There’s a fancy gym on the way to my not-fancy gym that has the hashtag #lovethegymagain in the window. I was stopped in front of there on the streetcar the other day and I thought, You know what? I DO love the gym again.
I’ve written a lot in the past year about the different things that help me get energized about working out, ranging from my weird joy in counting things and acquiring FitBit badges to the motivation of the 218 in 2018 workout group. And right now, I’m enjoying my actual GYM more than I have in a very long time. I’ve belonged to my local YMCA for about 18 months and I found myself striding around the equipment a couple of weeks ago looking around at the incredible variety of people working out and just beaming at being part of this communal enactment of fitness.
When I was in my early 30s and was starting to become a long-distance runner, I loved working out at the U of T athletic centre. The seriousness of sharing a track with elite runners made me train harder and it helped me actually think of myself as an actual athlete for the first time. Now, as I explore the whole notion of fitness as part of aging well, I find I love working out in an environment filled with people across the entire spectrum of mobility and fitness.
This Y was built as part of the 2015 Pan Am games, and it’s actually the legacy building of those kinds of games that communities always hope for. It’s a shiny, clean, well-designed and open space. It was built as a family-oriented and accessible space, and while there are certainly serious and pumped guys in the weights area, and super-fit runners on the track, they are threaded through with kids and people doing every manner of things to move their bodies.
The first clue to the diversity is the pile of wet boots you trip over when you go into the women’s change room. Toronto, January. But the thing is? Half these boots belong to kids. Many of those kids are here for the excellent pool, or for the kid-specific programs like indoor soccer. But while I’m toiling away on the treadmill, there are also kids running around the track with their parents.
A couple of weeks ago, on one of those “you have to be kidding me” weather days, there was one kid running around the track wearing a superman cape, his dad carefully shepherding him into the slow lane. On the mats outside the studios, there were two dads with three little kids doing planks and downward dogs. The two older kids worked hard to do the planks properly while the littlest one crawled underneath his brother. When I was feeling like a Super Serious Runner, all of these kids might have made me anxious that they were going to Get in my Way. Now, I find it absolutely delightful. Even when one of the parents walking around the track with her kid is a woman I went on one not-great date with a few years ago ;-).
In this gym, mostly I use the treadmill, the track, the elliptical and the weights. There are a ton of classes but I rarely take them — I just like the gym. I like the natural light and the way the machines overlook the gymnasium and the pool, and the fact that the weights/conditioning area is in the middle of everything else so never takes on the weird boys-only exclusionary tinge those areas often do at the gym. I like the way there are stacks of mats and small dumbbells in different places so you can use every inch of the space but it never feels crowded. And I like that it all feels so inviting.
As I’m toiling away, I am grateful for my body, and I’m grateful that I’m part of creating a space that is accessible and welcoming to people using wheelchairs, women breastfeeding, people of all body sizes and fitness capacities, women wearing hijabs, and parents who either want their kids looked after while they work out or who want to work out with their kids. On the 218 in 2018 group, we often end up talking about how parents can make time to work out and we usually end up talking about how to get time away from kids — this gym challenges that paradigm.
While I was doing my upper body workout last week, there was a yoga class going on in the bigger studio. There was a young girl — about 10 — next to the window, doing the class with her mom or another adult person. She was super intent on doing the postures well. I paused for a moment and watched this little girl doing a powerful warrior pose. My heart swelled. It was everything I ever hoped for from a fitness space.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and works out in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to this blog.