I walk in behind a beautifully togged, perfectly lean, runner. Her bouncy blonde hair is swooped up in a pert pony tail, and her form fitting ‘wick-away-the sweat’ polyesters are fluorescent rose and black and pink. Her socks and running shoes, of course, match her outfit. There is not an ounce of fat on the woman.
She slows at the door, strides in, crows, “SIX today!” and high fives a petite brunette, who breaks from her dainty, darned near a split, stretching to reach out a congratulatory hand. They bounce on the balls of their feet for a minute, then head off together to the members’ locker room.
A grizzled, toned gentleman runs down the stairs and leaps in front of me to the desk, where he leans on his elbows and grins at the attendant. She hands him a thick white towel, and he tells her just how many crunches and lifts and other absurdly painful rituals he has performed today.
The gym: it is not a place for the faint of heart or the less than enthusiastic of spirit.
And yet: here I am.
I am here because I get a twenty-five per cent discount at this gym from my place of work and, since this beautiful new facility opened a year or two ago, the price of membership has dropped by about half. Now even my tight, frugal heart can embrace the cost.
I am here because, as a family, we have realized that the long winter past has snugged our britches and broadened our butts…and that another cold dark eating season approaches.
I am here because this summer has been so hot, averaging well over ninety degrees, that taking a nice brisk three mile walk is a major production, complete with iced water bottles and warnings about symptoms of heat prostration. This gym, now: it is air conditioned.
I am here because, in exactly one month, my walking buddy Wendy and I will be striding proudly in a walking 10-K, and I want to be practiced and ready.
I am here for my health, and my family’s health, and to stave off those nasty cramping effects of aging.
I am here for many good reasons.
But I don’t have to like it.
My son James has embraced the concept of the gym, and he accompanies me today. We swipe our membership key cards under the laser, catch the red band, and hear the “Peep!” that means we’re good to go. We bound upstairs to where a vast field of exercise machines are encircled by the track (twelve laps = one mile).
James and I, we like the treadmills, and we spy two at the end of a long row. We walk down an aisle, between haughty, lean people in spanky exercise gear; on our left, they’re on machines that have their feet marching up and down and their arms reaching up and down and surging back and forth. The treadmills are on our right, and excessive young idiots have them turned up to 15 or something, and they are RUNNING. On the treadmill.
“Show offs,” mutters Jim. Then he looks innocently away when a dapper young runner turns his head sharply.
We march down the row and find our treadmills. I pull my Ipod out of my pocket and unravel the ear buds, and turn it on. First I pull up the fitness app and hit the button for “Walking.” (I don’t need no stinkin’ Fit Bit.) Then I turn the music on, and push the buds into my ears, and Dave Matthews croons that I must be an angel.
I straddle the belt and turn on the machine, which hums slowly into life at a speed of about ‘1’. I step on the track and start ramping up the pace until I am walking at a speed of ‘3.6’. I have no idea what that means,–3.6 whats???– but my goal is a 15-minute walking mile, and this pace gives me a 16 minute mile–right there in the neighborhood. I stride along; and Dave Matthews gives way to Leonard Cohen, reminding me we’ll take Manhattan before we take Berlin.
James is happily walking along on the machine next to me. He, more tech savvy than his mother, has downloaded his play list onto his smart phone; he bops to, no doubt, bands like Metallica and the Beastie Boys. James has retro, hard metal tastes. I haven’t yet asked him to transfer my playlist from IPod to IPhone, so I have the phone in one pocket, the music in the other.
The bank of TV’s in front of us offer all kinds of intellectual fare, from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ episodes to the movie, ‘Ted.’ My mind wanders. Am I, I wonder, the only person in this place with pockets in my shorts? I am wearing a pair of older denim shorts and a baggy T-shirt emblazoned with the name of my undergrad school. Both have touches, here and there, of paint. I love to transform rooms and furniture with cheerful coats of innocuous latex. My husband claims that I am a paint magnet, though; he says I could paint a border on the floor and wind up with paint on top of my head, on the shoulders of my shirt, and on the waistband of my pants.
All of my leisure clothes sport paint, even ones, I swear, that were in the drawer while I was painting. I don’t care, but I do notice, now I think of it, some of those spanky-clad people looking at me a little pityingly.
