Kay stood at the doorway looking into the huge room filled with exercising machine. There was a sixty foot long wall glazed on the pool side so that tread-millers and elliptical machine users could gaze down on the public swimming. There were upside of sixteen machines. all but one in use at varying speeds. Mostly everybody was jogging, some were flat out running.
In between the machines and the doorway where Kay stood, there was a forest of chrome and steel exercising machines. She didn’t have a name for any one of them and yet each had a mysterious purpose that she was going to have to learn.
The franchised weight loss company she had been frequenting was simply not working for her. There, the machines were made for women, had large seats for their target audience. Everything was painted white. Here the seats were small and thin and the metal parts were painted black. She assessed them with a critical eye. They would be uncomfortable, she decided, and the predominance of black was foreboding.
Kay moved into the room slowly, alertly assessing her surroundings. There were about thirty people, mostly men aged twenty to forty, muscular and fit. She counted three women and one of those appeared to be attending a small reception desk with a sign tacked behind it on the wall, “Ask for the wobble board.”
As she progressed, still alert, a small ball came hurtling at her, only to bounce off the glass before it could impact. One of two men in a glassed in chamber picked up the ball and threw it towards the opposite wall. This must be racket ball, she thought, and she stayed to watch the graceful chase and swing of the two men. The opposite wall was surprisingly white and unmarked but the side walls had streaks of grey where the ball had hit time and time again. It made an interesting pattern.
“Excuse me, ” stated a young man’s voice, startling Kay back to her assessment of the room. She shifted over two feet to let him pass. She had been blocking access to the open cube storage unit where people left their jackets, outdoor shoes and miscellaneous belongings.
A bit dazed and undecided, she located a free cube and place her boots, jacket and swim equipment in it, then took her cotton exercise slippers from her bag and put them on her feet.
She turned back to the reception desk. A svelte woman of thirty was sitting, working at her lap top computer.
“May I have the wobble board?” Kay asked.
“Do you know how to use it?” the woman asked sharply. Her eyes swept up and down Kay’s stout frame.
“I think it may be the only thing I know how to use,” she replied. “I’ve been working out at another gym where I used to live, but nothing here looks the same.” Kay fought a compulsion to validate herself; to explain why she was here.
The woman groped under the counter for the equipment, looked quizzically as if the board had disappeared, then twisted and bent to look under the counter. She bobbed back up and declared “Here you are!”
“I have the same right as anyone else,” Kay silently assured herself as she held out her hand to accept the circular board. She then walked away, wobble board in hand, towards the stretching area. There was no bar to stabilize on. There really was no place to work on it. She turned and went back to the woman.
“I need somewhere to hold on to. Where does one usually do that?” Kay asked.
A fleeting expression of understanding then of perplexity crossed the woman’s face. She paused, closed her lap top, and came out from behind the desk. With a nod of her head, she signaled Kay to follow. “You can hold on here,” she said. It was one of the tall chrome and black steel machines with four sets of weights and pulleys, one in each corner; three of them were occupied by men with muscular biceps and triceps. Why aren’t these men out at work,” thought Kay. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. She tried not to look at their tattoos. Each man looked as if he could rip a telephone book in half with his bare hands. Were they gang members keeping in shape for brawling? Or policemen trying to keep in better shape to catch gangs?
Kay wobbled on the board, less familiar with it’s operation than she had hoped. It was meant to strengthen her ankles and improve her balance; but the one she had previously used while recovering from her fall only wobbled from side to side, or, if turned in the other direction, rocked backwards and forwards. This round one wobbled all over. It took a higher level of skill. Kay grasped the steel upright with two hands and held on tightly as she teetered erratically from side to side. She wished ferverently that this was the only exercise she had to do and then she could go, but she knew it was not true. Too bad her prescribed time for it was only three minutes. She looked briefly at the three other users of the equipment unit. They were absorbed in their own activities. They had no interest in an old girth-girl dressed in an orange sweater and baggy knit trousers.
As she loosened up on the board, so she loosened up in her mind. She was, after all, a mature woman. Who cared what she looked like? If nothing else, Kay had learned some self-acceptance. She was who she was. She was thankful for the opportunity to use the equipment; thankful that her new municipality provided such good exercising equipment at such an economical cost to its citizens. And besides, how was she to get control of her weight if she didn’t exercise.
Kay returned the board to the desk then strode over to the treadmills. It was always best to warm up before working out, she knew.
While four joggers jogged and six runners ran, Kay, feeling crippled by her latest fall, gingerly walked at a largo pace, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer;” she muttered to herself, “exercise equipment wasn’t really what Thoreau had in mind when he wrote it,” she added, then chuckled.
She timed herself for five minutes then slowed the machine and stopped it. Back she went to the attendant.
“Could you please show me how the machines work?” she asked.
“Does your doctor know you are doing this?” the woman replied.
“Yes, the doctor wants me to do this,” Kay replied.
“If you don’t know the machines, you really should book an appointment with a personal trainer,” said the woman.
But Kay was not going to be dismissed.
“I know what I’m supposed to work on. It’s just that the machines aren’t the same brand. I’ve done months of physio for my falls. Now I have to keep it up. I just don’t recognize the machines. I need a refresher and then I can do it. I’ve already got a plan. I just need to work out. I was going to another gym but they don’t have the equipment I need for my rotator cuff (Kay pointed to her shoulder) and my iliotibial band (Kay pointed to her right thigh).”
Those were magic words. If Kay knew those technical names for body parts, she couldn’t be quite so nyophyte as she looked. The woman led Kay to the same machine that had served as a support for the wobbling exercise. She attached a ring, demonstrated an arm exercises, then handed the ring to Kay; then another; then another.
Kay executed the moves smoothly, evenly.
“Good form,” the attendant said. There was a tinge of reserved respect in the voice.
Half an hour later, Kay departed, warm jacket and boots replacing the exercise slippers.
“What’s your name?” the attendant asked.
“Kay,” Kay said simply. “What’s yours?
“Brenda. I’m here Tuesdays and Wednesdays for half days. I’ll help you again next time. If I’m not here, don’t push it. Go slowly if you are only getting back into it. We want you back again. If you get sore, you won’t come back. We want to make you a regular.”
Kay waved a final good bye. She smiled. She’d made a friend of sorts; had softened up the attendant. She’d be back tomorrow and after tomorrow, looking like an orange pumpkin amongst the muscular boys. This could be fun!