Going to the YMCA

Skinny people will never know how hard it is for a fat chick to walk into a gym for the first time. It’s like being dropped  at a train station in a foreign country- you don’t speak the language or have any friends.

Just so I couldn’t change my mind, I even put it on my calendar.  Between 9:30 and 11:oo, I was going to the gym. Other than taking the kids swimming, I haven’t set foot in a gym in 10 years. That’s a travesty of it’s own- but it stops today.

All the planning in the world won’t get you over the hump of walking in that door. And even with all that planning, by the time I got to the door, I was dragging two little kids and had my cell-phone wedged between one shoulder, and my bag on the other, as the nurse at Jeffrey’s school told me he was on the cot in her office complaining of a sore throat. Bean ran one way, Abby the other, and I dropped my phone as the door slammed me in my ample butt. Excellent.

The school-nurse suggested a Jolly Rancher might help Jeff’s throat, and that she would call me if anything changed. We made our way through the line of all the January hopefuls and scanned our little plastic cards as I signed them both into the kids’ zone. They ran off happily, and I went to find the locker room.

Oh. Wow. Lot’s of naked people in here. Not that I mind, I just hadn’t thought of it, and as a totally out of shape mama, getting naked in front of a bunch of people isn’t high on my bucket list. I am glad I wore my yoga pants (what are yoga pants? and why do they sound more glamorous than spandex?) and my new white t-shirt, and only had to throw my bag in a locker and fasten the little clip to my shirt naming me the claimant of two smallish children downstairs.

Okay, deep breath, and I am ready.

I’m going to check the place out and get my bearings. In the large gym area next to the giant rock-climbing wall there are women bouncing all over the place with half-balls stuck to the floor, and some crazy chick yelling with headset mic. Not for me. Not today. There are some lonely stationary bikes, mats and climbing equipment outside the basketball courts. I like the idea of rock climbing. But I know I’m not stuffing my butt in a harness today. That’s a goal to shoot for… in a long time.

Making my way upstairs, I come to a large circular room with windows overlooking the pool on one side and the gym on the other. It looks like a medieval torture room I once saw visiting the Tower of London, and I know I’m not the first one to make that comparison. I have no idea what any of them do, and am frankly self-conscious and a little embarassed, which does not help me want to jump on and get going. I find an information desk and stand waiting for someone to notice me.

This is a lonely place to stand. I am unsure of myself. The doubts and voices in my head get louder the longer I stand there. As a fat girl, I am already invisible most of the time, and here, in my new exercise clothes, in a land where I neither speak nor understand the language, I stand waiting, and the humiliation crawls up my back and starts to burn my shoulders. Someone please notice me.

A woman finally asks what I need. I don’t know. I’m new. I think I need someone to show me what to do. But I don’t know. There is a certain expectation when offering help that the helpee will know what they need. I don’t. I am awkward and mask my fear with wisecracks and bravado. Help me. I am here, and that is more than half the battle, you don’t even know. Tell me what to do, how to start those wicked devices upstairs that will carry me from here to a longer life.

“I’m new and I need a consultation- I am unsure how to use the equipment or where I should even be.” I hope my smile hides the glazing of tears in my eyes.

She sees me. “Come with me. Didn’t anyone give you a tour when you signed up? No? I’m sorry- with all the new people in January it gets hectic.  Let me introduce you to Heather, and she can help.” Oh thank you Lord. I like Heathers.

Heather is older than me,  dressed in a track suit and invites me into her office, and I feel the color come back to my face. I am so afraid. I am so out of my comfort zone. She tells me how to sign up for a personal session- I get two free with my membership- and shows me a list of classes. She offers to walk me around the site and show me how the machines work, how to turn them on and off, and what I might expect from my personal training session.  Yes, yes please… if someone would just tell me what to do, show me where to put my feet, give me a plan, I will conquer my demons and just do it…

She left me on a machine I think is usually for the geriatric crowd, but I needed a success, so I got on that contraption and kept going until my legs were weak and my shoulders were screaming not from humiliation but from fatigue. Take that, voices. Shut up. I don’t have to listen to you anymore. Go away. I’m the boss now.

