When there are other people in the room while I do this, I feel manic. I've never seen anyone else do this type of workout. But I'm trusting that Ms. Trainer knows what she's talking about and isn't secretly submitting the surveillance video to America's Funniest Gym Videos. (And if she is, I want a piece of the winnings!)
A few weeks ago I noticed a new face in the women's workout room. She wore charcoal grey workout pants and a matching jacket over her thin, almost frail, body. Her lined face placed her age somewhere in her 70s. She wore a red scarf wrapped around her head. When I got closer, I could see that she had no eyebrows.
I saw her eyes watch me zoom back and forth between cardio and weights. She was pedaling slow and steady on the recumbent stationary bike, watching TV and listening with her own earphones.
As I neared the end of my routine, she left the bike and came over to a weight machine next to the one I was using. She caught my eye and said, "You are one determined woman."
I knew that I was sweat soaked, probably beet red about the face, and generally looked crazy. For a moment I felt embarrassed. But I soon took her words as I think she meant them: as a compliment.
The mere thought of going to a gym used to make me cringe. I couldn't see myself doing it. I couldn't even imagine myself doing it. Physical fitness was never my strong suit. I wasn't all that keen on sweating or getting my heart rate up to begin with. The idea of doing that in public -- where everyone could see how inept I was -- horrified me. When I accompanied my husband on an orientation tour of the athletic club last spring, it was all I could do not to hit the fetal position and rock back and forth, murmuring incoherently about needing some chocolate and mashed potatoes. Here's how I felt about it: I came. I saw. I fled.
But I was so tired of being overweight and unhealthy. I watched my husband make an appointment with a trainer and start going to the gym, something that was new to him, too. I witnessed this for a few months when something inside of me finally got indignant. "If he can do this, I can do this!" I thought.
So I went and got me my own trainer. She's a thin blond with a southern accent and mascara that doesn't run when she sweats. All good reasons to hate her, to be sure. But she showed me her "before" picture, when she weighed at least as much as I do. Of course, if I'm being completely honest, I have wondered if it's really her in the photo. It didn't look anything like her. Which could be due to all the extra poundage, or because it's just a random photo of some other fat chick. But who cares? It gave me hope.
And I needed hope. The night before my first scheduled gym appointment, I cried like a child frightened of a doctor appointment. I was terrified. Of the gym.
But the trainer was nice. Everyone was nice. Nobody asked me what a fat, clumsy gal like me was doing in a place like that. After just a few sessions, my endurance increased. After a few more I noticed that my upper arms were starting to look less like albino sausages and more like body parts with muscles. The scale moved down a few pounds. This was getting exciting.
I finished my set of trainer appointments and started going on my own. Getting to the gym is still hard for me, but not because I'm afraid. Mostly just because I'm lazy about getting there. But once I'm there, I try to work it for all it's worth.
"You are one determined woman."
The older woman and I chatted a bit. She told me that she's going through chemo and comes to the gym when she can. "They say it helps," she said. "And I think it does."
Here was an elderly woman with cancer, working out at the gym to aid in her recovery, telling me that I'm a determined woman. She may never know what a strength and blessing those words are to me.
I didn't get her name that day, but I think she looks like a Muriel or Kate. I hope I see her again so I can ask.