March 9, 2013

It was 10:50 on a Saturday morning, and I was in a slightly darkened fitness room, doing cool down stretches as Barbra Streisand’s hit “People” wafted from the CD player. On my inhale, I looked around me: rows of people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, stretching away.

In this particular year of my life, I live in my hometown. And, as such, I attend a local gym — one that is family-owned, a one-stop situation. The guy at the desk greets everyone by name. The ID cards are handmade. The gym is housed in, basically, a storefront, and the treadmills are located in a row by the front windows, so passersby get the pleasure of watching runners bob up and down. And the clientele is, well, older.

Listen, it’s great. So many of the normal gym-going anxieties — looking hot or not looking hot, knowing how to work the machines, having appropriate workout attire, fearing the judgment of other treadmill users when you slow down to a walk after two minutes — are largely non-existent here. In their place are lots of people in middle age or above who are doing just what I’m doing — trying to stay fit, coming as much as they can, sweating.

When I first joined the gym upon my move back to town in September, I kept to myself as much as I could. I’m not really into talking to people, and especially not during self-improvement activities (see: haircuts. Don’t talk to me during haircuts PLEASE). When I got there and the friendly owner asked me what my workout plan was, I smiled and retreated to the locker rooms. I took a class schedule, but when I got home I threw it on top of a pile on my desk, never planning to reference it.

But I was single last fall, and living in my hometown and all, and I kept waking up early and alone on weekends. One Saturday morning, lying in bed awake at 9 AM, the brightly colored class schedule caught my eye. “Guts and Butts,” with Dave, was happening at 10:30. I stood up and threw on my workout clothes. Why not?

What I found at the gym that morning was a group of middle aged men and women ready to rock it out, a soundtrack comprised entirely of oldies being played on real, actual CDs (like, in a CD player), and a 60-ish instructor who was unbelievably pumped to be there. He greeted me with excitement and asked if this was my first time. Again, I tried to keep the talking to a minimum, but I nodded that I was new and took a spot in the back. Soon, though, I was completely enveloped in the grueling class, working hard and feeling winded just like all the ladies and men around me. My classmates and I exchanged smiles and grimaces. The instructor teased us and prodded us.

When the class was over, I quickly gathered my stuff and headed home – but the next week, I went back. And I kept going. Every time I’m there, stretching and smiling with people my parents’ age and above, I laugh to myself a little. I’m not laughing at them –they’re fucking great — but it’s just funny to me, that I’m here right now. I’m rolling around on an exercise ball and white-haired Dave is coming over to correct my form and the Jackson 5 is blasting (mix CDs, remember), and it’s just amazing.

I have no idea where I’ll be next year — maybe I’ll still be attending Guts and Butts (and Balance Challenge, and Body Sculpting) weekly with Dave and all of my other older gym companions. But if I’m not, I will always remember this as the year that I stood in that room watching myself in the mirror and taking stock of the fact that we’re all just trying to keep moving. In thirty years and beyond, I hope I’m as cool as the moms and non-moms and dads and grandparents who come to the gym every week. I hope I’m still doing sets of lunges and laughing when I can’t get through the last one. I just want to be kicking.

Working out isn’t about impressing hot dudes and wearing lululemon gear (is that a thing? It sounds like a thing?). It’s about trying to keep participating in your life and feeling yourself breathe; it’s proof that there’s more to do and time to do it in. We all gotta keep moving.

Take my lessons from the older generation, and go be awesome at the gym. And if you’re looking for an excellent cool-down song, I recommend “People,” by Barbra. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world, you know.

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