Allen the Alligator

Allen the Alligator

I’m afraid of alligators and crocodiles. I can remember waiting patiently across the sidewalk as friends inched closer and closer to get a better view of their exhibit at the zoo.

Imagine my horror when I found out that my new job, which I just flew across the United States for, required me to handle an alligator — WITHOUT protective gear. The alligator’s name was Allen, and he was two years old. He had been used by other educators the prior year, but he was no friendlier for it. He hissed and snapped his strong jaws, which were lined with razor sharp teeth. 

To say that I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of sticking my bare hand into his tank to pick him up and hold him next to my body would be a huge understatement. If I were warned about this duty, I wouldn’t have taken the job. I considered quitting.

Instead of quitting, I asked for help. Allen’s normal caretaker allowed me to feed Allen, so we could get more comfortable with each other. Other teachers came with me to visit Allen after work. They showed me their strategies and techniques, and guided me though the process as I practiced picking him up and holding him. Finally, I team-taught my first class. He provided moral support. He made sure the class was calm as I reached into the tank, and lined everyone up to pet Allen’s tail. 

I taught with Allen on my own many times after that initial class, but I never felt comfortable with it. Actually, as the school year wore on, Allen got bigger and bigger, which made it harder for me and the other teachers who had smaller hands to grab him. I was never bit, a student was never bit, and a chaperone was never bit. Even though I was uncomfortable, I was able to successfully create a safe learning environment. I managed the situation. 

We all have situations where we feel uncomfortable. It is okay and normal to feel uncomfortable in a gym. You may feel uncomfortable every time you visit, and that’s okay too. The main thing is you show up, do the work, and manage the situation. If you, like me, need a little extra help, remember there are fitness professionals who can show you their strategies and techniques to make the gym feel safer, so that you can exercise more efficiently and make more good days.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a safe and healthy week.  

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