Monday, April 10, 2006

Paris, Ottawa, TO....YMCA!

I attempted to turn a new leaf on Saturday. I went to the Y for the first time in weeks. If you want to add it up, I probably haven't been there 10 times since last summer.

Ahhhh....last summer: after 11 years of working out on regular basis, I finally gave in to the exhaustion of daily headache and just stopped keeping my gym schedule. An abysmal lack of motivation didn't help. It wasn't intentional, but I started the descent by taking "breaks" on my usual gym nights. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months.

For years, I've been an exercise disciple. In the late 80's and early 90's at McGill, I walked a bazillion miles a day and didn't waste much thought on exercise. I weighed maybe 110 lbs in those days, so it didn't seem that relevant either.

But upon returning from grad school in Paris in the summer of '94, I took a summer job in Ottawa.

Travelling from Paris to Montreal (and two days later arriving in Ottawa), I was utterly dejected. Ottawa? What possessed me to take a job in Ottawa? Hadn't I heard the quote, "once they've been to Paris, you can't get them back on the farm" (or however it goes)? But I scored a plum summer job at the National Research Council in Ottawa, working for an esteemed researcher. I decided to give it a shot despite my misgivings about the months ahead in a middle-of-the-road government town, wearing a lab coat, with my head stuck in a fume hood. To make things palatable, I decided to live downtown (for the culture) on the U of O campus.

Unfortunately my job was many miles out of town and, as usual, I was without a car. So I dug my dusty, rusty bike out of storage in Montreal and decided to have an adventure: I would bike to work all summer.

Leaving Paris, exercise was the last thing on my mind. As is proudly advertised, no one exercises in Paris. I saw one gym, at Les Halles, the whole time I was there. And having been a starving student, I'd literally lived on baguette and fruit for months on end, with the only spice being a weekly pain au chocolat or poppyseed roll from the jewish quarter. It's a little known fact, but day-old baguette is excellent toasted, if you can slice it. So I didn't have a weight problem, but I felt tired from the long days of study and a rainy, grey Parisian spring.

Despite the shock, it didn't take me long to embrace Ottawa. It was a city of young people in the summer, kids working for government and lobby groups, and everyone playing some sport or another. That was the summer I fell in love with exercise, if such a thing is possible. I even got a membership to the U of O gym. I started running, playing volleyball at noon with the other students. I biked miles daily, and biked or ran out along the canal to Dows Lake and back almost every night. At the end of the summer, I was tanned and fit (the last summer I had a tan, by the way; after that I gave up the sun!)

After finishing my last grad courses at McGill in the fall, I moved to Toronto in January. I took a membership to Bally's on Bloor, a fantastic gym where you could watch the rich shop on the street below, at Tiffany's and Prada, while running dejectedly on your third-floor treadmill. But I did see Captain Kirk (William Shatner) work out there, and Jean-Claude van Damme (he's a very tiny man without a gram of fat), and actress Polly Shannon (equally skinny but almost transparently pale). Atom Egoyan and his wife strolled past one night as I was leaving. Ahhhh...but those are stories for another day.

I also picked up running again in Toronto, city of ravines and off-leash parks that are excellent for runners, if you don't mind being chased by dogs and/or homeless people. I lived in lower Forest Hill, so I would torture myself by running through sumptuous neighborhoods chock-full of old money mansions covered in ivy. I remember running and day-dreaming about what it would be like to grow up in those amazing stone houses, go to some posh girls' school, and have a horse or two. I always thought "who gets to live there?" I ran several 10k's in those days, and biked every street south of Lawrence and north of Lake Ontario. I biked to tennis lessons in Rosedale, out to the Beaches for afternoons (and back late in the evening...a cold ride home in a t-shirt), and sometimes down to Lake Ontario. Mostly I biked the back alleys and side streets and discovered corners of that city I still miss.

But on with the gym thing: I missed Bally's after I moved to Calgary, where I joined a decrepit World Health in the northeast, close to work. But I liked the "Ladies Only" section, where I worked out on sober dusty-rose equipment with quiet, modest ladies at my side. Most nights, I pretty much had the run of the place, and managed to stay on my gender-specific side, avoiding the too-friendly, fake-tan, bald-on-top dudes with mullets who liked to help the "ladies" with their workouts.

Eventually, I joined the Y and said a swift goodbye to World Health, a gym I hated more each day, for its mediocrity, mostly.

But shortly after my Y days started, the headaches began to worsen, and work became more demanding. I never seemed to really get back into exercise after that.

It is so easy, or so necessary, to come home now and rest. To lie on the bed a while, call David, read a little, watch the tube, check my email, sit quietly while David cooks dinner, do some laundry. How did I ever fit in 4 workouts a week with a difficult job? How did I balance it all? How did I find time? Now I can barely keep up with life at home, let alone being in shape.

But back I go, dreaming of falling in love with fitness again. But I probably never will. From here out, I think it will be a necessary evil.

I'd like to start horseback riding again. After moving to Calgary, I took english riding lessons for almost 2 years. At 33, I was told I was a "natural" so it was too bad I was about 28 years too late starting. But I didn't mind; I loved riding with 8-year olds. I always had a bigger and better horse, and made many little friends at the stable. I once met a little girl who said I was too "big" (meaning too old I suppose) to take lessons in her class. I asked her how old she thought I was. "You must be at least 20," she said disparagingly. Wow, that is old.

So maybe I'll try riding again if the Y doesn't work out. Get back on the horse, as they say.

1 comment:

  1. I totally hear you. I'm trying to get back into exersise, walking with my dog and such, but it's hard when it feels like it takes all your strength to just hold your head up.