When you began exercising or first wandered into the gym did you secretly look up to certain people? Did you have certain role models?
I’m not someone who went from the couch straight to running. I went from being a punkrock vegetarian college student to a professional in a foreign country pretty quickly. In college, I swam a few times a week, but never ever ventured into the scary gym. And back then jogging seemed like something for yuppies. In the early days of my Spanish adventure, my idea of exercise was swimming in the sea, exploring the city on foot, hopping the metro turnstiles! Then of course, I was suddenly 26 and realized, one day while changing into my bathing suit to swim a few leisurely laps, that I was getting fat. By that time I worked long hours in an office and ate those copious three-course lunches so it was time for the Cardio Machines at the neighborhood gym. That was, five or six years ago, I guess. One gray January day, I started off ever so slowly, on the elliptical machine. Charles used to make fun of my gym outfits; I had lounge wear not workout gear and he said I looked like a homeless person taking shelter from the cold.
Anyway, today, while running on the treadmill, I remembered an old idol—a sort of gym crush— from way back in those early gym days: the beautiful Slovenian. A dark-haired, freckled girl who sometimes wore two braids. She wore super short gym shorts. God, she seemed so amazing. While I daydreamed on the elliptical or the rowing machine, she circuit trained like it was nobody’s business: weights, elliptical, stairmaster, treadmill. I bet she only ran for like twenty or thirty minutes, but she was so strong and so fast. And so focused. Lord, she was focused. She’d always cool down on the bike while reading a Spanish-Slovenian dictionary. This is why I think she was Slovenian. Yes, you’re thinking she could have been Spanish and preparing a trip to Ljubljana, but no. You see, once I talked to her! One evening I too “cooled down” on the bike and invented some reason to talk to her, like asking how to adjust the seat and she had a little bit of an accent. Once she spoke, she seemed sort of normal: young and hopeful in Barcelona.
Soon thereafter, summer broke and she disappeared. Maybe she went back home or on to a new city. Perhaps she switched gyms or started to run outside. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about her again since until today, when my thirty minutes on the treadmill seemed the bare minimum, the easiest thing in the world, and an American girl in pajama pants came up to me and asked where the elliptical machine was.
I’m so thankful to that Slovenian beauty for making me want to be her: strong and not exactly perfect, but focused and diligent. Young and hopeful in Barcelona.