It’s just before 6:15 PM on Wednesday night, and a crowd has begun to gather outside the door. The jostling mass is frenetic. The excitement is palpable. A heady aroma of sweat, anticipation, and 13 different kinds of hair product lingers in the air. In a flash, the door swings open. A hush falls over the crowd. All eyes and ears are upon a man standing in the doorway in pink neon hot pants and a sequined tube top. With the commanding voice of a sideshow barker, he bellows out the evening’s call to arms (and legs): “Tonight, we fly!”
The undulating mass spills into the room, taking up their respective spots. Within moments, the music has started, and the troupe begins to move to the syncopated beat of the music. No, it’s not a dress rehearsal for A Chorus Line or the set of Fame. The hot-panted ringleader is not Debbie Reynolds. It’s just another Wednesday night at The Firm, and “The Diva,” Doug Melroe, just has kicked off his step aerobics class.
Thank God for Melroe’s step class. Thank God for the gym. Thank God for anything that keeps me off the couch, ingesting Doritos by the handful. Those sloth-inducing autumnal doldrums are upon us, and physical activity of any kind is beyond called for. Don’t get me wrong: I marvel every fall at the panoramic beauty of our red-and-golden splendor. It’s the silent but deadly waning sunlight, however, that sends shivers down my spine. If it weren’t for the gym, it’s safe to say I’d be 400 pounds, careening through the streets of Minneapolis on my Lark scooter, running down smiling people with visible waistlines.
The sad, possibly comical truth of it all is that I was almost at that point a few years back. In fact, this November makes it three years since I started crawling my way out of a carb-laden, stretch-panted coma. An amazing personal trainer, two wonderful gyms, and lots of supportive friends helped me lose 60 pounds, and incorporate fitness into my daily life.
I realize that to most people, the gym is simply a place to work out. I consider it a gift, however, in this overly cynical, pessimistic world, to have a life-affirming place to rest, and recharge my mind, body, and spirit—as well as to keep from hoarding Halloween candy as if Armageddon were around the corner.
At first, like many things in my life, I was admittedly extreme in my zeal to find a new physical me. Luckily, I eventually found a balance that fit my busy schedule, and allowed me to socialize with real live human beings again. It’s hard to be social when you’re at the gym 12 times a week. Yes, 12. Plus, nobody tends to ask you out to dinner when all you’ll eat is plain chicken breasts, and the only kosher topic of conversation is how many grams of protein you’ve consumed for the day.
Whatever craziness the world throws my way on any given day, each time I climb those stairs on my way up to the gym, I know things only are going to get better. Like few other things in life, I never seem to leave the gym feeling worse than when I arrived (except perhaps the one time I did step class right after Chipotle).
In addition to a good workout, it helps that good friends and ample laughter always are in abundance. I’ve met some wonderful people at the gym, and many of my good friends since have joined as well. Perhaps above all else, a supportive network of friends has been the real key to maintaining a healthy mind and body.
I have a friend who has resisted the temptation to join the gym. He hears my friends and me talking about it—the classes and the fun we have. “I’m not joining that damn cult,” he says. I’m not sure what constitutes a cult, and even if it were, I think I could’ve chosen worse. At least at the gym, I don’t have to sign over my worldly possessions, and I get abs in return.