Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Kettle Bell

About a year ago a neighbor offered me sweet words of encouragement, noting all my walking around the neighborhood was paying off. She then mentioned that she goes to a kettle bell class.

"Oh yeah? How is it?" I wondered aloud.
"Great. It's about 5-6 of us, led by the gym teacher at the elementary school. You should join me sometime."

I offered some kind of passive aggressive agreement, like "maybe after the holidays," or "that sounds like fun," while handing out a "see ya later" with my eyes rolled to the heavens and silently mouthing "over my dead body" as I walked away. Kettle Bell sounded too barbaric and Neanderthal to me. No thanks.

After trying to up my exercise regimen over the past nine months though, I began looking for something a little more intense this fall. She mentioned it again to me, and I asked a few more important questions. Namely, "Does he yell? Because I can't handle yelling. If he yells, I'm out. I'm the first one who would cry at Army Boot Camp, so I can't have a yeller."

She thought for a moment, then answered truthfully. "No, he doesn't yell."

So I agreed to go. On the day I planned to join her, the temperature soared to 95 degrees with 90% humidity. I bailed, because obviously.

So that's how two days later, on a Thursday in September when the temperature reached 88 degrees (still too hot for me - did you know I'm Nordic?), I found myself standing at the base of a mountain on the west side of Plainfield, begging for a thunderstorm so I could go home.

OK, maybe it's a large hill. But at the base it looms like a mountain, especially when you run up it 100 times a workout.

Things started out fairly simple. Do 21 jumping jacks, then run to the cone about 10 yards away, and do 15. Come back and do 9. I finished last in the group, and thought, "Wow. That was fast for an entire workout. I'm ready to go home, pop some Advil, and take a nap."

No. Seriously. That's what I felt. My heart rate was up, my muscles were warm, and I sweated into my eyeballs. Enough already.

"Everyone warmed up?" he asked. "You ok?" he asked me quietly, to spare me embarrassment in front of the rest of the group.

"Sure," I mustered, pining for a protein shake and a hot bath.
"When's the last time you worked out?" he asked.
"Oh, last week," I lied.
"OK good," he declared. "Just let me know if you have any trouble along the way. I'll show you all the movements as we go and you can modify as necessary."

Truthfully, other than the occasional 30 second run thrown into my daily walk, I hadn't worked out since going on a long bike ride about a month earlier in Wisconsin. And before that? I hadn't really worked out since I pretended to be a runner and a tiny dancer. Before that? When I dabbled in yoga.

So basically, I hadn't worked out since 1993 when my roommate Jan and I jammed out to Jane Fonda aerobic VHS tapes in the basement of Pi Beta Phi to get Spring Break ready.

The rest of the workout involved heaving this mass of cast iron around... all unnatural types of swings and presses and deadlifts and snatches and cleans and skull crushers and thrusters while running suicides up that fucking mountain. It's as medieval and sadistic and brutal as it sounds. After performing 21 or 15 or 9 of each kettle bell movement at the base, we'd drop the bell and run to cones placed at intervals on the mountain to engage in some kind of bodyweight movement. High arm planks to low arm planks. Mountain climbers. Sit ups - but 50! Fifty sit ups? At one time? That's just crazy talk.

Then we sprinted (I don't sprint. Ever.) back to the base to perform more of the swinging nonsense with the bell. Then up to the next station on the hill for some other impossible bodyweight feat, then back to the base. Over. And over. And over and over and over again. Until finally, FINALLY! we reached the top of the hill, and I could see that maybe I'd live through the next five minutes, because the previous six were enough to kill me.

Until he told us to run to the top of the mountain and do the whole darned thing in reverse.

I racked my brain. Michelle said that this workout lasts how long? 45 minutes to an hour?

"Goodbye," I grunted as bear crawled up the freaking mountain. "I'm going to die."

Miraculously, I returned a week later. It took that long to not feel tiny needles stabbing my thighs every time I inched to the left, or a butcher knife protruding from my shoulders when I raised my pinky finger. For a few weeks I showed up every fourth day until I mustered the courage to go without my security blanket (Michelle) and I was officially on my own in the group.

Some days we are on the mountain, some days we rotate in stations on the basketball court, and some days we kill our quads, hamstrings and calves in the sand volleyball pit. He claims he focuses on legs one day and arms the next, but I cry Bull Schnitzel on that. Every day is a total body workout, with strength and cardio exercises thrown in.

