Back to where I started . . . sigh


It’s January 2019.
The temperature today with wind chill:  -20F. Tomorrow: even colder and windier.
It is dark at 5:30am.
It is dark at 5:30pm.

I haven’t been to gym since June 2018. Some background: my mother suffered a stroke at the beginning of 2017 and had gotten progressively worse from there on. Her situation intensified in June 2018 and she passed away in August 2018. But this blog is about exercise, or rather the lack of it, so in order not to elaborate on a story that I could write a book about, suffice it to say that my exercise routine went away, again.  

Did I use my mother’s condition as an excuse not to go to gym? I don’t know.

Now it’s January 2019. I find myself in the same spot, exercise wise, as exactly one year ago. It seems that I had stopped going to gym in the summer of 2017 and resumed in January 2018. Is this a pattern?

It could be a pattern. Gym starts at 5:30am. When I say “gym”, I mean an intensive, Bootcamp style class. As fall progresses into winter, it gets darker and darker in the morning, until it’s pitch dark. I live in a townhouse development and I feel uneasy walking to my car in the dark through my courtyard while everyone sleeps. All windows are dark, not one light is on. The dark and cold seems to interrupt my exercise routine – it seems to be a regular cycle.

What is the alternative? I could do Bootcamp after work at my private gym, and could swim at the YMCA or just do mild exercise at the Y. I did that a few times, but by the time I get out of work it’s dark again. The dark definitely has a discouraging effect on me – all I want to do is be home. I don’t really mind the cold. I mind the dark. So… in as much as I hate to admit it to myself, I am probably going to wait for the days to get lighter before I resume my regular Bootcamp routine. In the meantime, I know that I am wasting my membership, which is paid by my super-generous daughter. That is a regret. She refuses to cancel my membership hoping that I will show up at gym. I feel so guilty but still, I can’t bring myself to get out into the cold dark morning.

But… I really need to get to the YMCA after work until I resume Bootcamp. I am now getting out of breath just walking, or climbing stairs. I know that I need to move. I guess this blog post is to talk myself into moving.



I am the yo-yo gym member type – I go for a year or two all out with exercise and healthy diet, vitamins, read fitness websites, scrutinize ingredients, lecture people on the merits of exercise and diet, etc….. then, for some mysterious reason I start slacking off until I stop all-together, and I don’t move for another few months, or sometimes even a year or two. Luckily, I do have a switch that tells me enough is enough, so I don’t let myself go ridiculously out of shape, although it’s ridiculous that I do this yo-yo thing.

I did boot camp up until the summer of 2017, then fell off the wagon. This is in spite of my expensive membership being paid up for the year by my insanely generous daughter, because she insists that I exercise. Terrible way to repay her generosity and love, I know. Well, the switch went off just a few days ago. Actually I saw it turn on but ignored it for a while until a few days ago.

Out of shape. Low endurance, overweight by at least 20 lbs (and that’s being kind to myself). Joints in my feet, ankles, hands and fingers have been getting progressively worse since this summer during my inactivity. In addition to not moving, (I sit at the desk at work 8 hours straight) I have been drinking lattes with sugar and eating pastry for breakfast, often loads of pasta for dinner, even visited the fast food joints for something greasy and salty several times. Christmas was a gastronomical disaster with all the cookies and cakes and what not. So here I am once again.

I don’t know if this will redeem me, probably not, but my reason for not doing boot camp this time around is my mother. She had a stroke in February 2017 which left her incapacitated (a whole other story), and I put it into my head that if I exert myself I might suffer a similar fate. People thought it was laughable but to me it wasn’t… so I just stopped exerting myself and ate. Makes perfect sense, right? 🙂

The New Year arrived, and there was no way out of it. Someone in the fitness industry told me that if I don’t exert myself, THEN(!) I could follow my mother’s fate – something I needed to hear. Also, my daughter who works out in the same gym has been pushing me for months to come back. So with all this nudging I ran out of procrastination. On January 7th, 2018 I had a healthy dinner of salmon, quinoa, broccoli and blueberries and went to bed early, pretty scared about the next morning. On January 8th, 2018 my alarm woke me at 4:45am and I stayed in bed till almost 5am, trying to psych myself up for my re-entry into the boot camp world.

Well, once again, I was amazed that I lasted through 4 circuits of 3 rounds each, and didn’t gasp for air, nor did I turn purple. I got several welcome back hugs, and all was back to normal again. One saving grace about being an on and off gym member all my life is muscle memory. I have to remind myself next time (hoping there won’t be a next time) that restarting is not so bad because the muscles remember. I thought it would be easy breezy from there on since I survived the first day, but then the following happened.