Making my way downstairs to the locker room, it felt like when I was little and would take off my skates after a day at the rink. Wobbly and numb. Tomorrow I will hurt, I know. But nothing will hurt as much as being invisible. I can do this. I can do hard things. And tomorrow I will be back.

47 thoughts on “Going to the YMCA

  1. Awesome. Running was something I could not do. Period. The thought made me anxious. Until I needed something in my life this year that I could control — and “start running” was about the clearest personal revelation I’ve ever found. It’s changed my life (and mood and confidence about my ability to do hard physical things). I’m not pushing running as “the thing” — but the time I spend exercising is a personal victory, every time. Everything else in a day can suffer, but I can go to bed saying: “Damn. I ran three miles today. I’m strong.”

  2. It IS a personal victory, isn’t it? Because it’s not like a want to do it, but if I make myself do something that’s good for me, that serves me instead of tears me down, I am looking out for me. It’s a win win.

  3. Congratulations on getting there! I hate going to new gyms. The first time I tried to swim at my new gym I couldn’t find the door to the pool from the locker room. I almost gave up and went home I was so frustrated. When I realized that I had to walk through the womens fitness center, with lots of mirrors and skinny chicks, in my bathing suit and towel I wanted to throw up. I managed to get myself to the pool somehow and have enjoyed the workouts I get when I am there.

  4. Just keep going. Because if you miss for more than a week, then that nervousness comes back. And then you won’t want to go, and you won’t go, and when you finally DO go, it’s terrifying all over again.

    I’m proud of you, and happy for you. I was going to go to the gym today for the first time in months, but I woke up with a sore throat. Any excuse is a good one, it seems. But you inspired my lazy butt. I am going tomorrow, sore throat, broken leg, if I have to cross shark infested waters to work out, I will do it, dammit. I am tired of being invisible, I am tired of being afraid of my massiveness.

    If you can do hard things, I can do them too, right?

  5. I know exactly how you feel. I had the same feeling walking into the YMCA 6 weeks after my 3rd c-section and 50 lbs overweight. It takes time and consistency, but you can do it! I have found a wonderful group of friends at my YMCA who are caring, supportive, and surprisingly non-competitive. It’s a good group, and I hope you find some Y buddies too. Hang in there! It’s amazing what endorphins will do for your mood. There have been many days that I have driven white-knuckled to the YMCA after dragging my kids, kicking and screaming into the car. After a hard workout and a shower, I have been able to face the day.

  6. Driving there is the hardest part. Or so I thought, until I got there and realized I didn’t have a clue how anything worked, either. But once youget a trainer to show you, THEN driving there is the hardest part. 🙂

    This could be very crucial to your sanity. Good for you.

  7. You’re amazing. and somehow, exercise pain is easier, because it’s self inflicted, and running more and burning up the lactic acid which (eventually) makes the pain bearable, and eventually go away.

  8. Congratulations! I relied on an elliptical trainer when I first lost my weight (80 lbs). It didn’t make me jiggle or hurt any joints. May I also suggest audio books? In my experience, time with a good book is a great motivator until you get fit enough that the exercise becomes its own reward.

  9. Tomorrow I will be back.

    Oh, that gives me hope. My resolution is to do one thing I don’t want to do every day. Procastination and I are bonded. Today, my one thing was to take a walk.

  10. I think, actually, that anyone who went to Jr. High School feels EXACTLY as bad in spandex in a new gym as you did, no matter what size I, er, I mean, she is…


  11. Suddenly I’m realizing I haven’t been inside a gym in almost 9 years myself. I don’t so much have the weight issues, but my cardiovascular health and flexibility are beyond pathetic.

    Now I have to decide what will motivate me to get over my hump of excuses?

  12. Good for you! And I think it’s great that your YMCA has a place for your kids to go, I would think that makes it a little easier for getting to the Y! Maybe you could get good use out of a punching bag!

  13. Wow. I recognize those feelings. I love the elliptical machine. That darn thing is the only machine in the gym that doesn’t terrify me.

    And the nakedness….I had forgotten about the shock of all the nakedness.

    Keep going, Tracy. We are all here cheering you on.

