I don’t know how much time is left in my workout. The clock at Deer Meadow Primary School hugs the far wall, the hands obscured by the reflective glare of the florescent lights above it. Further shielded by the latticework of steel protecting it from very errant three-pointers. Totally blurred by my unaided eyesight. Despite its refusal to share its secret, the clock still holds my attention. It’s a buoy in the choppy waters of a dark bay, reminding me that…eventually…all of this will end.
It’s an end that can’t come soon enough. Below me the hot-pink rubber mat showcases my sweat splatters like some Jackson Pollock masterwork, cast by the strokes of strained squat-jumps and lumbering burpees. When we started promptly at 3:45, straggling late-comers still setting up their stations, I was bouncing on my toes. The warm up moves were anti-toxins coursing through me after another long day confined to my classroom. As it turns out, a little bit of movement prompts a huge release of endorphins, and if my body could sustain it, I’d do it all day and live off of the high. I can’t sustain it, however. But my workout instructor…my fiancée…my Wendi…my #nastywoman…
She can. And she does.
She turned to exercise years ago as a coping mechanism during a painful divorce. When we started dating about a year after that, she was already a machine. Our first round of workouts went down in her basement, in front of one of those old big-screen projection TVs the size of four file cabinets. Working in tandem to the moves of Tony Horton, we P-90X’ed ourselves for the better part of three months. I loved Horton’s one-liners, his contagious grin, and infectious optimism. Tip of the day: Don’t smash your face!
After graduating from Horton, Wendi “enrolled” me in Shawn T’s Insanity program, which lived up to its name. Suddenly my Hortonesque world of “you can do anything for 30 seconds” was traded for a 40-minute spasm of mummy-kicks, mountain-climbers, and ski-downs. While Wendi clipped right along, holding excellent form, my routine always followed the same regressive pattern: crisp moves at the beginning of the video, some sloppy form halfway through, sprawled over the mat like a slug at the end.
Eventually, hungry to push at her level, she started to run her own sessions. And now, a year later, Wendi and I are in different spots. After months of boot-camp and station workouts—often running back-to-back sessions two or three times a week—Wendi is a chiseled work of art. And as for me…? After roughly two years of beer-bottle curls and “Cheez-it” dips, I am second-grade watercolor. I often wonder how it was I fell off the workout wagon, but the only answer that works is an uncomfortable one: I didn’t enjoy the fatigue. But Wendi, energized physically and emotionally by the freedom of creating her own sessions, plowed onward.
So at night I watch her work through her iPad, poring over dozens of workout YouTubes, carefully jotting notes. To a layman like me, it looks like all she’s doing is watching different sets of plank-kicks and picking “cool ones” for the rest of us to do. But I realize now there’s a lot more going on than that. She’s sorting out an entire hour-long program. Balancing high-impact moves with low-resistance breathers with core-building weight training. When she’s figured all of that out, she turns to the music. Again, it seems random. Pick some songs, throw them in. But in reality she’s scouting the tunes. She listens to some upbeat, funky, rappish thing I’ve never heard and compares it to a popped-up modernization of Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” As she listens, she sometimes moves her arm in a repeated uppercut. Today, after twelve months building her repertoire she can assemble a workout in the time it takes to watch an episode of Workaholics. But I still remember the hours she originally spent setting up those first sessions.
Lately I’ve started going back to those workouts. About six months ago I had committed myself to taking advantage of my own, personal Tony Horton and using her to get into shape. But about a month later, I told her that I was sure I could get a better workout on a golf-cart instead. Inhaling a cigar does work the abs, after all. And the beer comes in bigger cans these days, putting more resistance on those curls. For most of the summer, I stayed away, but now the summer is over. My golf game remains a disaster, and my cigar abs still foldeth over. So back to the gym I go.
Wendi calls the move “Thread the Needle.” I call it “sonofabitch…!” with a soft, breathy, defeated sigh.
The first thing you realize in one of Wendi’s sessions is that the moves seem easy, but as you get tired even simple moves become hard. And Wendi can do them all. Lay on your side, lift your body up and support it with your elbow. Torque your other arm around your abdomen repeatedly for a minute. Wendi calls the move “Thread the Needle.” I call it “sonofabitch…!” with a soft, breathy, defeated sigh.
The move begins, and she’s on her mat, in the front of the gym, a couple dozen grimacing eyes craning out of form for a peek at her. At every moment, somebody’s watching her, and she can’t slack off. I’m in the back corner—I always set up in the back corner—and I’m sneaking every break I can get. While the music beats on, while Wendi rolls her weight from a fully outstretched arm to that full turn under her body, I’m lazily flailing my own dumbbell just above my shoulder, then half-curving beneath me before laying myself down. Prostrate, I massage my aching shoulder. I figure a set of five reps has to be pretty good, but then I peek. Wendi is still going…and she’s added some sort of leg-kick which I swear to God requires double-jointed knees.
Last week I went twice, politely begged out a couple other times, and flat out said “Hell no” on one other occasion. This week I only went once. Everything else was a whimper. I can keep begging off. I can continue to procrastinate. But soon the cold fronts will descend, and the snows will fall. It’s a recipe for more beer, more processed food, and more weight. I’m already 11 pounds too heavy…okay…that’s an exaggeration…it’s actually 11.5 pounds. But as popular as “dad bods” seem to be, the truth is I don’t want one.
I want to be like my #nastywoman, not just because she’s in great shape and looks amazing (she is and she does), but because she spends every day working an impossibly difficult job then puts herself on that mat in front of a room full of people. If anyone has earned the right to say, “I’m done,” it’s her. But she doesn’t quit. She never will. There are people in life who talk about making things happen, and there are people who get up and actually make things happen. The best thing about my fiancée isn’t that she’s someone who makes me feel good about myself, it’s that she makes me see the person I want to be. And that person is her. My booty-kicking #nastywoman.