Ways of Seeing, Alice Leeds: Starting the day off on the right foot

I am not and have never been an athlete. I do not have quick reflexes. I was never a runner or a member of a high school team beyond the oratory club and the flag twirling squad. When my classmates divvied up for a game of kickball at recess in elementary school, I was the last one chosen. Eventually I stuck with the jump rope crowd. I do have a good sense of rhythm.
Somehow over the past decade, I transformed into a gym rat. Every morning I hop on my bicycle and pedal over to Bristol Fitness, the small gym several blocks from my home.
Getting myself to the fitness center is a perfect way to start the day. It means I not only need to wake up but also dress and eat breakfast by a reasonable hour and arrive relatively on time to my morning class. The pressure to arrive before all the spin bicycles or prime floor spaces are taken keeps me from frittering my morning away.
I appreciate the warm, casual atmosphere as I enter the gym. Everyone who comes through the door is welcome, regardless of our age or fitness level. There is no need to make a fashion statement. I arrive in my comfortable, well-worn gear, ready for action.
Just by walking into class, I become part of a positive, participatory community, one in which all I am asked to do is follow instructions. To start the week each Monday morning, fitness center director Kim Jacobs runs Interval Mashups, arguably the most challenging class offered. As she guides and demonstrates, we stretch, lift, curl, jump, hop, step, squat, slide, skate and burpee. (Don’t ask me to explain them, but believe me, 30 seconds of consecutive burpees is an aerobically challenging exercise.) I sweat and burn alongside folks of all ages, including those decades younger than me, albeit with my own adaptations here and there. After Kim’s class, the rest of the week is a piece of cake.
The gym offers daily opportunities to connect with folks in our community. Exercise puts us in a social frame of mind. We address each other by name and notice when regulars don’t show up. We announce each others’ birthdays and applaud the classmate returning from an extended absence while recuperating from knee or hip surgery. 
We introduce ourselves to new members and know each other’s favorite and least favorite routines. Throughout group workouts, we banter and chuckle and groan. Conversations continue when class ends, as we each make our way off into the rest of our day. It’s not unusual to get into a heart-to-heart conversation, learn about a local fundraiser or decide to go in on a wild salmon delivery with another club member.
Although there is a great deal of socializing, the gym is a fairly politics-free zone, a break from the many stressors of the contentious past few months. We’re all there to raise our spirits and do something positive for ourselves, and at the same time, it’s a place where we naturally open ourselves to our neighbors. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the gym facilitates some post-election healing of our community, providing a space to speak with and listen to each other and practice patience and kindness.
As I head out at the end of a morning workout, I stop to browse through Kim’s handiwork on the front desk, the scarves, baby clothes and other lovely garments she knits and sells at the gym to raise money for a featured cause each year. Most recently, these items, along with an open house event, raised hundreds of dollars for Art on Main, a non-profit, community-supported, artist-cooperative gallery here in Bristol.
The fact that my daily trip to the gym helps me stay fit is no small afterthought. I am grateful I can start my day in a body still willing and able to carry me through an hour of vigorous motion. In fact, our whole small but vibrant community benefits from this healthy refuge where we can laugh and sweat together for a welcome interlude each day.
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Alice Leeds, of Bristol, was a public school teacher for 25 years and is currently a writing instructor at the Community College of Vermont in Winooski.

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