Our moving last year to a community that has a sizable senior population has been a surprisingly easy adjustment for us. With the exception of some of the visiting snowbirds during the Season, we find nearly everyone with whom we come into contact to be welcoming, friendly, and interesting. Since we are still quite young, I had been mildly concerned that we would stick out like sore thumbs in our condo community, or as we move about town to other places. But in fact it’s been the exact opposite. No one challenges us for identification, birth certificates, or AARP cards. We interact with everyone happily and easily.
Probably the most startling experience, though, has been at our gym. Once we jettisoned the idea of using the small “fitness center” in our condo community and chose a commercial gym instead, I had thought we’d end up at a place with a predominately younger crowd, parading around with their six-pack abs and cellulite-free bodies. In fact, those kind of folk are indeed a minority at our gym. Since we’ve joined, we’ve gone there at all hours from early morning, to mid-to-late morning, in the middle of the afternoon, to early evening. The predominant clientele are middle-agers and seniors. From the time I started working out regularly in my late 40’s, I haven’t yet belonged to a place where my own peer group is a majority. It is, in a word, refreshing. Gone is the vibe of people being too cool to make eye contact for a nod or smile. Gone too is that lecherous stare of a guy on the make. Gorgeous has received more than her fair share of flirting from some of the older gentlemen, but they are universally made in a joking and self-deprecating manner that always makes her laugh rather than having to turn the other cheek.
Of course, the closest that your humble blogger receives in a similar fashion comes from the bright-eyed and friendly women who verbally remind me with a big, wide smile that I really should wipe down my machine after using it. Apparently I’m no Tom Jones, and they’re not screaming for my sweat towel to be tossed their way. I’m starting to think that the daily compliment I get from Gorgeous about my “sexy” legs might be more along the lines of an endearment rather than fact. Reality can be so cruel sometimes.
Still, our gym is small microcosm of the human experience. What has struck both of us more than anything else is the sheer determination and grit displayed by our fellow gym rats. They have a zest for living a healthy life. Previous gyms where I’ve been as a regular were sometimes veritable meat markets with men and women primped and spruced for conspicuous presentation. My favorites were always the women who arrived with freshly applied make-up. But now it’s been so refreshing to be around those who come to the gym for all the right reasons: to stay or become healthy, and to get out of the home for an hour or so for something positive and productive.
Just like at the local Denny’s, there is even what I call a morning “water bottle klatch” of older men who congregate to discuss and solve the world’s problems. I’ve already learned that between 10:00 and 11:00am, it’s better to avoid the Lifecycle bike area, lest arguments about U.S. policy in Afghanistan bleed into David Gilmour’s guitar playing in my headphones. Yet, I’ll take these good-natured men any day over the young punks at previous gyms who would brag in loud voices about their sexual conquest from the night before.
Perhaps the most compelling and awe-inspiring thing we see, are the many men and women who come to the gym to work through the physical ailments under which they suffer and battle daily. Be it a stroke victim, an amputee, someone fighting obesity, or perhaps a condition known only to them, the private display of bravery and determination is very moving. I have nothing but admiration for them. Careful not to stare or otherwise make anyone feel uncomfortable, I watch them with reverence and respect as they work their bones and muscles. They are not at the gym for pity or sympathy. Rather, they come symbolically dressed for battle against that which has dared to try to stop or slow their life.
One gentleman in particular, a stroke victim, regularly shuffles in from the parking lot and nods to the staff after checking in at the front desk. He walks with determination to his favorite machine (an elliptical), and with a steady resolve that has been refined from weeks, months, perhaps even years of practice, he slowly steps up to the machine, puts his feet in the pedals, grabs firmly onto the handlebars, and begins his workout. The transformation is an absolute wonder to see. Unlike the slow, careful shuffle with which he is forced to carry himself in all other places, on the machine he glides back and forth with an even and steady movement. Eyes fixed on the television above his machine, he fights the good fight against that which has slowed him down. He is a regular; I see him each and every time we are there. On the days when we are lazy and/or simply not able to go, I know he is there. In the short time that we’ve lived here, he has become my personal hero.
There is so much in our daily lives for which we find reason to complain, some of us louder than others. Bills that arrive in the mail, family members who disappoint, cars that need repairing, alimony to be paid, etc. Yet coming to this gym reminds me that there others who face obstacles that aren’t even remotely close to my own personal radar. It’s so easy to lash out with blame and recrimination for our own woes, yet right in front of our very eyes are those who are facing far more challenging adversities. Were I to deal with such hardships, I hope that I could summon even half of the strength and dignity exhibited regularly by some of these amazing souls.
There are other gyms in town that are more upscale. They have aerobic rooms for Zumba and yoga classes, pools for laps and water polo, and massage rooms for those looking for extra special pampering. Our gym, while still a decent size, is far more pedestrian. It has rows and rows of exercise equipment, a modest enough weight-lifting area, and a small stretching corner with mats and a few inflated exercise balls. A sign at the gym’s entrance asks everyone to leave their ego at the door.
I get more than just a good workout there– priceless lessons in humility and grace are also offered for anyone interested in just opening up their eyes. I wouldn’t trade that for the fanciest club in town.