James, next to me, is blissfully, unconcernedly, clad in his hot weather uniform: a Hawaiian shirt (base color maroon) over an orange T-shirt, and khaki cargo shorts. His Nikes are old and comfortable and he pulls his socks up to his knees. One of the gifts his autism gives him–and really, there are gifts aplenty, if one looks–is a total unconcern for the subtle pressure of peers or the imminent threats of committing fashion faux pas. Should someone say to him, “I think those shorts are last year’s style,” he would simply reply, “I LIKE these shorts,” and continue on. It’s one of the many qualities about the boy I greatly admire.
But perhaps we do make a quaint pair at the trendy new gym. I noticed last weekend, when Mark came with us to work out, he grabbed a stationary bike about a half mile away from our tread mills.
My dashboard tells me I have completed 1.5 miles, so I chug down to a barely moving speed, turn off my machine, and head off to the track. I notice, as I walk, trying to maintain a pace close to ‘3.6’, that there are, really, lots of regular folks among the tanned and lean and incredibly fit denizens. There’s a sweet couple on the tread mills, maybe seventy or so, who reach out and hold hands every once in a while. They smile and wave every time I pass them. I round the curve and pass the weight area; an anguished looking plump man presses iron under the watchful eye of what must be his fitness coach–a service that comes with the premium membership, or for which you can pay extra.
Hah. One of our adjuncts, Kendra, who is absolutely wonderful, and probably weighs now about what she weighed in fifth grade, is a fitness coach here. She did a wonderful wellness series for the employees at the College, too.
She scared the horse hockey out of me.
Before each session, she would plunk down her little electronic scale and fire it up, tapping people as they arrived, making them step on it, and recording the read out. “No flipping way,” I’d think, hiding around the corner until it was time to begin, and, after searching the hallway once last time, Kendra reluctantly grabbed the scale, put it in her bag, and dragged her equipment into the classroom. When she was well and surely in, I would sprint down the hallway, push through the door, and, trying to exude that aura one has when she’s been busily doing some terribly important, apologize for being late AGAIN.
“I’ll catch you after class,” Kendra would mouth, but I always had to run off immediately to a meeting.
Kendra talked to us about diet; and I perked up when she said eating healthily did not mean giving up treats. Thank God! I thought. Kendra passed out recipes, and I looked at the first. Carob Balls, it read. They had nut butter and flax seed, and if you really HAD to have that extra sweetness, a soupcon of honey, and Kendra confessed that sometimes she had TWO Carob Balls at a time. In the photo on the recipe, the balls appeared to be about the size of one of the beads on my necklace.
How many calories do you need to expend to burn off the gigundo sized Heath Bar Blizzard? I wondered to myself. And I gathered up my stuff, readying to run away as soon as fitness class was over.
At the gym, Kendra teaches things like Hot Yoga and Spinning and Pounding and Cycling.
I like to walk, but I am thinking that, if I am feeling greatly daring later this month, I may sign up for something as exotic as water aerobics.
I walk past the overview that looks out over the two pools and watch people churning the water. I think I’d like to get into shape enough to do water laps.
Maybe by November.
But for now, I walk, enjoying the movement, the camaraderie with my son, the sense that we are taking a step into a healthier lifestyle. I am sleeping better, and I’m feeling more energetic, and I’m confident now that I won’t let Wendy down when we walk our 10-K on 9/11. Eighteen laps melt away; Jim waves and slows his machine down. I wind down and wait for him.
As we leave, some of the spanky people on the machines smile at us and wave. Well, heck, I think, they’re kind of real people too, aren’t they? and I grin back and give them a thumbs up. The nice attendants call us by name, tell us they’ll see us tomorrow maybe. I give them a thumbs up, too.
I have joined gyms before, and quickly backslid, but this time, I think it’s working. I’m committed; I have a goal. I have companions on the journey. I even have new shorts coming, via UPS, any day now. They’re gray and they’re baggy, but they have not one drop of paint upon them, yet.
And I feel the magic of regular exercise working. My clothes fit a little better. My legs feel a little stronger. I might, I think, take my walking and turn it into running.
And at just that moment, I see Kendra rounding the corner, and I think, Maybe today’s the day.
“Come on, James!” I challenge, and we bolt out the doors, into the warm night, heading for the safety of the car.