I Used To…

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An alien is about to burst out of my chest. Or perhaps that’s my heart. We are doing atomic push ups. Three sets of ten reps is the goal. I have done three reps. Two and a half? I have collapsed on my mat. I pant and savour the blessed relief of surrendering to gravity.

I see the TRX instructor’s orange shoes headed my way.

No, just keep walking. I’m going to lay here and sleep and possibly die, I think.

“This used to be easy,” I pant.

“This is never easy,” he says, jovially. “This is one of the hardest exercises.”

I want to tell him, “No, you don’t understand. I used to spend hours every day in the gym. I used to run the Grouse Grind twice a week—run, not hike. I used to skip rope for thirty minutes without breaking a sweat, do three sets of ten chin-ups as my warm up, finish off every gym day with an hour and a half of cardio. I used to swim twenty-five 50 meter laps every other morning. I used to run 10K three times a week and three times that on Sundays. I used to fight men who were bigger and stronger than me, and win. I used to reel in fish as tall as me and a hundred times as powerful. I used to ride my dirtbike until my legs were on fire. I used to be strong. I used to have stamina. I used to be young!”

Instead, I grunt and re-position. I grind out three more repetitions. They are ugly and imprecise but I do what I can.

The instructor congratulates me.

I am exhausted and want to vomit. I laugh. I take a drink of water.

I tell myself, It doesn’t matter what you used to do, what you used to be. The only thing that matters is this moment and what you choose to do with it.

I don’t want to be one of those people, you know the ones. They used to be something special and now they aren’t and they can’t get past it. The actor who used to headline major motion pictures and now sells cheap jewellery or home cleaning products on late night commercials on network TV? Yeah, I don’t want to be that.

I’m 47.5 years old. I’m never again going to have the speed, stamina or strength of my younger self. There are physical goals I’ve had to let go of, and it stings. I once promised myself I would compete in one Ironman before I was fifty. Realistically, now, I just want to be able to run 10K a few times a week and keep up with my more-active friends.

When I feel sad about this, I remind myself that I now know plenty of people who would love to have what I consider my deplorable state of fitness.  I know plenty of of people who didn’t even make it to 47.5 years old.

That’s not a free pass for me to eat junk food and pass my time watching bad TV but merely an unvarnished look at reality. I’ve long stood on my little soapbox and shouted at people to resist society’s obsession with youth…but that was all about youth on the surface. Embrace your wrinkles and grey hair! But can I embrace the limitations of my aging body combined with my new, often stationary, lifestyle? Can I practice what I preach?

I’m working on it.

In the previous Coconut Chronicle I talked about shifts, and this is part of that change. I may never be happy about losing what I once had but that doesn’t mean I am chained to the memory of the body I used to have.

Yesterday I played tennis with three women who were older than me, but far more skilled at the game. At least one of those women only picked up a racquet within the past five years. So what we lose in speed and strength and agility we can gain in patience, persistence, and enthusiasm. When we stop learning…we stop. My new physical goal is simply to keep trying new things, keep testing my boundaries, keep pushing myself to go further.

My immediate goal is to be able to do ten atomic push-ups in a row by the end of this month.

Why?

Because 47.5 years from now, I want to say, with a glint in my eye, “Atomic push-ups? Oh, I used to do those!”

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