Doing summersaults before I could walk, I was born an athlete. First a gymnast, then a swimmer – once I learned how to float, that is – I have always loved to move. To be active is part of my genetic fabric. I exercise because it makes me feel normal, and because the sense of accomplishment I receive from pushing my body to the physical brink is something I crave.
Six years ago I hung up my goggles and retired from my days on the pool deck. Swimming is an art that takes years to master. To keep the body in motion, without losing breathe or swallowing water, all while concentrating on form, is a skill even with many years of training cannot be perfected. After 15 years of competing and training, I never imagined I would find a physical activity as fulfilling or physically intense.
So it was much to my surprise, when earlier this year I was introduced to Spinning, a stationary activity that takes place on a bicycle and requires its participants to move around in various positions while keeping both feet moving in circular motions. “Just like riding a bike,” my friend gushed after a class. “Except you don’t go anywhere.”
Afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish or, even worse, rushed out on a stretcher because of some undiagnosed heart condition, I imagined my first class to be a big failure. I’m not big on riding bikes (Lance Armstrong, I am not), and waking before the sun rises brings up exhausting memories, but when I arrived for my first class, I hid those negative fears underneath a positive veneer and faked it the entire time. What I really wanted, though, was for it to be over with before it began.
I trusted my friend wouldn’t lead me astray, thus I untucked what was left of my positive attitude and climbed onto one of the bikes near the corner of the room. “I definitely want to go unnoticed,” I thought. “This one looks like it’ll do.”
Not five minutes into the class that hope to be invisible was crushed when our instructor noticed me, the new guy, struggling to keep up. Instantly, it felt as though the scarlet letter was painted across my forehead, as she used me as an example, calling my name and forcing me to perfect my form … all during my first ride!
In those 60 minutes, my heart beat so hard I thought it was going to pump out of my chest, Temple of Doom style, while my entire body burned, ached and convulsed. As the others spinners danced around their saddles with ease, poise and athleticism, I stayed steady on the course, pushing one foot after the other, until it was over. (And boy was I glad when it was!)
As we walked out, dizzy and exhausted, I confessed to my friend that spinning was the hardest training I had ever experienced. Months later and after countless classes, I still believe it’s the hardest type of cardiovascular training. Period.
Today even when the brisk morning air bites my naked skin and the call of my warm bed is louder than any radio alarm clock, I crawl out of bed, put on my clothes and head for the door. All so I can show up to class and sweat out my funk!