BACK TO THE GYM
“Full arm side plank with opposite arm extensions using a weight to curl under your body and then fully extend your arm and back!” Kathy yelled happily like she was telling all of us in the sweaty smelly studio that the Frosty Freeze soft serve ice cream shop just opened. I am destroying her official description of the last exercise of our sixty-minute class, but at this point who cares. I watched her and I watched the class watching her as I stood in my safe corner in the front right of the studio, closest to the exit in case I had to do the walk of shame (aka the door out). I laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes and I had to get a tissue to wipe them. This final exercise of the morning that my dear Kathy was enthusiastically showing us had me stumped for the first time in the class this early Saturday morning, my first class back after three weeks of gentle walks and easy movement. Was a modification even possible? So far, I had been using the treadmill for the cardio portion rather than the spin bikes, walking at a fast pace, using the incline at an eight or nine even attempting a slight, albeit old person shuffling, jog. For the never-ending weight portions, I used the embarrassing, but satisfying, two and three pound weights. Actually not embarrassing at all, I just had a fucking double mastectomy three weeks ago, survived early caught cancer twice, live cautiously knowing I have the BRCH 2 gene, I will, with bad ass pride, use whatever damn weights I want. There is no shame and I am so happy to be back in normal world.
Jumping plié squats with a weight? Not sure about my new post construction ta-tas, so I stand squat them rather then jump squat. Oh, Alayne, give one a try. Jump. Oh yeah, my new early stage boobs don’t move! I forgot! No problem, jump away! Burpees? Easy. Standing versions. Plank jacks? Mmmm let’s try some full arm planks on my knees. Yep. Check. Standing split squats, bicep curls, back lunges with side twists with a weight, front rows, (wait, I think that was my modification) all a big checkmark. Sit ups? I decided to try it with a bosu, (you know that weird half circle ball that some crazy ass fitness fanatic created for balance) for added support. Once down though, I forgot a few key issues, those pesky double eight inch incisions on my back for one, but also getting up from the floor without rolling over to get up, ix-nay on the sit ups at least for my first time back.
My first time back semi hiding in the corner, modifying almost everything was a whopping success if you ask me. First off there is so much truth to the phrase, “80% of success is showing up.” As I have written about on more than one occasion, going to the gym is so much more than a fit body. It is psychological satisfaction, emotional stability, heart happiness, soul confidence, a fit mind. The way I write about going to the gym may make some people who don’t know me think that I am a gym rat, an over achieving fitness freak.
The irony is I hardly ever seriously exercised seven years ago. Sure I toyed with exercise in my lifetime, I met my former husband and my present partner at the gym in my twenties at the first step aerobic and low impact classes. I played with yoga going to Kripalu in Lenox, Mass in my early thirties (before they had their “luxury” annex rooms and dorming it was the main option). I occasionally jogged, but my exercise was mainly walking and bike riding for pleasure.
I am not a gym rat. I was not a lover of physical exercise because how I grew up was you were either music and arts OR sports. So we went to museums, concerts, I played a musical instrument and physical fitness was for the other. What I am trying to say is that fitness was not instilled in my cellular makeup as a child except for my gymnastic classes and hula hooping. The way fitness showed up in my life was drudgery and a necessary evil. It was always surrounded with a negative connotation, like a chore so as a result I had a lot of cynicism when it came to gyms and over achieving workouts. Until I reconnected with my present partner who is eighteen years my senior. He is a fitness lover, loves to walk, run, bike ride, go to the gym. I realized quickly that if I was going to be fully present with this man in this relationship, I had better get some wind back in my body. So I began with the goal of a 5k and for the most part for the past six years have stayed with fitness.
I am completely convinced that fitness even more than diet is the reason I have been able to heal, repair and bounce back after three weeks physically and mentally. I like to say that we never know what shit will be coming at us, but it is highly likely that the toxicity we are surrounded with in our foods, in our environment and in our own self talk will result in some life changing physical ailment at some point.
I can’t stress enough how important exercise and a fitness routine is knowing what I know now. I also believe that what I eat is 80% of my body shape. So even though fitness has played a huge role in my going in and coming out of surgery, my food choices have and continue to play a role in the way my body shows up in the reflection staring back at me. I also know that life is life and that I have to live so exercise can never be compromised, but what I eat surely can as I continue to seesaw between my hard fast no sugar rules and jumping into my favorite pint of Susannah’s Ice cream from Sweet Berry Farm.
As I reread this, I realize that it has the potential of sounding a little preachy and that is not really my intent. My intent is to remind myself that the gym is a sacred privilege. I am reminded of an intense conversation I had with my beloved and very missed brother, Michael. Lying in his hospital bed in his apartment not able to move because cancer had taken over his bones and he was physically stranded at twenty four, he just wished for one more bike ride. He longed for one more opportunity to go outside and smell the earth, to see the sun, and smell our mutual love of summer honeysuckle as he looked at me feeling so screwed out of life. Obviously my health and cancer free world at thirty watching him lose his young life oddly wasn’t necessarily enough motivation to propel me into a strict fitness routine, goodness knows why, but it was a definite seed. It took me another fifteen years before I really got serious and fortunately it was well before I had a life altering diagnosis. For him, even though he had a strong fitness routine, it didn’t spare him, fitness didn’t even help his life quality, but his cancer was completely different and it wasn’t caught early. Maybe my father and my brother had something to do with mine being caught early, maybe they are having too much fun together and they are not ready for me to join them yet. I’ll take the extended stay on the earth though because frankly I am having too much fun trying to figure my shit out and I am not ready to give in. They had no choice so my life, my early diagnosis and my return to the gym gets to honor them and I feel so grateful to have at least one more opportunity.
My beautiful very fit very missed pre cancer brother, Michael and me with crazy Kathy before my double m (when I still had to wear a fitness bra, sorry lulu lemon)