I am a huge advocate of doing fun exercise instead of joyless grueling Working Out, and I am therefore extremely ambivalent about the gym. Given my druthers, I’d get all my exercise from dance, yoga, and swimming, instead of just running nowhere like a rat in a wheel (albeit a rat with an iPod). However, it has turned out that timing matters more to me than content — if I don’t get up and move by mid-afternoon, I’ll be way too dragged-out to do anything in the evening. So I go to the tiny gym in the building where I work, just to knock off 20 minutes on the elliptical plus whatever else I feel like doing that day.
Terry oversees the gym, makes sure it has magazines and juice and everything’s in working order. He’s also the unofficial personal trainer — if you ask him, he’ll show you the best way to use the weight machines, give you tips, spot you, suggest machines, whatever. He introduced me to the Versaclimber, which is fiendish and I love it, and gave me tips on lifting free weights. This is an amazing resource. But it could have really scared me off. After all, the gym is usually empty, and for Terry to come over (as he did) and say “let me show you a better way to do a bicep curl” meant that he was watching me exercise.
As it turns out, though, I was the one who brought Terry up short. Our first encounter really threw him for a loop — he kept asking if I had a “goal,” and I kept saying that I just can’t sit on my ass for eight hours straight. He couldn’t understand why I kept coming if I didn’t have a goal — “But you’re here every day! Most people start strong and then I don’t see them after a couple of weeks.” I explained, “That’s because they have a goal, and they get frustrated. I’m not trying to do anything except feel good. I meet my ‘goal’ every day.”
Terry could have refused to accept this. He wouldn’t be alone; most people can’t accept that a woman wouldn’t be deliberately trying to lose weight, especially a woman who goes to the gym a lot. He could have ignored me and started suggesting fat-burning exercises. He could have — a lot of people would have — told me that I really should have a goal, that it would keep me motivated and make me thin and happy.
Instead, Terry decided to start treating me like an athlete. I’m not, but I once was, and I get a huge kick out of it when he asks me very seriously whether there are other machines or other amenities that I think “we” should have at the gym. A few weeks ago he asked me whether I was doing the 5K that weekend. Last week I avoided the gym because of my cold, and when I came back in this week he was incredulous — “You skipped a week? You. Skipped a WEEK? A whole week? YOU skipped a week?” Not another word about goals. Does he still think I’m trying to lose weight? Maybe. Maybe he thinks I should. But at least in our interactions, he has totally accepted me as a person who just likes exercise.
We’ve all got frustrating people in our lives — mothers, coworkers, whatever — who can’t find it in themselves to accept us for who we are. Our bodies drive these people batty, and the only thing that upsets them more is when we stop being equally agitated and miserable about them — when we decide to give up weight loss and self-punishment for good. But I’ll bet you also have a Terry, someone who maybe didn’t understand, who didn’t have to be supportive, but who decided to respect you anyway.
Let’s hear it for them.
Edited to add: No really, let’s hear it for them, and more to the point, let’s hear about them! Who’s your Terry? Who provides support from an unexpected quarter?