96. Taking Care of Me

96. Taking Care of Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Taking Care of Me

The rewards for those who persevere
far exceed the pain that precedes the victory.
 ~Karen Bliss Livingston, elite road racer

The first time I stepped through the doors of a health club, I was thirteen. I was tagging along with my best friend after spending the night at her house. She had joined a local gym with her mom as a New Year’s resolution to lose a few pounds. I distinctly remember an oval-shaped room, with a track running around the outside, and weight machines scattered throughout. Tracy headed for the track. I lay down in the carpeted area in the middle of the track and proceeded to go back to sleep.

That’s what I thought of working out. In college, I joined a gym with a co-worker who was trying to “get toned,” but every time I walked through the doors. I got the feeling that all eyes were on me. I imagined they were all wondering what “that skinny girl” was doing there. And to be honest, I’ve always felt lost in a gym, never sure if I was doing the right circuit, or using the machines correctly. Not to mention that I don’t enjoy being watched by muscle-heads in wife-beaters to see if I can lift the 10-pound dumbbell over my head.

In my mid-20s, I started running with my husband, a New Year’s resolution he had made to lose weight. And although I have a runner’s frame, it did nothing to change my build or increase my lack of muscle.

All my life, I’ve been surrounded by friends and family who’ve tried to get in shape or lose a few pounds. All my life, the only times I ever worked out, or walked into a gym, were for someone else. Not that I didn’t have the metabolism of a speeding train, but in all honesty, I could have used the extra pounds many of them were carrying. Bird Legs, Bones, Bony Butt, Skeleton—I’d heard them all—especially throughout middle school and high school.

Then, at thirty-four, I found myself separated from my husband, a single parent of three kids, with a great deal of stress on my slight frame. I joined a local gym. Running, weight machines, recumbent bike, I did whatever I could to kick in those endorphins and alleviate some of my newfound stress. Still, over several months, I saw no difference in my frame, and although I felt better post-workout, I didn’t feel any stronger or healthier.

During lunch one afternoon, I told my friend Kim about the gym I belonged to. “Oh, forget the gym,” she said. “You ought to come to this boot camp I go to.” Boot camp? I thought of a scene from An Officer and a Gentleman—a young Richard Gere hoisting a rifle over his head as he runs in place, while Louis Gossett, Jr. sprays ice cold water on his chest and face. “No thanks,” I heard myself say. But, one look at her sculpted arms confirmed that this was a program that worked. I reluctantly agreed to attend a 90-minute Saturday session.

That Saturday morning was a turning point for me. After just 20 minutes, I was blinking back tears while I forced myself to finish just one more push-up on that muddy, grass hill. It was tough. Worse than tough. It was hell. Hill sprints, jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, crawling uphill backwards on my hands and toes. More push-ups. More sit-ups. I went home, crawled into bed and woke up two hours later sure I had the stomach flu. Every muscle ached. Every breath hurt. But I was hooked. The next Saturday I showed up prepared for battle. By 9 a.m. it was already a typical humid St. Louis summer day. I was pushing myself, and stopped to take a long drink of water. And proceeded to throw it right back up.

It didn’t stop me. It did teach me to come to boot camp fully hydrated, and to eat something healthy beforehand (as our instructor says, “Have a banana. They taste the same coming up.”). And since I’d made it through two 90-minute sessions, I agreed to sign up for a full five-week program. Sixty minutes each, twice a week. Those first five weeks were slow. On the warm-up run, I was always at the end of the pack. Given a choice for the mid-session and post-session runs, I chose the “short run” with the other Newbies. I dropped to my knees for push-ups, and had to stop halfway through our two-minute sit-up drills just to give my stomach a break. But as my instructor says, “Exercise is either easy or effective. Never both. Which do you want?” Well, if I couldn’t have both, I’d take effective. What was the point otherwise?

At the end of the five weeks, my instructor pulled me aside and asked about my eating habits. I admitted they weren’t great, leaving out the details—skipped breakfasts, quick “lunches” of a candy bar and Coke standing at my desk, chips and salsa dinners when the kids were at their dad’s. But I took his pages of notes and healthy diet plan samples and commenced reading. One thing he said stuck with me. “It doesn’t make sense to work out as hard as you do, and then not eat right. The right mix of proteins, carbs and healthy fats,” he reasoned, “will give you results that much quicker.” And that made sense. Why push myself so hard during workouts only to go home and eat junk?

So, I got rid of the Coke and gave up fast food. Through my own actions, my kids are learning the value of exercise, nutrition and taking care of their bodies, too. When they have a stomachache, or are feeling tired, I say to them, “Tell me how you’ve taken care of yourself today.” They have learned that the types of foods they put in their bodies have a direct effect on how they feel. And that exercise not only impacts how we look on the outside, but more importantly, changes how we feel on the inside. I’ve learned that this little body of mine is capable of much more than I ever gave it credit for.

It’s been nine months since this bird-legged girl attended her first boot camp. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been effective. And for the first time in my life, I’m seeing the changes in the mirror. My arms are more muscular, my legs have shape, and my stomach muscles are well defined. It’s a good feeling to know that at thirty-seven, I’m healthier than I was 15 years ago. Inside and out.

~Beth M. Wood

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