I didn’t realize the weight you carried in my life until I imagined my life without you.
I’m starting a new job soon, and that means I’ll begin each weekday at a new gym about 45 miles from this one, in a different city – even a different county.
Each morning I nod, smile, wave or utter a friendly, “Good morning,” to so many of them, that when I typed up the list below, I was astonished by the loss I was facing.
I don’t necessarily exchange a greeting with each of you every day, and you may not even be aware that I exist, but I’ll miss you all.
In the most significant way I’ve experienced in my adult life, I feel part of a group that I respect and admire. A badass group that has no formal membership but we all just get it in the most subtle, humble way. If you aren’t a dedicated morning gym-goer, you may not appreciate this post at all. My hope is that I can inspire you to give it a try.
There’s something special about this group I belonged to for months. A unique cross-section of society. Folks who would never be in the same room together for any other reason. Hundreds of paths that would never cross. Smiles that would never get smiled and mornings that wouldn’t be that much brighter. Realizing I was part of this unique group makes me feel validated in a way I’ve never been conscious of before.
And there’s a shared vulnerability inherent in the gym setting, especially in the morning. Ladies skip the makeup and gents rock the bedhead. The gym can be uncomfortable any time of day, but when you’re among the AM regulars, the repetition and familiarity crowds out the insecurities. You get down to business because your time is limited and there’s plenty more on your to-do list for the day.
Okay, not exactly what most people would qualify as friends. But as someone who wasn’t actively looking to make new ones and isn’t all that fond of strangers, this cohort of gym goers feels like one of my best accomplishments in the Relationship Department in a long while.
Making friends as an adult is hard. And not a favorite pastime of mine, for sure. But as I think about what these people have added to my life, I view them as mini friendships. It makes me want to try harder and be friendlier at my next gym. I want to brighten someone’s day because I know how great it makes me feel. If the gym were full of robots who ignored all of the other robots around them, I probably would have given up years ago. I’m not a People Person, but I can admit and appreciate that the people make the gym experience what it is for me.
I would be remiss not to mention the original gym group that started it all. A different location of this national fitness chain happens to be located a short distance from my home, and these gals and guys hooked me into the AM exercise culture in a big way a few years ago. I’ve since changed locations but we still stay in touch, and I’m so grateful. More on that in a separate post.
This morning, on my last day of work, I wasn’t sad to be leaving my job. I didn’t even tear up when I walked out the office doors for the last time, which I’ve always done when I leave jobs. But my entire morning workout was almost surreal and carried a bittersweet feeling.
I was present and felt more alive than I have in months. I savored my workout. Each moment lasted just a little too briefly. I cherished each “Good morning” exchange a little more than usual, knowing it would be my last with that individual. I wanted to scream out to each of them, “This is my last day! You won’t see me again!”
I have convinced myself that they’ll wonder where I am when I don’t show up tomorrow.
Long weekend? Travel for work? Vacation time?
The days will turn into weeks and soon they’ll forget all about that skinnyish girl who spent too much time on the step mill. But I do hope that I am missed just a little by a few of them. I hope that I was a bright spot for some of them, that I was a tiny part of why they dragged themselves out of bed at a ridiculous hour each morning, and they might miss our brief, but friendly, exchanges.
Yes, it’s egocentric, I know… “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone!” But really I’m the one who will be doing the missing.
So I made a list of all the people I’ll miss.
It’s mostly a therapeutic exercise for me and is kind of snarky. But maybe it will inspire you to find your tribe of AM gym characters.
- Chalky. The amateur body builder who is probably too advanced for a national chain gym like mine. With your hulklike bulging muscles, you carry around your little Gladware container of (banned) chalk, leaving behind a trail of your magic dust here and there on the gym floor. You’re a serious lifter, we get that. You may not wear shoes when you squat, but you do stretch after a workout, so you get my respect. Perhaps you need to find one of those gritty man gyms with crusty equipment, lots of grunting, dramatic dropping of weights and no ladies in sight. With unreal muscle tone, I often wonder if those supps we all know you’re taking are legal or not.
- Happy Friday. After a few “Good mornings” exchanged in the locker room, we took our relationship to the next level when we both wished the other a “Happy Friday” in unison. It truly had been a week for us both. An unbreakable bond was formed. Gal pals forever.
- Bill. A fellow step mill-er and encourager. Older but very fit. I’m glad you finally talked to me one day, even if I was 30 minutes into a 40-minute stint on the step mill and disgustingly sweaty, not to mention out of breath. I was glad to get to know you a little better. Despite your three knee replacements (something doesn’t add up right with that), you make it to the gym a few times per week, climb a few steps and pump some iron, and that is just too great. Climb on!
- Ms. Visor. We have similar body shapes, and let’s face it, every other female loves to hate the skinny girl at the gym no matter how many times she smiles at you. So it was nice get a wave from the lady in the visor each day. We chatted a few times briefly, but I wish I could have actually gotten to know you.
- Macho Guy. You somehow managed to pump out a ridiculous number of rapid reps with heavy loads. You get extra points for using the step mill as your warmup. Most of the macho dudes eschew any cardio, but not you. Your genuine friendliness did not seem creepy, despite those bulging shoulders. It’s good to have macho folks like you around to remind me that I need to keep lifting heavier.
