50. Sweat Sisters

50. Sweat Sisters

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Sweat Sisters

Help one another, is part of the religion of sisterhood.
 ~Louisa May Alcott

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ll never love exercising. I do it because I know I should. I do it faithfully while my resolve is strong, and not so faithfully when it falters. And truth to tell, since I began a regular gym routine a few years ago, I do feel stronger and more fit.

But when I miss a few days, I don’t miss the crunches or leg stretches or working my glutes. I definitely don’t yearn to be doing the lateral lifts that exhaust me.

What I miss is the companionship of my fellow gym members—all women.

I almost joined one of those gyms where the bodies were sleek and the men and women seemed utterly comfortable together as they worked those pecs. But I fled after a trial run.

I felt mortified by my own klutziness, embarrassed by how uncoordinated I was and how many years older I was than the young things who could run for hours on the treadmills—and talk on their cell phones at the same time.

But I’m safe and comfortable in this world of women of all ages and ranges of dexterity, where the conversation is part of the fun.

I know you’re not supposed to go to the gym for your social sustenance, but when you work alone at home as I do most days, just getting out into the world is a treat. And being with women who get to know one another not even by name, but by the color of their T-shirts, is often my “recess.”

By now, we know one another’s habits.

Linda, the adorable, spirited home economics teacher, is dogged. She not only does the circuit—she also does the stepper. Her good nature is infectious.

Sue is gentle and quiet, always gracious, and graceful on machines that make me feel like a person on a bender.

Hope lives up to her name, with a steadfast and upbeat approach to the workout.

Our conversations roam from politics to fashion to vitamins. Some of us take them faithfully. Others think they’re a waste of money.

On the walls around us are quotations, word games to ponder as we sweat, posters to keep us inspired and motivated.

But it’s the steady conversational flow that seems to keep us doing the “dip shrugs” that work our deltoids and dorsal muscles.

Most of us are married. Or getting married.

I spent my last visit talking to Lauren, the slender young bride-to-be, about her gown, her attendants’ gowns, which are the rich color of cinnamon, and about whether she’ll wear her hair up or down.

It made the time go so quickly that I was almost disappointed when I’d finished the circuit.

Woman-talk is rich and textured. It’s curious how it ebbs and flows, but it always does.

On most days, I leave the gym with a new thought, a new recipe, or an idea I didn’t arrive with.

Occasionally, I leave feeling sad or worried about someone whose name I may not know, but who is clearly having a rough spell.

I was thrilled when one of our members finished treatment for a serious illness, and was back among us, restored and ready for her workout. I was touched by her resilience and her great joy in just being able to resume the routine.

I love hearing Pam’s views on the latest plays. She’s informed and smart and ready to try new theatrical experiences. I’m not nearly as brave in my choices.

And if truth be told, I’m glad that there are no men to change the mood. I have absolutely nothing against men, but at the gym, I love the feeling of a sisterhood, a mutual support group.

So three days a week, I pull up to the place where I have sisters-in-sweat. With them, I grumble about my kids, my work, the electrician who stood me up, my husband’s driving.

And somehow, in less than an hour, I’m feeling better. And stronger. And so virtuous.

When I leave, I tell them that I’ll be back soon.

And the amazing thing is that even though I hate to exercise, I always return.

~Sally Schwartz Friedman

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