I never really thought I would be a “gym” person. Growing up I was always playing one sport or another—horseback riding, fencing, softball, rugby—but exercising outside the confines of an organized sport pretty much constituted a hideous torture. I hated running. I mean really hated it. The mile run that was part of the fitness test in middle school was the worst day of the year—I would angst and stress about it for days in advance, inevitably be one of the slower runners, and end up red-faced and sweaty for the rest of the day. I liked riding my bike a little better, but only if it was a horse and I was racing in the Kentucky Derby or running over sewer grates that were part of my “jumping” course. My parents got me some exercise tapes at one point—“Mousercise” videos produced by Disney that featured kids in hideous 80s unitards and feathered hairstyles. These got some halfhearted use, but I resented the implication that I needed it and never really committed myself to the program.
I was not a grossly obese kid by any stretch of the imagination, but I was never a skinny kid either. I was always just above average in the weight department. Compared to my uber-thin sister, I was a little fat—chubby, you might say. Enough so that it kind of sunk into my psyche—I was just always going to be a little bigger than most of the other girls. Size large.
Playing rugby helped keep me at the status quo when I got to college—no freshman 15 for me, thank you very much. But after I tore my ACL and had to go through a painful and lengthy rehab—not to mention the end of my days of organized sports—things started to creep. And creep some more. Then came the end of college and the beginning of the 9-5 working life, when you’re so tired at the end of the day that the prospect of working out on top of it all is a joke. And the creep continued. I had joined a gym after school ended, but weeks would sometimes go by between workout sessions. Then I sprained an ankle when I tripped over a pillow—damn you, Flopsy—and it was months before I really recovered from that.
All this to say, by the end of 2009, I was definitely at the heaviest I had ever been in my life. It wasn’t an extreme level compared to the national average, I’m sure, but it was enough. I was working on a biology book at my old job, and in the nutrition chapter there was a section where you could calculate your BMI—body mass index—and find out if you were at a healthy weight or not. I plugged in my numbers on a whim and was shocked by the result. Not only was I overweight, but I was getting close to the line between overweight and obese. I needed to lose 20 pounds to even get into the high end of the healthy zone.
There are plenty of excuses and justifications you can make when you look in the mirror, but there’s not a lot you can do when faced with cold hard facts. I needed to lose weight. Black and white.
I gave myself a goal. By May, I was going to be rid of those 20 pounds, through a combination of going to the gym and watching what I ate. I started taking classes at the gym all the time—spin, weight lifting, cardio kickboxing. When I wasn’t taking class, to spare my bad ankle and knee, I would walk on the treadmill for 40 minutes at the highest incline. I even started to work some running back into my routine, first on the treadmill and then outside.
A funny thing started to happen. I found out that I liked going to the gym. I looked forward to pushing myself to the very edge of where I could go and then pushing farther—that feeling in spin class when I was gasping, openmouthed, lungs and legs burning, and still going faster. I liked being able to increase the amount of weight I was lifting in class each week. When the boxing instructor told me to punch harder, I did so gladly. I started to understand what that whole exercise high was all about.
I learned to embrace the burn. Guess I’m a gym person after all.
This week’s synchroblog topic was burn. You can read the other entries at The Creative Collective.