One particular mountain day I died a little more with each station. I finished dead last every single time. I held back the group, put them behind schedule, and extended their mini breaks into brunch with mimosas, it took me that long to work my way through a component of the regimen. And when I finally got to the base of the mountain and ran to my own mimosa - ok, tepid water - he called out the next exercise.

Quietly. He quietly called out the next exercise. Michelle was right - he is not a yeller.

3/4 up the way of the brutal slope, he told us to perform some "Candlesticks." Remember when we were kids and we stood on our hands and heads like it was nothing, not anywhere near the aneurism it would cause us now? And we could cartwheel without feeling like we're giving birth? Or roll back into a backward summersault, then pop back up to a standing position like we were verifiable Mary Lou Rettons?

I vaguely remember those days.

Whelp, the candlestick, when facing down-mountain, begins like a backwards summersault. You squat down into a crouch, bring your butt to the ground, roll back (but not all the way), then gravity and the slope of the mountain bring you back to your feet in a standing position.

Except it doesn't.

And then it doesn't again.

But something does happen. With the first effort, you'll gasp aloud at things that take place in the nether regions. You'll look immediately to your left, to see if Tammye has the same reaction (she doesn't). Then you'll look down to your legs, relieved you opted for the dark black workout pants versus the grey ones. Meanwhile, old eagle eye is at the base of the mountain calling out (not yelling) encouraging tips to perform the movement that you can't seem to complete, oblivious of the upside-down margarita party jamming on your thighs.

Yes. I literally pissed my pants trying to perform candlesticks. After a while it became a challenge - do I try my hardest to perform this maneuver, or do I try my hardest to cork up Jose Cuervo and his fiesta? Meanwhile, I had to get through TWENTY of those suckers! I expected my shoes to be filled with tequila by the time I finished.

By some miraculous tightening of the Kegel, I finally got through the majority of the candlesticks (fun fact though - I've cheated on the number every. single. time. I think my personal best is 12) and I finished the rest of the hill portion of the workout. Back at the base, he told us to partner up for the next set of exercises.

Horrified, I looked at Tammye as she looked at me and it was clear that we were partners. I wanted to apologize right off, but didn't want to freak her out. WHY did we have to partner up on Candlestick day?

Then it happened. He told her to lie on the ground on her back, and I was to straddle her head.

If only the ground would open up and swallow me whole. But it didn't.

We proceeded to do some leg exercises and I prayed the entire time she was so focused on lifting her legs to my hands while I shoved them away and down that she didn't notice a.) Jimmy Buffet had a party above her head, and b.) I really was wasted away in Margaritaville. She never seemed to notice, or she's so sweet she averted her eyes and held her breath the whole time.

Completely humiliated, I raced home after the workout and jumped in the shower.

A few weeks later I saw Tammye at an outing Michelle hosted, and told her my shameful story. She laughed - thank God - and saw the humor in my plight. Thankfully she didn't notice I smelled like a toddler struggling through potty training.

To this day, I groan when I hear the word Candlestick, and Tammye will chuckle next to me. It's all I can do to perform the movement, let alone keep my bodily fluids in check. I still haven't completed them in their entirety, but I'm oh so proud to report that the bladder is much more under control now. Where's my smiley faced sticker for the progress chart?

For the past two weeks I've been at my Mom's taking care of her while she recovers from knee replacement surgery. A bit nervous about keeping up with the workouts, I actually did a decent job in her backyard. One day Mom and Dad watched me as I heaved the cast iron hunk around their yard in all sorts of bizarre manner. Dad hollered out over and over. "That's enough. THAT'S ENOUGH!" Their backyard view and the post workout wine and cheese rewarded me with peace of mind that I may have actually found something that's going to stick.
Yesterday was my first day back at class, and while some things were really difficult (I'm looking at you, plank exercises), for the most part I was able to keep up and it felt great.

I'm going back today, then again next week. This is my life lately, and it's why I've been a little MIA from posting here and on Apéritif Friday. But now that I'm home again things should return to normal. And it's a verifiable miracle, people, that exercise is an actual component of my life. Truly a miracle, and I have a neighbor and the elementary school gym teacher to thank for it.

Not to mention a fabulous group of men and women I'm enjoying getting to know. One day they asked me. "PINK! You in?"

"What do you mean?" wondering why they were asking me to go bra shopping, and why we'd go to a store for teenagers.

"Um, the singer?" one replied with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh. Ha. Um, Yeah! Totally!"

Dorkin' out since 1993, man.