  14. Congratulations! When I used to run, I would evaluate my progress each day like this:
    half the work done: driving to the track
    three-quarters: putting on my shoes, getting out of the car and stretching
    seven-eighths: running the first lap (1.25 miles)
    fifteen-sixteenths: running the second lap (2.5 miles)
    thirty-one thirty-seconds: running the third lap (3.75 miles)
    and so on.

    The downside is that I was never 100% done. The upside is that I got to congratulate and reward myself for each segment. It really did correspond to the effort I had to put forth to do each part. Sometimes, I would trick myself and tell myself all I had to do was drive there. Then once I was there I would be like oh it won’t hurt you to get out and stretch, hah! Once stretched I’d take a few steps and then soon I’d be running my full training distance. The wonderful thing is that, as for much of life, consistently showing up is most of the battle. I can DO that!

    Now that I have Lupus and my body is so much more delicate, I go occasionally to the pool aerobics, but the same principle applies. You inspire me to figure out a way to go regularly again, even if it’s only once a week. I may even graduate from pool aerobics to yoga!

  15. I love to go to the Y as well. The childcare is good AND mostly old people (or people like me) go there. It is most certianly NOT a “scene”. They also have great classes for the kids. I also love that they have a sliding scale for cost (classes on down). If you have less, you pay less, but everyone gets to belong.

    Good for you. This is where my iPod and books on tape are best friends. I also save my NPR podcasts (free) for this time. It makes the time go by faster…. just keep going. You can do hard things.

  16. I’m so proud of you! I still get intimidated by gyms, even the one I’ve been a member of for almost 4 years. I returned to the gym today as well for the first time in… well…. let’s just say months (but what I really mean is almost a year and a half since the accident). Your post will encourage me to go back to the gym later this week. Go Tracy!

  17. I do the same thing Tatiana does – play mental tricks with myself just to get in the door of the gym. Now it is so entrenched in my routine, and my daughter’s, that it feels weird not to go and she screams if I don’t turn that way after I drop the older kids off at school. I don’t workout every day, 3 days a week, that’s about all I can stand of the smelly gym. If you do it every day it can get old quick. Mix it up with walking outside or shoveling snow or something.

    I’ve been using gyms for over 7 years now. I felt like you when I first went. Now, I see women like you walk in and I want to give you a hug and tell you that you’re awesome for being brave enough to start. Half the battle, as they say. I’m not one of the skinny naked girls you see. I still have saddlebags and never get naked at the gym. I go straight home and shower in the comfort of my own home. That way I don’t have to lug all my stuff to the gym either.

    BTW you’re conquering your fears by posting about it so honestly. You’ve got some cajones girl!

  18. I don’t know you…or, maybe I DO, because I’ve been there, too…and I am BEYOND PROUD of you! You can do it and you are NOT alone! I even work at a YMCA and barely visited the fitness areas for many of the same reasons you’ve so beautifully shared. But now, I do visit…and often…and I love it! I’ve developed deeper, meaningful relationships with fellow “worker outers” I thought I new. Now, we share something even more meaningful: We care about each other and, just as importantly, ourselves. CONRATULATIONS!

  19. Thank you so much for writing this blog, I’ve sent it to all of the Healthy Lifestyles Directors in our YMCA here in Los Angeles. We strive to understand what it’s like for someone coming into the Y for the first time and your blog will help us grow empathy and offer support & encouragement. I especially like what you wrote in one of your response comments, “It IS a personal victory, isn’t it? Because it’s not like a want to do it, but if I make myself do something that’s good for me, that serves me instead of tears me down, I am looking out for me. It’s a win win,” that is such a great way to look at this, well done and good for you!

  20. I work at a YMCA and here is what I post on the exit doors:

    “Doesn’t it feel good to be done?” and “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

  21. YAY!!!!! I work at a YMCA and I am so glad to hear that you got the help from staff when you needed it! I’m totally rooting for you! I hope your time at the YMCA is just as good as your first day!!! 🙂 YAY!!!

  22. oh my gosh, I’m going to the Y tomorrow…my husband just signed up today. I have the same fat girl fears, I’m sooooooo nervous!

  23. Congratulations, Tracy! Believe it or not, skinny yet really out of shape girls get that different-country-train-station feeling too. I’m still in the “I should really do that” phase–you’re WAY ahead of me!!

