not enough clothes on. Then I think it might be better to be artificial, stupid and attractive.

Oh, I care about keeping fit. I walk the dog a couple of miles every day, I cycle two or three times a week, and ice skate every week; we go canoeing in summer, and I always use the stairs. But I am swelling up like that nasty girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It distresses me that I can't stop eating. It doesn't help that the whole world has come together to make me feel even worse about being fat. Even the eating disorders clinic won't help me because, although I binge, I am more concerned about my health than my looks and I don't make myself sick. It's tempting: I could eat as much as I liked, lose weight, and get the medical help I need before I am asked to pay for my own bypass surgery.

But I shall resist that temptation. Instead, I am cycling more and trying to increase my fitness so I can cycle 30 miles and raise money for the teams. Mehsati, my daughter, wants to cycle some of the way with us to support her team. They have a tremendous bond of loyalty and friendship: synchronised skating requires utter trust that your team members will be exactly where they're supposed to be as you speed backwards across the ice towards them, arms out to join in a wheel, a line or a block.

Basingstoke has four teams this year from juvenile to senior. Three are British champions, the juveniles came second. The junior team came 16th in the world. The training, travel, kit, and so on, are not cheap. But these are not the children of the rich and privileged. They are normal children, and we are normal parents on normal incomes. I'm a part-time teacher and my partner is a technician.

At a time when children are increasingly characterised as couch potatoes and too many lack the motivation, encouragement and opportunity to get passionate about a sport, it's important to raise awareness of what the young skaters from Basingstoke are achieving. It's also vital that we raise money to ensure that every team member can afford the trips later this year to Nottingham and Sheffield for the British qualifiers and championships, and that the older teams can afford to travel to international competitions.

So, every weekend and some evenings, I've been huffing, puffing and wobbling around Southampton and the New Forest trying to cycle a bit further every time. Last Sunday I cycled 18.87 miles. I felt OK - slightly stiff but inordinately proud of myself. I was, admittedly, a bit grumpy on Monday. But that could have been the disorganised, inappropriate Inset. In the meantime, we'll be packing bags at Safeway again next week. Compared with the huge pile of AS scripts on my desk, most of which seem to be written by candidates who have attended no lessons at all, it seems strangely attractive.

Jo Lally teaches German and critical thinking at Havant College, Hampshire.

Email: jo.lally@ntlworld.com.Club website: www.icesynchro.com

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