23 September 2008


I mentioned the other day that I joined a gym. This for me is a big deal, since I have never actually been a member of a gym and have always thought of such a thing as something other people do, much in the same way I think of basketweaving or hang gliding. Doesn't one have to actually enjoy exercise to make joining a gym worthwhile?

You see, I have never been what you might call an athletic person. I never played organized sports as a kid, although all of my siblings did, and so I have an at least sketchy knowledge of basketball, baseball, soccer, and field hockey. Just enough to know when to cheer.

In college, I lived across the street from the brand-new athletic center for the three years I was on campus. A one-minute walk. Yet, I probably exercised there a total of...eight times? I was busy with other things, like my self-designed double major and minor, and being an RA, and singing in choir, and any of the other gazillion little groups and things I joined.

I didn't notice that I had gotten a wee bit chubby until after I suddenly wasn't, which happened after I left college and moved back home and started hanging out with a guy who--no joke--was an olympic triathlete. This is still amusing to me. Because I found myself climbing mountains, taking thirty-mile bike rides, swimming, and jogging regularly. That summer, I house/dogsat for family friends, and I took their dog for a run almost every day. And liked it!

Then I got a job in Austria, and didn't do anything but enjoy living in Austria. Sure, there were walks and bike rides, but nothing intentionally exercisy. (By this time I had met the Mister, and so was quite preoccupied with the bubbly hearts shooting out of my head all of the time.) So I was entirely out of the habit when I moved back to the US and into an apartment with four other women on Boston's north shore. Since exercising with a friend is always motivational, one of my housemates and I went to the gym in the basement of her work a few nights a week, as it was just around the corner. And free. Tacked on the wall was a lurid 80s poster of Schwarzenegger as body builder. His muscles glistened. It made me ill. At some point we took the poster down, an act of vandalism that I still think was entirely justified.

At around that time, three things happened. I became a vegetarian and learned how to cook, I applied to grad school, and I got offered a permanent job in Austria. I turned down the job because of grad school, but they offered me a three-month position anyway. Since Austria was thousands of miles closer to the Mister, and since I hadn't really ever found a proper job in Boston, I accepted. And I was back to the no-exercise-when-living-in-Europe plan, although I did stick to eating well.

Thus it was that when I arrived in Indiana, older and wiser than my undergraduate self, I was determined to at least take advantage of the free gym access on campus. I eventually joined a yoga class, and started swimming for exercise. My housemate and I would go to yoga and then come home and make fun of America's Next Top Model while we ate dinner and avoided reading literary theory.

In an ill-advised fit of athleticism, I also let myself be convinced to join an intramural basketball team, made up of women poets from the creative writing program. Only two of us had any inkling about how to play basketball. I was not one of them. We played against tall midwestern girls (superficially, I looked like them) who had just missed the cutoff for the school's Division-I team (their skills made mine look like dogfood). We lost every game we played that semester. By about fifty points.

And then? Then I moved to Brussels with my new husband, and it seemed that I was succumbing again to the Europe=not exercising equation. But after a while the diet of heavy-duty Belgian beer and things fried and/or covered in sauces, plus the cooking-for-two effect (I overestimate how much to cook, and we eat it anyway), took their toll. I was starting to look like a pillowy version of myself, and didn't like that much either. So I dragged myself a few meters down the road to the local art-deco pool, and did laps every once in a while. I always intended to join a yoga class, but never found one that was close by/reasonably priced/in English.

Which brings me to last week's major coup: the gym membership. I went to yoga for the first time in over two years, and boy have I got some loosening up to do. I also got on the elliptical machine for the first time since that basement gym with the Schwarzenegger poster. It brought back memories (which is why I find myself churning out this blog entry, I suppose). The pool, compared to the one in Brussels, where lanes were a theoretical suggestion and children were likely to launch themselves into the water on top of you, is heaven.

I had checked out a couple of options in our neighborhood: the semi-public mega-complex of glass up the road, and the private, dimmed-lights, warm white towel service place down the street. I was very surprised to discover that the fee for six months was the same for both, and the latter waived my sign-up fee and gave me the rest of September for free. And it comes with several guest passes a month, so the Mister can join me on weekends! And there's free wifi (which is why I am writing this post at the gym), and a restaurant, and a spa, much nicer facilities all around, and did I mention the towels! Plus classes that I am much more likely to go to. The first place didn't even offer yoga. Oooh, also there's a high-tech hand-scanner at the entrance. I am easily impressed.

I'm going to challenge myself to go every day, alternating classes and workouts. Things I have never done before in my life include any kind of aerobics class, dance class, or pilates, so I'm going to try all of the above. Meanwhile, just the step of joining a gym feels very empowering. I slung a white towel over my shoulder this morning and thought, maybe I am one of those people after all.

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