The challenge:
The gym was starting a 6 week health challenge and I immediately joined the group. To join the challenge costs $100 but they give it back if I reach my 3 week goal. (Actually my daughter gets it back, because once again, she insited on paying to make sure I do this). I got weighed and set my 3 week goal to loose 10 lbs. I was given a low carb diet for the first week based on a list of foods in each food group. Today is Day 4 on this diet and this is so far the worst day. I feel drained, but was told that it is to be expected. This diet is to change the way my body gets its energy, which I won’t go into here. I found it necessary to cheat just a little bit by eating 1/2 slice of gluten free bread, and two teaspoons of peanut butter, otherwise I felt like I was going to pass out at work. I have to plan my meals better. So it’s a rough start, but I am doing, and the huge sign on the gym’s chalkboard, “YOU CAN, END OF STORY” – keeps me motivated. I lost 2 lbs in 2 days, 1.3 lbs to go this week if I am to get the 100 bucks back for my daughter.

By the way, ever since I started back again, and the diet, my joints dont’ hurt. I feel them, but they don’t hurt hurt. I can even do pushups which I thought I wouldn’t be able to due to the bad wrist pain. Hoping for the best going forward.


Boot Camp at 5:30am

Some of those born in the early ’50s will understand when I say that getting out of bed at 5am (or at any time but especially at 5am) to inflict pain on oneself at the gym is sometimes a monumental exercise of will power.

I developed RA (I think it’s RA because my mother has it, and I have identical symptoms, even though the tests come back negative, so far) in my hands, wrists, toes and ankles. The swelling and the intensity of pain go up and down but never vanish completely. It doesn’t help that I am at the keyboard all day at work. Yes, I still work because I believe that one should postpone retirement as long as possible, but that is a topic of another post. So back to boot camp. For instance, this morning. When the alarm rang at 4:55am and then again at 5:00am, I did an inspection – I closed and opened my fist…. ouch! I rotated my trouble maker right wrist, it felt like it was broken, no way to make a full rotation. I wiggled my toes… another “ouch” foreshadowed what was about to come! Every inch of my body screamed, ‘stay in bed, you can’t do this today!’ But as most days (not all), I swung my feet over the side of the bed, while the voice in my head protested vehemently, and I braced for pain in my toes as I was about to stand up. A quick hobble to the bathroom to throw some water on my face, brush my teeth, then put on my gym gear, in slow motion because it’s hard to get the tight leggings and sports bra on when every move of the wrist and fingers hurts.

I have 15 minutes from the time I slide down from my bed till I sit in the car. In spite of wondering if I can do it, there is no time to give that thought more consideration, because boot camp starts promptly at 5:30am. Since I am out of bed, obviously I decided to go, so no use in engaging in negative thoughts. I’m going anyway, so there.

It’s a boot camp style group exercise class. Two of the instructors are former military drill sergeants and though they are kind (ish) they push hard. No, it is not a class for seniors. I am there with people spanning all age decades starting with the 20 somethings. We do push ups, burpees, spider man stretches, weighted lunges, sumo squats, lift weights, ankle jacks, we do calisthenics on stability balls, we do the ropes, you name it we do it. Today, just when we thought we we done, sweat dripping, we were told to do a 3 minute plank.

But, what about the pain you might be asking. Yeah, well, I wear weight lifter gloves, and sometimes a wrist brace, both of which help cushion the hands and wrist, or at least psychologically they create the illusion that they are helping. I don’t know how it works physiologically, but a few minutes into the class, and I am so busy focusing on what I am asked to do that I forget the pain. The music is loud, nasty, rhythmic, the instructors keep barking, ‘keep it up!’, ‘don’t stop’, ‘7 seconds to go!’, people around me grunting but pushing hard, and somehow I get through. Sometimes, when I see a person half my age struggle with sit-ups, I feel a secret satisfaction when I do them faster. I modify some of the exercises, like jump squats, because I can’t do impact due to a former knee injury.

By the time I get home, I feel energized, accomplished, and so so glad that I ignored the voice that urged me to stay in bed, and that I didn’t give in to the dread of  ‘what if I can’t do it today’.  And I am always amazed at how my body can change in an hour. So the reply to the voice in my head at 5:00am should always be, ‘maybe you won’t be able to do all you want to do today, but GO, find your limits!’

Testing the little engine IF it could


This is the story of my first steps toward my physical and mental transformation, which turned my life long beliefs about what I could and could not do upside down.

