Helen Chappell: January 2006
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then I am driving Satan’s purple ‘57 Eldorado down Route 666 with no brakes. I mean well, I really do, but sometimes I get in my own way.
Take New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t make them anymore, because I know good and well about the second week of January I’m going to backslide like a sinner at a tent revival. And all those noble attempts to stop smoking, lose weight and balance my checkbook will have gone flying out the window of that Eldorado and be lying on the side of the road. I’ll be lurking in back of the building, bumming a cigarette off someone as I unwrap a packet of Reese’s Cups, figuring I must have some money in the bank, because I still have some checks.
Good Protestant Guilt will wash over me like the snowmelt, of course. But John Calvin’s voice can be silenced by a good dinner and a night at the Avalon or a film offering from Encore Cinema.
Bad habits are hard to break, as all the world knows. But in my own defense, I try to be good, I really do. But as I’ve noted, somehow I always end up getting in my own way.
Basically, I think I’m a pretty good person. Why, I haven’t killed anyone in at least a week, and isn’t that something to be proud of? After all, there’s the grand old Eastern Shore defense, “He/She needed killin’” that has gotten more than one defendant off with a lighter sentence. After the jury has heard the testimony of just why the deceased became that way at the hand of the accused, we just figure they’ve suffered enough.
In general, I’m not such a bad citizen. I maintain good oral hygiene, I am a responsible pet owner, I keep the house pretty clean, I rotate my tires and lend a hand whenever I can.
My transgressions are mostly against my own better interests. And that’s why I think it’s fruitless for me to make resolutions that I know I’m not going to maintain. So, I’m a little surprised at myself for developing one good habit. For the past four years I have been working out several times a week at Curves.
Of course, I had to trick myself into this at first. The idea that exercise was not lighting up a cigarette and plotting revenge was not exactly new to me. I use to swim laps and do yoga, but for one reason or another, these good habits fell along Route 666.
Many of my women friends were joining exercise and workout clubs, and looked and felt great. I knew I had to get off my ample butt and do something with myself for all the usual reasons.
But I didn’t do it as a New Year’s Resolution. No, I knew myself too well for that. What i did was decide working out was going to be my birthday present to myself, so five months after January, I went in and signed up at Curves.
It’s been four years, and I am amazed, just like the advertising says. Only I’m amazed the I’ve not only stuck with exercising, but I’ve actually come to look forward to it as a treat to myself. Once those endorphins kick in, you start to feel pretty good, you know. And it’s street legal. You don’t have to deal with sleazy people to get your high, which to my mind is always a wise thing to avoid. If you can remember the ‘60s, you probably weren’t’ there. But exercise is good for you!
My inner James Dean sort of snickers at doing anything that’s good for me, but here I am, having made a sort of non-resolution and sticking with it. I sort of have to sneak around my own back to actually do something good for myself, but there I am, working out on those machines and bouncing around on those recovery boards, working up a sweat and tightening up those muscles, getting me some of that there stamina you hear so much about.
When I first started, I could barely work out for six minutes without having to sit down and catch my breath. But over the years and about 500 visits, I’ve gotten a little better. Not as good as some, mind you, but not as slow as others either. Every day I work at a pace I’m comfortable with. For me, the interesting thing is that the days I feel least like going to work out, the days when I really have to force myself to go in, are the days when I feel the best for having done it. That sense of accomplishment is really something. Mentally, physically and spiritually, I feel better than I have any right to feel when I work out. If I miss a few days, I can really feel it.
Is this me talking about doing something really healthy? I can’t believe it. I also can’t believe I’ve stuck with it. I bore so easily, and burn out even more often, but there I am, still working those machines.
When I bit the bullet and signed up to work out, I had no idea that I would also find a whole new set of women I never would have known otherwise. In an all female environment, it’s easy to make friends and bond quickly. I’ve made friends with women from almost every walk of life, from well-off professionals to struggling single moms. It’s hard not to be friendly to people when you’re all bouncing along the circuit in time to the music.
I’ve seen very few perfect looking women there. Most of us are far less than the starlet-bodied women one sees in the media. So I’ve learned that women come in all ages, shapes, sizes and colors, and each one, in her own way is beautiful, and each one has a story to tell. I’ve gotten to know other women, to know their lives and their thoughts, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.
You really do bond when you work out with other women. Often I’ll see a familiar face and we’ll smile at each other. “I know you! Curves!” We’ll stop and pass the time of day on the street, in a restaurant, at the market. There’s a level of support among us, as if we all share a secret. Often, when I come in to St. Michaels in the morning to toss myself around a little, there’s a group of ladies sitting at the table, drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company.
Woman power is solid stuff. It’s sort of fun to watch a man come in and look around. As it slowly dawns on him that this is a women’s place, he gets a really strange look on his face.
For me, the women who work at my workout place are the ones who set the warm and friendly tone. They’ve become my friends too over the years. Amy deHaven, who owns the Easton and St. Michaels franchises, always makes sure her spaces are bright and decorated in cheerful colors, but also does them up for every holiday season. It’s things like that which make it easy and pleasant.
Then there’s Sherri Atkinson and Amy McNabb and Amy Anderson ... so many Amy’s - so little time. They all make is a lot easier to come in and sweat and strain. They’ve become, over the course of the years, my good friends.
When one of the managers, Laura Smith, moved to Florida, you’d have thought we’d all lost a sister. It’s easy to become very attached to people who have your best interests at heart. And when you have a home office, as I do, going to work out not only exercises the old bod, it also exercises your social skills with all the news and views.
I never thought I’d enjoy exercise. If I’d made a New Year’s Resolution to do it, I would have sabotaged myself. And I’ve still got my Wal-Mart body, which is far from perfect, but I’ve also got muscle tone and a new sense of self-esteem.
You see, I tricked myself into it by pretending it wasn’t a resolution, but a gift to myself.
I have to try that more often.