It’s one of the great mysteries I have yet to unravel. I go to the pool or gym about five times a week (er…plus or minus). Okay, before you start thinking I’m some saint, insane fitness nut, or someone you can’t relate to – hold on! At my age – I work out for a variety of reasons and a skimpy little black dress isn’t one of them. For someone who exercises fairly regularly, I ask myself, “Why won’t these pounds melt off?” Those unflattering 10 pounds that after midlife become embedded in your DNA and other unmentionable parts of the body. Ask anyone over 50 and they’ll tell you to write an obituary for your metabolism. Seriously. I can eat like a bird, do the fasting thing, or follow a diet that promises the last 10 pounds will disappear! Right. At 62, your body knows all your tricks. While I’m busy starving myself, my fats cells are conspiring with each other. “Don’t worry fellas, this too shall pass. Hang in there.” And they do. Like carrion birds with long talons, those fat cells stay put. So, why do I continue to work out? Well, it’s like an airplane’s weight and balance system. The performance of an airplane is influenced by its weight, and overloading it will cause serious problems. Get the picture? Aside from holding additional weight at bay, elevating my mood and overall health, there’s another reason I work out. Those total strangers at the gym are my tribe.
Since I don’t go to the gym at a set time – I get to see a wide diversity of people. Yes, from time to time I do see the perfectly coiffed woman with flawless makeup, stylish clothes, and cute gym shoes showing up. But that person is the exception rather the rule. Instead, I see every day people from various ethnicity, race, stage of life, and the gamut of body types. When I am at the gym, clients rarely talk to each other. Yet there’s something in the eye contact that says it all. “Good for you! Keep going.” Some might say the gym smells like, well…a locker room. Maybe. Yet it’s not about that – there’s an energy in the air that sends out a can-do vibe. I swear the people at the gym have a higher vibrational frequency. They’re not moaning, groaning, complaining – they just show up. People may work out for 2 hours or 20 minutes. Either way – that journey of a lifetime that begins with the first step – happens every day at the gym. Some may have a partner that pushes for, “Just one more.” Others come alone and encourage themselves. Even the grunting sounds don’t bother me (too much).
When I see an 80-year-old get on a treadmill, stationary bike, or lift weights – I marvel at them and hope to (be here) and do the same at this age. I send my silent encouragement, “You got this.” I am always fascinated by the messages on the T-Shirts. You can tell the state of the Nation, state of mind, or just plain old laugh as you read them. When I see T-Shirts commemorating a 5K or 10K event raising funds to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, or aid Wounded Warriors – I feel a surge of pride that I’m working out with heroes. Or, triathlons, Iron-man, or other rare air events – make me feel like I’m running with the big dogs. On any given day, I will see pro or con statements about our political climate, colorful comments about mood, or just funny quotes and pictures. I love when I see men (or women) wearing T-Shirts shouting, “This Bud’s for You!” and wonder what’s in their water bottle.
There’s plenty of sweat – it’s hard earned and a badge of distinction. These people are doing it – not talking about it or criticizing from their sofas. When I see a curvy woman or larger man workout, I think about the people who may snicker at them, yet don’t see the look of determination or grit on their faces as they take that first step toward wellness. That reminder to be kind because you don’t know people’s story, somehow rings true. Self-elevation gained by devaluing others is spiritlessness. True courage is putting yourself out there for you – regardless of what those around you think. I admire these people. They’re not in competition with anyone, or trying to be better than others. They’re just working on the better version of themselves.
I am a self-confessed non-morning person, though I try to get up between 6:30-7:00 every morning. My more disciplined voice tries to encourage me to dress and get out the door before my, “You could go later” stronger voice wakes up. Sometimes it wins. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not keeping score on whether I go in the morning, afternoon, or evening. I keep track of the days I go. Some days I will zoom past 60 minutes, some I’ll barely get through 30. The key is – I am proud of myself for whatever amount I work out, because it is more than I would have done had I stayed home. And on the day I miss – I’m gentle with myself. After all, we must be our own greatest fan. Beating myself up over anything is useless and destructive. When we “fail” at something – we need encouragement, not admonishment. Because when you beat yourself up – you trigger that inner voice that says, “Why bother, it’s not going to work anyway.” This launches that self-sabotaging behavior that mind you, needs little encouragement.
It’s true that 90% of life’s success is just showing up. Some days I arrive with a scowl on my face, but I’m there. In that, I take pride. And when I look around and see the familiar and not so familiar faces of my gym tribe – there’s a slight nod of the head that says, “You made it.” A silent celebration of my arrival – as I celebrate others who’ve arrived. I try to be a courteous member and wipe down the equipment when I’m finished. Sometimes, I see others who don’t. I’m more willing to cut them some slack because they may be new and will eventually learn.
My neighborhood is divided into two parts. The retirement side and the not retired side. Since I don’t see myself ever retired (except when I’m sleeping), I live on the “not” side. I’d love to be the pied piper who drives a van collecting some of the “retired” folk and bring them to the gym. To encourage them to wear outrageous T-Shirts, funky sneakers, big grins, and cheer those first steps because every one of them is a giant action.
While you might work out alone at the gym – you are not lonely. There’s always some other person moved by the same Force. There’s always music, clanging of weights, the whirring of treadmills, and focused faces with earbuds marching to their own tunes. You might be young, older, athletic, athlete in training, or just curious. But ultimately at the gym, you’re a member of the tribe.