“I used to be athletic,” I say to people who really don’t believe me and probably don’t care. “Seriously, I was like a cheerleader and everything.” They try to not look at my middle-aged-I-love-carbs-had-two-babies-now-have-RA-don’t-do-crap midriff and smile a gentle, albeit, patronizing smile. Then they offer me a donut.
When I fantasize about taking Daisy on the road, I fantasize about being athletic again, with trips that include national parks, hikes, vistas, and maybe even a zip line, depending upon the availability of margaritas. I realize that neither I, nor Daisy, am ready for adventures beyond the driveway. Daisy will have to wait until the weather improves. However, I could begin the process now. It’s just, well, experience…
I worked with a personal trainer for a couple of years after I turned 50. Loved the guy. Loved the strength I got from pushups, lunges, planks – so many planks – and weights. Then, I bought a 1959 camper to renovate and bought back Girl Child’s first pony because I was worried about her (pony, not child) and there went the budget for personal trainer.
So, I rejoined the YMCA. We would go as a family. Shiny happy people being fit. Family members looked at one another as I announced the good times we would have getting fit. It’s been more than a year. They haven’t even gone to get their identification cards made.
I went alone. I used weight machines. Rode stationary bikes. Lifted a couple of free weights. I did this a couple of times and then had a startling revelation. I don’t play well with others. “Silver Sneakers” in front of me, sitting on the weight machines, stalled my progress. Were they in between sets? Pushing Life Alert buttons? Stunned by Hoda and Kathi Lee’s day drinking? I would leapfrog to the machine in front of them, but felt out of kilter, like I was missing something. Y’know, like BICEP CURLS.
Meanwhile, whippersnappers with eight-pack abs and forearms the size of Girl Child’s horse would jump in front of me. There I would be, with an old fart on the machine behind me, the machine that I should have been on if there were order in the world, and a juiced whippersnapper on the machine in front of me, doing 12 sets of 35 and sending me patronizing, “It’s okay old lady. At least you’re here” smiles. I know those smiles. I was sending them to the S.O.B. on the machine behind me.
I moved onto exercising in the pool. My rheumatologist recommends that and besides, I used to be athletic. I was a lifeguard. The first class I tried was called ai chi. Or kimchee. Or cheech and chong. Not sure, but I took a deep breath, slipped out of my sweats to reveal the muumuu suit and slithered into the water where the class was underway. I thought that was unusual because I was five minutes early for the 9:45 class. Five minutes later, the ladies in their swim caps exited the pool. Oh. Okay. So some of this is out of the water. I’m cool with that. They toweled down. Smiled at me and trotted off to the locker room. The instructor wandered over to me. I’m sure instructors hate my kind. “Will you be back?” she asked.
“Class is from nine to 9:45 every Thursday morning.” She smiled a knowing, bless your heart smile. I love how southern ladies can call someone a dumbass without even trying.
I tried a different water class at a different YMCA. I knew the instructor from years ago and church. She’s from Eastern Europe and doesn’t mince words. “You might want to try an easier class,” she suggested after I gulped and gagged for an hour, the muumuu suit ballooning up around my chin. I showed up for the easier class. It was in session. Dammit to hell. How could I get the time wrong AGAIN? “You’re late!” she shouted across the natatorium. Words hurt. And echo in a natatorium.
“No I’m not!” I smiled and yelled back. “I’m coming to the next class!” I wondered what the next class was. Upon learning that it was lap swimming, I smiled to myself. After all, I used to be athletic. Back in the 70s, Joe Eddie Grass made us swim 50 laps a day when we were getting our lifeguard certification.
“Don’t you have goggles?” asked one kind woman. Nah. Goggles are for sissies. One hasn’t swum laps unless one’s eyes look like a stage hand’s at Bonnaroo. The instructor put me in the slow lane. We began to swim. It felt good, the water. It had been a long time. I swam a few laps. Stopped, panted a little bit, holding onto the wall and let a swimmer past. She’d already lapped me once. Her kids are my age.
I swam two more laps. The instructor shouted out what stroke we were supposed to do. Freestyle again? Are you freaking kidding me? What happened to the breaststroke? Or for God’s sakes a freaking dog paddle? Swim caps covering white hair continued to pass me. I lost orientation on the backstroke and swam into oncoming traffic, the instructor yelling at me to watch out. I couldn’t hear her. My ears were full of water and my eyes were bleeding. I was cramping and I could see the light. Finally, class ended.
Because I had to pretend that the lap class was the one I intended to attend, I returned several times. The second time, I brought goggles. “Those look like children’s goggles,” advised kind woman and proffered her own, donating her extra pair to me.
“I can pay for them,” I whimpered, wondering if Hello Kitty pink was what gave me away. She waved me off. Goggle guilt compelled me to go a few more times. It’s a great group of women. They e-mail. They get coffee. They celebrate things. I continued to pant, heave, backstroke into the wrong lane and get lapped by women who didn’t see the sixties through the lenses of elementary school, but through packing lunches for their elementary school-aged children.
The last lap class I attended, I had it all. Goggles. New swimsuit that didn’t balloon like a Navy Seal rescue craft. A Band-Aid over a pesky, painful, fungal toenail. The desire to lap, rather than be lapped. I slid into the water. Cracked my neck. This was my day.
About halfway through the tenth lap, my toe felt cold, free. Ew. The Band-Aid had fallen off. I didn’t look, but just knew it would be bobbing along the top of the water waiting for the unsuspecting swimmer behind me to suck it in with her next breath. She would choke and begin to drown. I would pull her from the water, give her mouth to mouth, (hiding the Band-Aid I had pulled out, along with her false teeth) and save the day. After all, I used to be athletic. I was a life guard.
Distracted, I hit the buoy rope with my toe. Yes. THAT toe. The thing about fungal toenails is that sometimes they fall off. After whacking it on the buoy, I could feel it trying to swing free from the constraints of my toe, like a hinged door in a saloon. I stopped kicking my feet, pulling only with my arms, which meant I started getting lapped. The water still pulled at the toenail, like a mermaid tugging a love-struck sailor.
Finally, I felt one last tug and the nail floated away. I was Lap Class Zombie, dropping body parts behind me like a cruise ship dumping waste. Behind me floated a Band-Aid and a toenail. I wondered what would follow. My hair had been thinning. Would I leave behind a nest of hair, looking like Donald Trump was just below the surface?
I haven’t gone back to lap class, although I did try basic yoga at a different Y. I wheezed my way through it and was pretty proud of myself. Wanting to be the teacher’s pet, I shamelessly sidled up to her afterwards, coolly mopping perspiration from my brow. “That was supposed to be basic? That was pretty tough.”
I expected her to fist bump me, toss her head and say, “Yeah, it’s tough one, but you were a total badass. You go girl.” Instead she said, “There is an easier class on Fridays.”
I used to be athletic.