(Our own) Sarah Spain gets her groove back

For the next seven weeks, our writer Sarah Spain will follow a fitness and nutrition program designed for her by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI). She'll be tested and measured, pushed to her limits and put through the proverbial wringer. The goal? To get her back to feeling, thinking and looking like an athlete. Naturally, she'll be blogging every sweaty step of the way. Follow along, send her your comments or, better yet, jump in and go for it with her. You only think you're in shape ...

Darnit. Where's my inner athlete?
I know it's around here somewhere...

I can't remember a time in my life when being an athlete wasn't a huge part of my identity. Except perhaps ... now. The realization that I'm really and truly a wash-up came to me Tuesday at the Gatorade Performance Lab in SoHo in New York City. I was going through a series of exercises with internationally renowned personal trainer Todd Durkin, who works with guys like LaDanian Tomlinson and Drew Brees, and I found myself answering "I used to" to nearly every question he asked.

"Do you mix in interval training with your regular workouts?"
"I used to."

"Do you do calisthenics or warm-up exercises before you start cardio or weight-lifting?"
"I used to."

"Do you change up your workouts to give your body new challenges?"
"I used to."

If he'd asked, "Do you consider yourself an athlete?" the only honest answer would have been to say, "I used to."

For the longest time, that answer was, unequivocally, yes. At age 11, I was already 5-foot-10, and while my Amazon stature didn't serve me well in the junior high dating scene, excelling at sports gave me confidence. Starting at a young age, I played USTA tennis, rode horses, played golf and raced anyone who would accept the challenge.

In high school, I competed all 12 months of the year, playing field hockey, basketball and track in school. I spent my summers playing in AAU basketball tournaments, Futures field hockey camps and national and Junior Olympic track meets. I finished off my athletic "career" as a heptathlete at Cornell University, and captain of the 2001-02 indoor and outdoor Ivy champions. (Go Big Red!)

Since college I've tried to stay active, working out, running, rollerblading and hiking. I've joined sports leagues for anything and everything: dodgeball, kickball, beach volleyball, softball, flag football. But despite my best efforts to stay competitive -- physically and mentally -- I've become a has-been.

So when I got the offer to participate in the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) Fueled Performance Plan, I jumped at the chance. (Not very high, mind you, but I got off the ground.) I took a 5 a.m. flight from Chicago to New York this past Tuesday morning and spent several hours in what looked like an empty art gallery -- but served as a temporary Gatorade Performance Lab testing facility. I went through a series of tests that measured anaerobic and aerobic capacity, reaction time, movement speed, body composition, eye-hand coordination, even my required caloric intake. For the next seven weeks I'll follow a fitness and nutrition program designed for me by the GSSI and trainer Todd. Then, come February, I'll go through the entire testing session again (this time at the Super Bowl with an NFL player coaching me) to see how much I've improved.

The goal is to get me back to feeling, thinking and looking like an athlete -- a little "How Sarah Got Her Groove Back" sort of thing (sadly, no Taye Diggs involved). I'll be blogging about the whole process, sharing my frustrations, inspirations, complications -- and any other "-tions" that come up along the way. If anyone else is going through a sort of inner-athlete reclamation project, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Or if you're feeling bold and you want to run, bike and lift your way through the holiday season with me, that's even better!

Coming up in the next installment: The testing session: Getting in The Pod, feeling the "load" and channeling Darth Vader.