A Dolph Lundgren look-a-like taught my favorite fitness class back in the early 1990s. Dolph’s square head, tight, turquoise tank top and very short, shorts drew a big female crowd to every class. The women wore leotard floss over their spandex shorts and following a big stretch, would flock to the juice bar hoping Dolph would join them for a fruity, frothy post work-out cleanse.
Later in the decade I took up Tae Bo and bought up all of Billy Banks video tapes he hawked on late night television. I loved the martial arts and the lack of coordinating required to kicking or throwing a mean upper cut into thin air.
In the 2000s I worked at a college considered to be the Harvard University of physical education. The student body was pretty fit and full of future athletic trainers and coaches including one student who was willing to be my personal trainer for $10 an hour. Five days a week he met me at 6 a.m. and ran me through an obstacle course of cardio and weight training.
“You’re just plain mean,” I’d tease him when he ordered me to do 15 skull crushers or sit-ups holding a ten pound medicine ball. He even laughed at me when I jump roped, “You don’t know how to jump rope?” he’d smirk, walking away to hide his giggle.
I figured this kid stayed up all night choreographing a torture chamber to run me through.
I eventually showed my trainer I could jump rope, lose 25 pounds and meet my ultimate goal of comfortably wearing a bikini to the beach without getting harpooned and my blubber sold for oil.
When my personal trainer graduated from college and moved away, I tucked my bikini back in my drawer never to be worn again.
Fourteen years later I am in an industrial garage converted into a gym with a cross-fit trainer telling me and fifteen other people with a median age of 35 to do five rounds of the following: 400 meter run, 12 dead lifts, 9 power cleans and 6 push jerks. I do what he says even when my heart feels like it is trying to crawl up my throat and the running has jarred my brain into some kind of trance.
At 48-years-old, my goal isn’t to throw on another bikini, but rather to slow down the aging atrophy.
In the last few years I have frequented nursing homes and hospitals, seeing my potential future presented to me in gory detail. Limp bodies lifted with a crane so that they can sit upright in a wheelchair all day long. Or futile physical therapy to try and make a paralyzed arm flinch. The outdoors something you look at from a window.
There are no guarantees in life, but what can I do to avoid a bed ridden, wheel chair bound life? Shouldn’t I be using my body and seeing what potential it has now before it is too late?
So I drop my body to the floor mat and heave it back up, one burpee after the next until I have completed 100. I learn all kinds of abbreviations like WOD (Work Out of the Day), AMRAP (As Many Reps as Possible) and EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute) and I do what I am told without question, trusting that the coach, twenty years my junior, knows what he is doing.
I like that the gym owner knows me by my name and gives me a fist pump and good job every time I finish a work out. I like the loading of a weight onto my barbell that was once too heavy and now feels just right. I like that I don’t have to look pretty and that a just-rolled-out-of-bed-and-threw-on-a-sports-bra is acceptable attire. I like that for an hour, I am not an age and that I can be a neophyte athlete among hardcore cross-fit competitors. I like that I leave each class feeling stronger and alive and fully functioning.