By Tamara Shoemaker
Don’t you just love the whole atmosphere of a gym? Cardio, fitness, ambition blazing in the sweat-soaked faces of hard-core people bound and determined to burn at least 500 calories in the space of 20 minutes?
I like watching the joggers. Lithe, smooth, graceful. Kind of like gazelles. They push off from one foot, the opposing leg stretching forward in a smooth arc, landing in a light roll from the heel to the toe. Repeat as needed.
I wish I looked like that when I run. A graceful doe bounding at the head of the pack.
I’m more like the T-Rex, lumbering along at the rear. Thud THUD, Thud THUD. Thud THUD. Clear the track! Ponderous heavyweight coming through!
I certainly don’t resemble the majority of gym-enthusiasts who frequent the fitness facilities, muscle tone oozing from every pore of their bodies. “Tone” in my book runs more along the lines of a spot-on musical note. But that’s beside the point.
The point is, I am bound and determined to succeed at health.
But I don’t eat salad every day. Protein smoothies do not constitute a major portion of my life. I even sneak a brownie into the closet now and then out of view of my kids’ prying eyes and attack it like a starving animal.
However, in my slow, determined, lumbering way, I drag myself to the gym (or the track or the street, or to the front of the TV for an aerobics routine) and doggedly burn away those calories.
When the mental fatigue hits (usually about a mile into my run), I think, I can’t do this anymore. My feet plod slower and slower in front of me as I heft my weight from one foot to the other, to the first one, to the second one. Just. One. More. Lap. I. Can. Do. It. No. I. Can’t.
Enter the good guy. The Encourager.
I like to call him that. He’s a regular at the gym at which I often run. He’s always there, pink cheeks glowing from exercise. He wanders around the weight machines, nodding to one person or another, always giving a word of encouragement. “Great job!” “Five more reps, you can do it!”
He usually comes out of the weight room about the same time I’m rounding the curve of the track to cross the mile-marker. My mind has shut down. All I can think of is taking the next step. And the next. And the next. My lungs are burning, oxygen is short, and I won’t be able to sustain even that much effort very long.
Then the grin crosses his face like lightning, shooting a bolt of new energy into my tired muscles. “You’re doing great!” he says. “Keep it up!”
And suddenly, I find I can do one more lap. Sure, why not? What’s a little fatigue when it’s all said and done anyway?
I’ve often watched the other people at the gym, most of them petite, fit and and obviously in better shape than I am. I wonder what they think of me, trotting around the track at a snail’s pace, gasping for air like I’ve just swallowed a gallon of sea-water. I think to myself that I’m doing pretty well, with three young kids at home, a side-career as a writer vegetating in front of a computer, carving out a few extra minutes to get some cardio in. But that pep talk doesn’t even cut it in the throes of fatigue.
What does cut it is that one encouraging word. That extra smile that boosts me for another lap. The smile that says, “We’re all in this together; it doesn’t matter what your body build is or the amount of sweat you drop in a 20-minute period of time.”
So when you hear the tell-tale thunder of Jurassic Park behind you on the track, think about how that person may be watching you with a little admiration, even a little envy, and throw a smile their way.
We can’t all be gazelles.
Tamara Shoemaker is the author of several books, including “Broken Crowns,” “Pretty Little Maids” and the recently released “Ashes, Ashes.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, Tim, and their three children.