When I showed up for my first day to teach I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. I figured I would teach three, one hour classes a week, make an extra 100 dollars or so a month, and get in better shape. What I did not expect was that I would meet so many amazing people that would help me not only heal from the wounds of the past year but grow into the best possible version of myself. I think back now on my first day and the fact that I almost didn’t show up. I made tons of excuses as to why I should stay home and crawl back onto my oh so comfortable couch. I was out of shape, what if I couldn’t catch my breath to even talk into the mic? Was an extra few dollars really going to make a difference in my financial woes? What if I was a terrible instructor?
All of these thoughts kept running through my mind all day until I had convinced myself that a pint of strawberry chip ice cream from Graeter’s, my sweatpants, and re-watching Mathew Crawley and Lady Mary get married in the little church at Downton was a better idea. When five o’clock rolled around though I gave myself a reality check. I all of a sudden realized that if I went home and sat on the couch my life would continue to be the same as it had always been. And right now I didn’t like my life. So why was I still doing it?
I gave myself a mental scolding for being too afraid to try something new. Pull it together woman, what’s the worst that could happen? You’re a terrible teacher and they boo you out of class. Yeah that sounds way worse than dealing with a skull base tumor, medical bills, and fighting to keep your job. You should definitely just stay home and hide on the couch.
So after I gave myself what my mom likes to call a “cowboy up” speech I was in the car on my way to the gym. And it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made for myself…
Teaching my class became therapeutic. It was a way for me to talk about my health issues but not talk about them. I used general terms when talking to my class that they could take off the shelf and apply to their own personal lives but for me they had deeper meaning. I talked about goals and visualizing our best selves. I asked them where they wanted to go and how they wanted to get there. I encouraged everyone to challenge themselves and to use my class and the pain we felt during a particularly difficult exercise as training for the real world that could throw unexpected challenges at us around every turn. We would practice getting mentally and physically stronger in here so that we could leave the studio and kick some serious ass out there.
I coached them through all of it, encouraging them, and also holding them accountable. Asking for more when I knew they could give it and telling them to “just hold on” when I could see they were struggling. I reassured them that nothing lasts forever, this segment would end, and we would take a break and get a drink of water when it did, but not to quit before then. I told them to simply “push through” the barriers that our minds place on our bodies. Because in the end it really is the mind. Our bodies are brilliant machines that are capable of so much more than we can imagine. The idea that there is a limit to how far you can go or how much you can handle is constructed in the head not in the heart. In my class we take it to the red line and then we defiantly cross it.
In a way I find it strange that I can stay strong and motivate other people during a particularly difficult moment but in my darkest hour of need I struggled to do this for myself.
Something else that became therapeutic for me are the people who take my class. I have some very tough cookies that show up and clip in to those bikes, especially the one I teach at 8am on Saturday morning. First of all, it takes a specific type of person to want to drag themselves out of bed that early when the rest of the world is sleeping, much less to put yourself through an hour of cardio with me yelling in your face before the sun has even come up. I nicknamed these people my “breakfast club.” (because nothing tastes better than coffee and pancakes after an early morning workout) but really they’re my superheroes. When I ask them if they are feeling good they always give me a “woo hoo!” or an “oh yeah!” when I tell them to add a gear they always do it, they don’t just reach down and act like they are. (yeah guys, I can tell when you do that) And to put it simply I can just feel their intensity during a difficult exercise. Some of them stare at their form in the mirror, others the bike computer, still others close their eyes. They don’t need me to coach them through it. They have nerves of steel. They got this.
After a few weeks of teaching I began to notice this “superhero” attitude in two women in particular. They came together on Saturdays and both had an infectious positivity about them that not only energized the group but me as well. I got more “into it” when they were there and I think the class did also. The self-proclaimed duo “Laverne and Shirley” became my inspiration for getting up at 7 am on Saturday mornings in the dead of winter and dragging my body into the gym to run a workout with the group. Writing this I can almost hear the two of them singing “Schlemiel, Schlimazel!” and cracking each other up as I shoosh them because class is starting and they are stealing my spotlight with their shenanigans. (God I love alliteration, don’t you?)
As these two became regulars in my class I began to get to know them chatting them up after workouts and then as cheesy as it sounds I asked them to be “friends” on facebook. Their real names are Cheryl and Joni. As I was fb stalking them at work one day, scrolling through their photo albums I noticed both of them had pictures of themselves rapelling down the big blue building downtown. Now if any of you do not know what the “big blue building” is it is THE skyline of downtown Lexington. A lone, pseudo-skyscraper made of all blue glass. These women had dangled out over the edge of it and shimmied down the side of it’s 140 stories on a rope. And like most of the strong women I admire, they did it literally without a net. (please note correct use of the word literally) When I asked them the story behind it the response was “oh yeah, Joni called me one day and said that they were doing an event to raise money for boy scouts and we could rapel down the big blue building, I said sure why not.”
and they had.
“But weren’t you scared?”
“Was that harness uncomfortable and awkward?”
“I would have been so uncoordinated!”
“Yep. We were.”
But they did it anyway.
I had talked about doing plenty of crazy things like sky diving, cycling through Europe, finishing a full distance Ironman, and like most people I had found plenty of logical reasons not to. Laverne and Shirley aren’t most people. Last year after descending the 140 stories of the big blue building they decided to backpack the Sheltowee trace. (140 miles of trekking with a forty pound pack strapped to your back, camping and sleeping in a hammock and not showering for days) They just decided. Simple as that. Evidently when they showed up to the first organized hike looking like greenhorns the people in the group grilled them about their level of experience and asked them a bunch of technical questions about their gear. These granolas had no idea who they were dealing with. Cheryl and Joni approach every challenge with a level of tenacity and enthusiasm that is unparalleled. And they do it like those two spunky girls from Milwaukee; with humor. To answer the question from one seasoned member of the group that sounded like an accusation, “What kind of pack do you have?” Cheryl simply replied with a grin, “a red one.”
In life I think so many of us make plans but then we construct imaginary obstacles for ourselves that keep us from reaching them. “Man I would love to train for a marathon but I just don’t have the time.” I’ve always wanted to see Europe but I really can’t afford it. I’m too tired. It’s too hot out. Oh I’ll get around to it right after this nap. I should, but the Breaking Bad season finale is on,Etc. As I said earlier, the mind places limits on the body. Cheryl and Joni cut the crap. For them life has two steps:
1.) Decide what to do
2.)Go do it.
That’s it. Nope, stop talking. Go do it.
These women were so unafraid of trying new things it made me feel brave just to be around them. Joni, recently decided she wanted to make a total career change. So she did. She is now a jet-setting Flight Attendant who travels all over the place. I never know what time zone that lady is in! Cheryl decided this summer that she wanted to begin doing century (100+ mile) bike rides. So she did. She completed her fourth of the summer a few days ago. These women don’t talk about the things they want, they go out and get them. Everything else is a waste of time. I have drawn from their strength every day since I met them and hope one day I can exude the confidence and poise that they do.
They inspire me every day to go out and live life.
Because if there was one lesson I learned through all this (and trust me there’s way more than one) it was that life does not wait. Decide what you want and make it happen.