The slight elderly woman was bent over a magazine propped up on the stand attached to the stair-stepper machine. Slowly, slowly, she depressed on the pedal, stopped, read a line or two from an article, then took another step with the opposite foot.
She was in the middle of this routine when I arrived at the storefront fitness place I joined in January to rehab my left knee, which underwent surgery in December to repair a torn cartilage I suffered playing ice hockey into my mid-60’s.
I mounted the elliptical and began my program. She was three machines to my right. I cranked up the Tom Petty concert playing in my ear buds and entered the trance one enters when doing mindless, repetitive exercise. But the spell was broken when I found myself looking over to see if the stair-stepping senior was OK. Oh, she was. Where at first glance the poor woman looked like she was in pain, a closer examination revealed a small smile. I’m not sure what made her happier. The workout or the article on Reese Witherspoon’s cupcake preferences. I know what I’d choose.
My time on the elliptical complete, I moved on to the leg press machine where a grey-haired gentleman had just finished his routine. He paused to watch me start and, I’m guessing, to see if I added any weight beyond the 10 pounds he had locked in. Well, yes, I did add another 40 pounds, and he left with a wistful look as if to say to himself, “I’ll get there too.”
From there it was on to another machine I can’t name, but it’s supposed to help you strengthen your chest and upper arm muscles. A serious-looking fellow dressed in a faded golf shirt, work pants and brown walking shoes got on an adjacent piece of apparatus, took a bit of a breath, and slowly worked on completing some leg curls.
To be surrounded by seniors, like me, just trying to fight off Father Time, attenuate whatever aches and pains might wrack our aging bodies, perhaps boost the flow of serotonin to our brains, is most inspiring and comforting.
None of us wear designer workout togs, worry about our hair or makeup or pose for the benefit of, really, no one. Sure, there are always a few of “those” at the gym, but this is a cut-rate joint in a strip mall, making it affordable for us retirees and absent the attitude at flashier and more expensive fitness centers.
I complete my workout and as I start to walk towards the door I see my stair-stepping friend still at it. Slowly, slowly, slowly on her virtual climb, head still bent over that magazine. Still smiling. Me too.