I have a new role model and it’s changing the way I feel about what’s next for me in the decades ahead. It happened at the gym. Until recently I stayed clear of gyms, but last week I reluctantly followed my husband into his group training session–at the gym–because my foot felt incurably sore and I could no longer run. I was starting to feel depressed as I missed my daily serotonin high. The gym was my last resort, but I dreaded the idea of it. I mean really, precision weight lifting with “dead weights?” Sounds…deadly!
But I was desperate. When I walked into the group training area I was overwhelmed by the amount of equipment lining every edge of the four walls. Music was pumping, one group was on mats – another was working on TRX ropes that hung from the ceiling – a third group was rowing on ERGs. It felt like a circus and I couldn’t imagine my serotonin high was likely to be released in this chaotic environment. I was already over stimulated before I even started. Maybe I should leave. Just then, my husband introduced me to his adorable trainer: thirty-something, fit, enthusiastic, with a sweet smile to boot. OK…how bad could this be? I can try anything for an hour.
Immediately “my group” of three women and two men were sent to the cardio corner to raise our heart rates. I don’t like treadmills, ellipticals or anything that makes me feel like a mouse in a science experiment. But, I had agreed to sign on and started my elliptical heart rate workout as instructed. To keep up with the pace of the others, I had to climb at a pace that was beyond my natural stride. Sweating and now fully awake, we all dismounted and moved onto the trapeze-like ropes (TRX), working our biceps over and over. Then we were squatting–then lunging–then we were swinging kettle bells. Over and over we repeated our 15 of this and 15 of that – and the chit chatting began. Nice group, nice people but no chit chat for me, I had to count, count, follow, follow. I tried to mimic the thin and incredibly strong woman to my right, but I couldn’t keep up. Panting and fatigued – I pushed myself to stay in it. The hour flew by and I finally finished in a full collapse on my sit-up mat. And then I began chatting with the thin, fit woman.
“Wow, you are so incredibly strong,” I said to her. “Oh not really, I’ve just been doing this two times a week for the past four years.” “Well, I couldn’t hold a plank for more than 30 seconds and you held yours for the whole two minutes – that’s amazing!” She smiled and told me these workouts had allowed her to enjoy her favorite winter sports outside the gym; cross-country skiing and mountain climbing. She told me that both she and her husband were fully committed to their workouts. And then she said something that completely floored me. “My husband and I love our hikes, and even though we are 70, we aren’t really slowing down.” I stared at this thin, fit, lovely woman – 15 years my senior. She was not a body builder, not maniacal in her approach to working out – just a steady committed exerciser.
I felt elated as we talked further about her grandchildren, her travels and adventures and her new writing project. This was it – I had a role model, a 70-year-old woman: vital, engaged, committed and fit. As I said goodbye, my spirits were high – my serotonin had kicked in and I was extremely energized. I signed on for the twice a week workout sessions and was already setting strength goals in my head as I walked out to my car. Hey, aging with strength was on my radar – it’s ok that my half marathon days may be over. There are plenty of brass rings ahead. For instance: I could be “her” in 15 years. I could be “her” at 70!