I almost didn’t go to the gym on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2015. I expected it to be uncomfortably crowded. I don’t worry about exercising in front of other people. I don’t care if people are watching me even when I’ve done some really stupid things. For instance, one day, I accidentally hit the emergency stop instead of the pause button on the treadmill and went flying off of the belt and landed on my bottom on the hard concrete floor. Another time, I walked right into a large, white rack and cracked my head on a forty-pound weight. I’ve fallen over while doing squats and dropped barbells on my feet. Whenever I fall over, run into walls, and drop things, I always try to pretend that it was something I had meant to do and it didn’t hurt a bit. I don’t think anyone believes me and I seriously doubt anyone has gained work out tips from watching me. I have been laughed at, mocked, ridiculed, and teased all in an effort to keep myself in shape.
…And it is this effort, this drive, to stay in shape that got me up off my hopefully toned bottom and into the 24-Hour Fitness gym in Shawnee, Kansas, last Thursday. I had been right; the gym was packed with people. A crowd at the gym usually makes it difficult to exercise because I can’t always get the machines I need for my workout. Thursday was “back day” and so I would need all of the machines that would exercise my trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and spinalis muscles. Unfortunately, all of those machines were already in use. The machines were occupied by very large men who didn’t look like they were into sharing, especially with a small, older woman dressed in trashy, loose, blue sweatpants and a gray, ragged hoodie sweatshirt. I always wear my oldest, sloppiest clothes when I go to the gym. I intend to work out really hard and build up a sweat. Why would I want to dress up for that? I am always amazed to see young women in full make-up with their hair and nails done out on the gym floor. That’s way too much effort. I’m proud of myself that I am at the gym at least five times a week. To exercise in full make up seems a little desperate to me.
But who am I to judge as I looked at the people around me. It takes all kinds of kinds, I thought as I started to make my way over to the one lone exercise bike not in use. I pushed my steps a little bit faster hoping I could reach the bike before anyone else grabbed it. I guess all my runs on the treadmill were paying off! I did it! I reached the bike first! It was all mine. I quickly sat down on the seat, placed my diet coke in the water bottle rack (okay, okay, I know), and draped my towel over the handlebars. I programmed the bike on a manual, medium speed and opened up my book. I am one of those rare people who read while I exercise. This practice works great for me. As long as my mind is active, I can exercise for hours.
I had just started pedaling and focused on my book, when an elderly woman suddenly got my attention. The woman had to be in her late 60s or early 70s. She had short, pure white hair and thick, black glasses. She was dressed in a yellow, long-sleeved t-shirt and Capri-length, black sweatpants. I watched in amazement as the woman pushed her walker across the gym. I have seen this woman many times before. Using a walker doesn’t seem to slow her down. She very carefully moves over to one of the machines and then grips the side handles of her walker as she carefully lowers herself onto the seat. Once she is securely seated, she lets go of her walker, and then painstakingly, manually maneuvers her legs into place. She leans forward and wraps her hands around her right leg and places it into position before she does the same thing to her left. After she has finished her sets, the woman reverses the procedure with her legs, grabs a hold of her walker, and pulls herself up from the machine. She stretches for a moment before moving to the next machine. I always smile when I see her. I hope I am just like this woman in the years to come. Though I may have disabilities, I don’t want to be idle. I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else. I want to be exercising; I want to be moving, even if I, too, have to adjust my legs and get around with a square, steel walker.
I watched as the woman walked over to the hamstring stretch machine. I watched as she preformed her usual ritual. She held onto the walker while she moved her body into place; she sat down slowly on the seat and let go of the walker; she manually moved her legs into place, first the right leg and then the left. The woman had just gotten herself into position when a large, young man walked up to her. The man smiled but still informed the woman, “I was using that machine. I haven’t finished yet.” I stared in absolute horrified shock as the woman smiled back at the man and then began her slow routine of getting off of the machine without having performed one single movement to stretch her hamstrings. The young man just stood by as the elderly woman now maneuvered one leg and then the other off of the machine. She grabbed hold of her walker and pulled herself up out of the seat. She nodded her head at the man as she slowly began to shuffle away. The young man did not say another word as he sat down on the machine, shifted his legs into place (without using any manipulation), and began to exercise.
I watched in surprise as the woman shuffled around the gym trying to find a machine that was not in use. The gym was just too crowded that day for anyone to immediately do their workout unless they were rude enough to chase elderly woman and others off of the machines. The woman tried to make her way to several exercise machines that suddenly became free only to have younger, more mobile people race ahead of her. The woman just stood on the side of the room and waited for a moment before finally giving up and walking back to the locker rooms.
I wanted to chase after her and apologize for the rudeness that she had encountered. I wanted to tell her, “Hey, you know, it’s New Year’s Eve. Everybody has a resolution to lose 10 to 50 pounds. I’ve been going to gyms long enough to know…just give it a month or two. Most people will give up and then the gym will be ours again.” But I didn’t do anything. I just watched as the woman shuffled by and I was ashamed that I had said and did nothing.
I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions because, like many people who promise to exercise, I don’t always follow through on them. But maybe this year I should make a resolution to reach out to people who feel like they don’t belong. Maybe the world would be better off if instead of making useless resolutions we never keep, this year, 2016, we just try to be a little kinder to each other.