Try convincing someone who isn't an exerciser that they might someday like exercise. It's impossible. I spend a lot of time trying to do this and I'm never successful at it. You can almost see the eyes losing focus, the ears shutting you out and the brain stubbornly resisting. "Stop talking! There's just no way I'll ever like to sweat".
But the funny thing is that I started out as difficult and resistant as the patients I try to convert.
Until the age of 38, I had barely exercised. In the prehistoric days of my youth (otherwise known as the 50s and 60s) there were plenty of outdoor evenings of handball, boxball and running bases, but no formalized exercise. Our gym classes consisted of playing weak little games of dodge ball or occasionally skipping rope or doing some vague calisthenics. By the time a girl turned 13, it was all about lipstick, teased hair and boys. We tried to get out of gym whenever possible, citing our "monthly excuse"---often multiple times per month.
Exercise was not a very girlie thing, so most of us stopped doing it. I knew a couple of girls who were cheerleaders, but not a one who played a sport. There were a few guys who bought weights and books from a guy named Charles Atlas. Atlas was a body builder who was featured on the back of comic books like Archie and Superman. He promised to turn pre-pubescent boys from 93 pound weaklings into iron men. But there was no such inspiration for females.
Thus, I entered adulthood without ever picking up a raquet and barely having thrown a ball. I had never run more than a few steps in a row. However, a future ability to become addicted to exercise might have been foreshadowed during high school. For a couple of years, I had a brief but intense love affair with roller skating, not the street kind but the kind you do in an indoor rink. It was not enough exercise to cause sweating, but it did turn into a major league addiction, complete with rectangular skate case, gorgeous white skates with wood wheels, and a crush on one of the guards who kept everyone skating in the right direction.
Fast forward to 1986. By now, exercise for women had become quite the thing. In 1982, Jane Fonda had released her work out video and millions of women had dutifully donned tights and leg warmers (still can't figure out why you needed them). I had thus far resisted physical activity, until one day, while walking down a street in White Plains, New York, I heard an incredibly raucous and totally intriguing sound. It was an aerobics class being taught in a studio upstairs by a woman named Patti Scott. The music was loud, infectious, contemporary. Above it all, you could hear Patti: yelling, laughing, whipping everyone into a frenzy. I got up the guts to climb the dark, steep staircase that led to Patti's studio and bought a card full of classes. I could barely get through the first month of them and was completely intimidated by "the regulars" who stood in the front and seemed to have superhuman stamina. But Patti was so much fun and the music was so great that I just kept going and before I knew it I was truly hooked. I got better. I became a regular myself. It was better than the white skates.
In the 25 years that have passed, I have learned that I won't enjoy exercise unless I find something that approximates the Patti experience. It's not easy to find. I had it for awhile with two aerobics phenoms named Tammi and Joni in Cleveland, and then again when I lucked into Joe, my exercise guru for over ten years. Each of them was able to create that intensely fun dance party, peppered with off-color jokes, personal vignettes, and that intangible quality: joy.
But in all this time, nothing has compared to working out in the Bahamas. Our family has been vacationing here for years. Our kids have grown up here. I love, love, love exercising here. And it's in the Bahamas that I happen to be at the moment.
I started working out here in the gym at the hotel next door to the place we stayed. It turned out to be a gym that was frequented not by guests, but by locals. At 6:30 pm, after work, the aerobics room would fill up with a variety of Bahamians. Many came in tailored suits and business dresses and changed into their work out clothes. The Caribbean accents were so thick in that room that you might have just as well been listening to bird song. It was just as lovely to hear.
As we waited for our instructor, we paced or sat on low benches that lined the room. The entire back wall was made of one way glass. We could see out, but outsiders could not see in. The room sat on the ground floor and looked out onto a view of palm trees, evening sky and turquoise ocean. Hotel guests strolled by, oblivious to the crowd of exercisers who thronged onto the worn wooden floor, stretching, chattering and jogging in place. Eventually, and always at least 10 minutes late, our instructor Dale would show up. Because nothing in the Bahamas works the way it should, something was always broken: the stereo wouldn't work, the speakers were blown out, the microphone had no battery. Somehow it always got patched up and the class would finally start.
Night was falling by then and some fabulous, incredibly joyful music would suddenly fill the room. It might be soca (caribbean dance music), latin, funk, or even oldies rock. Whatever it was, the crowd of people became one team of dancers, because exercise here is dance...pure and simple. There would be shouting, yelling, hooting and an intensity of effort I had never seen before. And all in the name of joy. At the end of the class, when everyone was completely out of gas, Dale would put on plain old dance music and we'd just dance, all together, like a huge, synchronized party..feeding off an incredible wave of happiness.
That original hotel was bought out some years ago and the gym closed. I followed Dale to a local work out studio, and then to another one. I also discovered Michael, another great instructor, and more recently, Jeff. Each one of them loves that dancey-aerobics high and pulls you right along. But the real credit belongs to the wonderful people of the Bahamas who fill every class and suffuse each with such amazing energy, musicality and (yes) joyfulness.
Tonight, 20 years or so after discovering Dale, I returned from a high impact class he taught at the local Bally's. I don't believe he looks a day older than he did in 1990. Neither do alot of the people who were in that room, people I've been working out with for all that time. When I drove back to our place, I could barely get out the car and I couldn't stop smiling.
How do you tell someone who has never exercised about that?