Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fit is the new beautiful

It didn’t begin with a single step, it began with 26; the 26 steps that make up the flight of stairs in my office building. Just over 3 years ago I climbed those 26 steps and was out of breath before making it to the second floor. I then marched to the ladies room, locked myself in a stall, and started to cry. Sitting on the toilet and sobbing into cheap, scratchy butt wipe, I mourned previous versions of me who could run miles, skate marathons, and swim for days. I was fat and out of shape... again. It had been years since I liked what my body looked like, but this moment was worse than any dressing-room mirror horror show. It was one thing not to like the looks of my body, but devastating realizing my body couldn’t make it up a set of stairs. 32 year olds with two healthy legs shouldn’t struggle with climbing a lousy 26 steps and I made it my mission to climb those stairs without struggle by my 33rd birthday.

I had sworn off diets; they don’t work. Sure, I lost 40, 50, 60 pounds in the past on diets people swear by, but I always gained the weight back. I vowed to start eating better but focus primarily on exercise as a means to get my stamina back. If I didn’t lose a pound with this plan so be it, this wasn’t about fitting into a smaller size it was to avoid becoming a person who takes the elevator one floor.

At first I did one aerobics class a week; it was all my body could take. As I sucked on an inhaler and downed a gallon of water I would stand in awe of people who went to the gym every day and was in awe of people who did more than one class a day. There were a few people I actually considered admitting to a mental institution because they worked out two hours a day and appeared to enjoy it. Rather than get intimidated by the most in shape people I’ve ever met I reminded myself that I wasn’t looking to win an Olympic medal in aerobics, I just wanted to climb a freaken flight of stairs and not sound like a breathy sex line operator.

Within a couple of months I was going to the gym two days a week, then three, then four. On my 33rd birthday I could do the stairs at work, not with total ease but no one was reaching for the portable defibrillator when I finally made it to my cube. Upon the advice of some friends and trainers I added spin to my routine. I hated every torturous minute I suffered upon that little bike but could tell after a few weeks how my lung capacity had grown. After nearly a year I was spinning twice a week, and on some days when the moon and sun align perfectly I can get through class without feeling like I’m going to die.

This past Sunday I completed my first two-hour spin class at my gym, The Firm in Minneapolis. Those who have spun will appreciate the intensity of 2 hours atop a spin bike, especially at a super high-charged gym with top notch instructors. I stepped into the spin studio with fear and trepidation; I didn’t think I could do it, but I was going to try. I won’t lie, it was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever put my body through and I’ve put this body through a lot. My legs burned, my lungs ached, and my body was drenched in sweat. At the 1 hour and 45 minute mark, hunched over the bike with my muscles screaming mercy, I realized it had been just over three years since I took the first 26 steps to this point. It was 3 years since I sat crying in the ladies bathroom at work because I struggled with a flight of stairs and now I was 15 minutes away from finishing an insane two hour workout. I started to cry, but this time with a smile on my face.

Today, my body can skate, bike, skip, swim, walk, trapeze, rock climb, carry heavy stuff, and even run up those damn steps at work. Losing weight was a nice side-benefit of gaining strength and endurance. My body image and self-esteem has never been better. Don’t get me wrong, I still have days where I obsess over a number on the scale and bad-mouth my thighs; it’s hard not to be critical of ourselves in a world that bombards us with the message that thin is beautiful. The message we need to hear is that beautiful bodies aren’t necessarily the ones that fit in a certain size or grace magazine covers in bikinis, beautiful bodies are strong and healthy enough to take you where you want to go (even if you just want to go up the stairs).


Penelope Austin said...

I love this outlook Michelle, it is very inspirational.

You've come a long way baby! Great job, you should be proud.

Kourt from MWC said...

Beautifully said.
It is taking me a minute to get over my gym envy (yours sounds wonderful) enough to be able to type coherently. The only gym around here is basically geriatric but I have made some wonderful old man friends... and I never have to wait for the stair climber.
Congratulations on your achievements!!

Colleen said...

Congratulations!!! What a truly amazing accomplishment. You have so much to celebrate!

Nursedude said...

Good on ya, Chelle!