  24. ¡Muy bueno! Thanks for this post, it is inspiring to so many of us. And thanks to Jeff for posting it on Facebook.
    Renata in Uruguay.

  25. Way to go! It’s the first day and becoming “visible” that’s the hardest! The YMCA is full of giving and caring people who truly want to help. I started as a member and am now a full-time Director. Embrace the journey. It’s more than a workout…the Y is a way of life. Blessings.

  26. You can do it! I did this year. Yes, it’s scary but so worth it. Wait until those little voices you hear say they like the new friends you have made, the new clothes you will be wearing, and most of all, how well they like to hear your voices containing confidence and feeling great!

  27. You can do this. I did it very similar to you and now I try to help others do the same. Trust me, it AIN’T easy to begin but the hardest part is over. Now it’s a matter of being a bit better in your healthy life every day.

    You are inspiration now and a story waiting to be written.

  28. This is a beautiful letter. I am moved. I am a Nia teacher at both Coal Creek and Bellevue Family Y. Right now I am healing a broken bone in my ankle (not from Nia!). So Gayle Holeton, Irene Pastornack and Barbara Krauss are covering my classes. I’d love to invite you to Nia. It is a beautiful way to fall in love with our bodies, no matter what shape, size, fitness level. We say No “Pleasure, No Gain” in Nia. It is the “Love Your Body” workout. Our teachers and our Nia communites are warm and welcoming to everyone. It’s a soulful way to start to sense your body and develop a relationship with ‘the joy of movement’. Nia classes at Coal Creek are on Tuesdays at 6PM and Friday mornings at 8:15 AM. Please come try Nia out.

    I also have my own studio in Sammamish. Feel free to come to Nia as my guest. You can learn more about me here http://www.randeefox.com and more about Nia here http://www.nianow.com

    Thanks for your honesty. You are a great writer!

    Warm cheers,
    Randee Fox

  29. Wow, you just made my day! Once again my workday as a YMCA fitness employee has been validated. Your comments are better than any paycheck!

    All you new, easily intimidated health seekers: Hang in there, baby steps will get you started on your fitness journey,the relationships you build at the Y will allow you to take bigger steps, hold you up when you stumble, keep you focused on the journey, join you in a good belly laugh every now and then (the best ab workout in the world), and welcome you back with open arms when life gets in the way! The only differance between a beginning health seaker and a “successful exerciser” is getting up and doing it again each day.

    To quote one of my classes: “Why do we do it? Because we can.”

  30. Hi, there! Hey, I know how it feels, been there, done that and am still doing it but I don’t feel so out of place any more…. granted still have a long ways to go but hey, Im there aren’t I?!! Keep it up, it gets a lot easier and you begin to feel better and more confident and it gets easier!! HANG IN THERE!!

  31. The way you approached it was admirable. It can be tough, especially when your sitting there waiting for someone to help you, just so you can get started and on your way. The best thing is that you keep with it and all of the feelings will minimize and eventually, go away. The first few times are the hardest, but once you see the results and how it benefits you, you will be mad that you didn’t face it sooner.

  32. How’s it going now that we are a few months into the year? Where are you at these days? I’d love to hear your progress…

  33. I know this post is from 2010 but I am an employee of a YMCA and my supervisor just required us to read this article. This is a GREAT article. But I have to say that skinny people get nervous too, I remember telling my husband before we joined (before being an employee) that I don’t want to go & have everyone watch me work out. He reassured me that people are focused on their workout not watching others. As much as I would like to comfort the newcomer with that statement I can’t because when I’m not captivated with HGTV I tend to look around. BUT what people must know is that I am not judging you. I am looking at how hard you are working out, the sweat pouring off of you and it causes me to work a little harder for a moment. When I see the so called “Fat” person at the gym I think of the majority of my family that struggle with being obese, the diets tried, the injuries that prevent them from “hard” exercise, the ignorant comments of insensitive people and yes judgemental stares from SOME people, however my mind does not go to negative thoughts about you but instead it is a tremendous encouragement! I am think good for you, change is not easy and you can do it! So if you catch someone looking at you it may not be a bad judgement but an encouragement to them!

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