Last weekend, I unwittingly attended an orgy.
How else do you describe an over-the-top experience, where all around you, bodies are slick with sweat from pulsing, pushing, thronging, muscles firing in every direction, vibrating off of the pulsing, pushing, thronging bodies to the left and to the right of you? After a brain crunching burst of endorphins, the action slows, but only briefly. Just long enough to get the juices flowing again for another round.
My mother reads this blog, so of course the orgy in question was all athletic in nature. Literally, athletic in nature — our group hiked, mountain biked, swam, tubed, power walked, and generally worked our asses off. It was as if someone spiked the cocktails with Red Bull and Mountain Dew, the breakfast drink of champions. (Just ask Lance Armstrong — oh, if it were only that simple, Lance!)
Of course I had to snap a pic of myself at the top of Castle Rock, surrounded by a crest of mountains and a bright blue bead of lake far below me, and throw it up on Facebook for the ultimate bragging rights. Almost immediately, one of my BBFs from high school daze commented, “who the hell knew you had the outdoors in you?! I love it!”
Lemme tell ya, if someone had told my teenage self that someday I’d be pushing myself to the brink of total physical exhaustion FOR FUN, I’d end up in traction… from laughing too hard.
As a kid, I wasn’t the team sport type. I wasn’t the any sport type, actually. And that was fine — growing up in the Boston area meant about two weeks total when it wasn’t raining, snowing, or so muddy you’d get your cleats stuck in the ground and fall over. Add in my family fear of precipitation, and we all agreed it was safer to stay inside, exercising our ocular muscles and reading a book.
It wasn’t like working out was an obsession then as it is now. The first gym that opened in my town was a ladies-only joint called Gloria Stevens Exercise Salon. My mom was an early adapter; she’d head over there in a black leotard, black tights, and white Keds, and spend a half hour or so on the “circuit,” gabbing with the other women in a dank room that smelled of Aquanet and stale cigarettes. Considering the fact that my favorite “action” heroines at the time were Stefanie Powers as Jennifer Hart on Hart to Hart and Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan on Charlie’s Angels, I knew that even if I had to run away from a bad guy, I’d only be expected to go as fast as a smart turtleneck, crisp white slacks, and a pair of patent leather heels would allow.
I finally joined the girl’s field hockey team my sophomore year of high school, not because I was interested in playing a game or being healthy, but because I need to diversify my extracurricular to get into college. I opted to be goalie, mainly because I didn’t have to run during the game, and I was covered head to toe in protective covering so when the tiny hard ball was lobbed at me, I had an Iron Man-esque limb to bat it away with.
Saying I sucked put it mildly. But at least I didn’t have to move much.
I got in shape for a few years post-college, when the biological drive to attract a mate (or at least finally lose that freshman fifteen-ish) flipped into high gear. Still, it was an inside only, no-more-than-an-hour-tops situation. The circuit I trained on was a more masculine version of the Gloria Stevens brand; in place of the Aquanet and stale cigs smell was the early 1990s gym-rat scent du jour: guy sweat and feet. Still, my three times weekly commitment to working out was enough to keep me reasonably healthy through my twenties and early thirties. Then came pregnancy and the relief of being told not to push too hard. Pre- and post-natal yoga brought my pulse down and became my workout beard. I dressed the part in my stretchy pants and oversized sweatshirt, but I was too busy cocooning and nesting and eating ice cream by the pint to actually break a sweat.
Today, my life-long commitment to sedentary living has ground to a halt, thanks to good old-fashioned peer pressure, not to mention middle-age spread. All around me, my friends are doing extraordinary things — marathons, triathlons, mud runs, extreme hikes, and bike races. Even my mom does Zumba — take that, Gloria Stevens!
I couldn’t put my finger on the exact motivation to say, hike the Grand Canyon (which I did, in & out in a day, a little over a year ago), until I saw Jamie Lee Curtis on the Today Show. She was plugging her tenth and latest children’s book, My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs, and High Fives. In the interview, she talked about how in doing press for this new book about children overcoming their fears, she was asked by a women’s magazine to pick a fear she has, face it, and then write about it
What could an award-winning actress and NY Times bestselling author possibly be afraid of?
Turns out, Jamie Lee and I have more than just nice racks in common — she picked my most reviled physical activity, which is running. Jamie Lee had never even run a mile, and now at her advancing age, she was worried she’d look foolish. To overcome this fear, she signed up for a 5K, trained for it, and ran it. She didn’t talk about record time or anything like that; she was just thrilled to have completed that task.
Physical challenges are the most basic of all challenges. There’s a metaphor in being able to scale a mountain or finish a long race. For me, the older and more painfully aware of my mortality I get, the more I want to lace up my sneakers and run out the door. The beauty of pushing yourself to the limit is that once you’re there, you know that you can always take more.
So if you see me racing by you, my turtleneck and crisp white slacks a blur, just know that I never thought I could be an action heroine, either… until I was one.