While growing up I could never run without having a pain in my side, never had much of a stamina for endurance sports, and even though I was on a swim team in elementary school, I wasn’t able to swim more than a few laps without having to stop to catch my breath, and  eventually I was told by the coach that I was not strong enough for the swim team. I was examined by pediatric cardiologists who couldn’t detect anything more than a heart murmur, but I carried that as a badge of honor against any demands for physical exertion: ‘I have a heart murmor, so that’s why I can’t do it, and I’m proud of it!’ My teenage  years were devoted to school and to practicing piano for my audition to the music conservatory, therefore most of my teenage years were sedentary.

In my 20s, after being  married a few years and having 2 kids, I joined a gym with a friend and we began to walk 3  miles every morning, rain or shine. To be honest, we more strolled and talked than walked.  We once walked 8 miles to a nearby town where we rewarded ourselved by buying a couple of  Italian breads fresh out of the oven, and eating them on the bus which we took back. Going to the gym did make me feel stronger, but still, we didn’t truly push ourselves, as there was not a lot of sweat involved.

Then came a phase in my late 30s when I stopped the morning walks  with my friend, after which I alternated between periods of exercise and no exercise at all.  I was a cyclic gym rat who knew the equpement but never really pushed too hard.

My 40s were not good to me. I was not in a good space either physically nor mentally. I gained a lot of weight. In my mid 40s, at  5ft 6in I was upward of 200lbs and gaining. I will never forget the shocked look on my daughter’s face one morning when she looked at me sideways. I was now size 16.

My transformation began to take shape shortly after I turned 50. By then I lost a lot of that weight (which is a whole other topic for another time), but things did not change in earnest until I was 56 years old. While sitting at the lake’s  edge one beautiful spring day, I watched the crews practice. In fact I watched their  practices for years while eating my lunch, as my work was within walking distance of the  lake’s edge, but it never crossed my mind that rowing would ever have anything to do with me.  After all, I still couldn’t run a short distance, or climb a flight of stairs without getting  out of breath, and I never did aerobics in the gym for the fear of getting a heart attack  because during the few times I tried it, my face turned purple and I gasped for air at which point the instructors looked at me in alarm and told me to sit down. And I still had the heart murmor, though none of my doctors thought it was anything to be overly concerned about. That was the physical condition I believed I was in, and identified myself with, on that  beautiful spring day. I still remember a quiet little question mark that fluttered by and startled me as I watched the crews: “Why are you just watching?”

Pondering that question, I looked at the lake for a while, then slowly walked back to my office feeling perplexed. As if obeying some direct order, I looked up the crew club’s website and there I found an announcement about their “Learn to Row” program which was to start in early fall. And I instinctively knew that I arrived at a new chapter. There were no questions in my mind any more. I was going to stop watching the crews practice.  I was going to become one of them! Me, little Ms. Out-of-breath, I was going to row, and I was going to kick my butt till I found my limits! But at least I would find those limits on the water, and not by sitting at the shore wondering IF my little engine could. I bailed out many times, but not this time.

To be continued…

Perspectives over time


There was a time when everything seemed to be very important. I used to feel my insides twist and my stomach tighten like a rock over things which today I view with acceptance. I used to be intolerant and opinionated, judgmental. I used to argue in order to win, no matter what. Today? I listen. I try to truly understand the other person’s point of view and I try not to judge.

On my 60th birthday I became very ill after taking a massive dose of antibiotics prescribed for sinusitis. Suffice it to say that there were many moments when I felt that I was going to die. Obviously, I didn’t die, but during the course of my one year recovery period I changed.

In 2007 I took a course at the Juilliard with David Dubal. It was a fascinating class on music appreciation where he analyzed various pieces of music, and talked about composers. One of his stories involved his conversations with Vladimir Horowitz. What stuck with me to this day was what Horowitz revealed to Dubal as his firm belief. He told him that everyone should find their “life and death”. That one passion, without which life is not complete. Doesn’t matter what it is. Making music, being a plumber, a sport, whatever. Find your “life and death”. Hmm… I thought… what fruit for thought…

In hind sight, all those things that used to tie me up in knots were my then “life and death” situations, worth putting up a fight for, or so I thought. And I had a myriad of those situations. Of course at that time I didn’t know that most things we get upset about are not really all THAT important. That they are not at all “life and death” situations.

Now, when the little ones get yelled at by their parents for not turning in their homework in time, or for a C on their report card, I mean it when I say to them that, “nothing is ‘life and death’, unless it’s life and death”.

How perspectives change over time.