- Tan Mom. I was never sure if you were talking to yourself or chattering to someone through your earbuds. I suspect it was a combination of both. Although a little too tan, you showed up every day and that’s good in my book.
- The overweight gay couple. You guys were dedicated, if not a little too affectionate at times.
- Lydia. The nice hippie who only swims. I never saw you outside of the locker room or pool, but you were always so kind and I’m going to miss that wonderful, lanky swagger of yours. I wish I had asked you once why you would wash your hair in the sink while wearing a swimsuit, standing just a few footsteps from a room of empty showers and the pool. It did not compute.
- Head Swayer. I’m going to miss your unintentional but dramatic head sway with each step you took on the treadmill or with each stroke of the elliptical machine. It’s like you were shaking your head, “No, no, no!” over and over again. This overweight girl stuck with her New Year’s Resolutions and showed up most days. A few months later, she had dropped some serious pounds and gained confidence in her new body. Serious kudos.
- The slender but not intimidatingly fit straight couple. You only stayed for about 30 minutes each day, but it’s still pretty great that you made it there together. Maybe one day when Husband and I have jobs in the same county, we can do the same.
- Moby on ‘Roids. Thanks for being a nice guy. With a ridiculously perfect body like that, I would have expected you to be a huge jerk. You have very long arms but still manage to crank out a zillion pushups at high speed. I decided in short time that you would be my inspiration, and that I would strive for the Lady Version of your ripped bod. I’m still striving.
- Girly Magazine Workout Girl. You actually stood on dumbbells while ‘plie’ squatting and used a giant rubber band at the squat rack for no apparent reason. Did you see that in a girly magazine, or maybe from an exercise guru on Pinterest? Where do you even get a rubber band like that? I tried searching for an image to explain what I mean by standing on the dumbbells, but one doesn’t exist. Because no one actually does that and it’s dangerous for you and everyone around you. You make the rest of us chicks look dumb to the guys who know how to safely lift weights. Let’s face it, I’m not really going to miss you. End rant.
- The Eastern European Motley Crew. Sam, Omar, Mufo and the other dude, you were always friendly. Sometimes a little too friendly, but you guys cracked me up and I’m really going to miss ya.
- Jogger Girl. Nonstop treadmill action. So skinny, why are you hiding under that XL t-shirt from the 5K you ran 6 years ago? As Husband would say, somebody get that girl a sandwich, pronto.
- Racquetball Joe. I’ll never understand why you sometimes waddled across the gym barefoot. If you had to choose between a limited number of clothing articles, maybe the forehead sweatband could have taken a backseat to some flip flops. Or even socks.
- Plyo Pair. I’ll never forget watching these guys perform what amounted to a Swan Lake-like interpretation of burpees while I struggled on the step mill one morning. An incredibly graceful and impressive feat. Apparently they were actually impressed by my epic stepmilling talents, so we became friends. One day when no one was looking, I tried to do a few burpees Swan Lake-style, and it was more like the Little Miss Sunshine interpretation. Those dudes are FIT.
- John Legend Lookalike. Actually, more like John Legend Improved. Too bad you didn’t rack your weights that time you dragged them halfway across the gym to do your fancy ab-roller exercises.
- Supremely Fit and Beautiful Woman. I almost gave up and walked out when I saw how much weight you can squat. I was embarrassed for a moment, then I got over it. You have huge, beautiful leg muscles. You are strong. You are an inspiration!
- The Outside Trainer and His Trainee. Sometimes I wish I had asked you to train me because your client was actually more fit than you are. You discreetly worked out alongside your client so as not to give the impression that you were not an officially employed trainer. But I spent enough time on the cardio deck to figure you out, mister.
- The Passerby. One morning I walked out of the gym in my moment of post-workout bliss, and you walked through the front door at just about the same moment. After this happened about 4 days in a row, it was awkward not to say hello. After a while, we were buds. I really enjoyed our exchanged “Good Mornings.” Thank you!
My list goes on, but I’ll spare you the rest.
Sometimes I drag out my showers after I work out, not wanting to face the work day. (I know it’s a waste of a precious resource, and for that I’m ashamed. But c’mon, that commercial strength water pressure is unbeatable.) Today I just reflected on all the goodness that place and those people have brought into my life. I knew that getting out of the shower took me closer to walking out that front door for the last time.
It’s odd to realize that I was mourning my gym-going experience. I’ve experienced my share of true loss and real grief in my short life. But this is something I’m mourning in an enlightened, mature kind of way. A real gratitude that I’ve grown from. An impression has been made.
This is huge for me, and I’m excited to build new relationships and become part of the fabric of a new gym group. It will be a unique situation because I’m planning to join the campus recreation center. Instead of walking out the doors and never seeing those people again until early the next morning, I may find myself sitting across a conference table from her hours later in a meeting, or elbowing him at the salad bar in the cafeteria (because you know I can’t wait to hit that place up again). It’s the potential for a richer experience and an opportunity for me to be a good friend, or mini-friend, or just a good acquaintance, and smile more. It’s good to smile.
Do you exercise in the mornings?
Who is your favorite gym character?