Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old Resolutions for the New Year

When I was young, I used to dream of becoming a fitness aerobics instructor. I’m not sure why this was so appealing to me, but it was the only “when I grow up” scenario that seemed to be reoccurring amid the occasional daydreams of being a rock star, an actress, a princess, or a bus driver. (Our bus driver was always either singing Debbie Gibson at the top of her lungs, or stopping the bus to yell at us as she draped herself over the front seats, pointing a manicured fingernail toward the back of the bus where some high schooler tried to hold in a smirk until she was done. I think this made the bus into a rolling stage of sorts, and therefore appealing).

One of my first Barbie dolls came with her own stationary bike, and she was dressed in a teal leotard and pink belt. Jane Fonda and Kathy Smith regularly made appearances in my living room where my mom loyally did her workouts each morning. From a young age, the seeds were being planted to eventually find myself somehow tied to the fitness world.

If these seeds were planted during my elementary school years, middle school seemed to be the time when they would have surely been pulled out of the ground and deemed as duds. I wasn’t a svelte teenager, not even cute. I was overweight with pasty pale skin (often patchy, thanks to eczema), and routinely failed the mile-test in gym class. I was the stereotypical nerd who crushed on the popular boy, and believed I was being flirted with whenever slighted. The middle school years culminated with my being cut from the softball try-outs, a blow to my self-esteem for sure. At the time, A League of Their Own was a hit movie and the idea of being part of something that allowed one to merge fame and fitness in the same venue was mind-blowing to me. The coach suggested I try out for the track team, since the only thing about softball that I was able to grasp was how to run around the bases.

That summer I started to do a walking program that Kathy Smith came out with as a supplement to one of her VHS tapes. I walked miles upon miles around my town and started high school in the fall as a new person. I craved an outlet for my energy, and since I didn’t have any skills in sports on the field, I turned my attention to performance on the stage. I was a Gleek before there was ever a show to promote such a status, taking part in every music program my school had to offer. Chorus, band, girl’s chorus, swing choir, jazz band and the annual musical productions and NYSMA competitions were all part of my curriculum.

When spring came around, I decided to take the softball coach’s advice and I went for the track team. That first year was nothing great, but I started to find the same discipline in fitness that I’d cultivated in music and kicked things up a notch by running on the cross-country team the following fall. As a sprinter, I was never very good at running longer distances, but training with the team got me into the best shape of my life at the time. The next three years of track I enjoyed being part of a record-holding relay team in the 1600, and someone who regularly placed in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Throughout college and after graduation I continued to run to keep in shape, and to challenge myself against my own records. I sought alternative “stages” through my first few jobs, trying on hats in the advertising and publishing industries, which eventually made me realize I have a passion for writing. Over the years running and writing have started to become intertwined like a pair of best friends that are never apart. A steady pace over twenty miles of running would seamlessly flow into a steady stream of consciousness on paper, or vice versa. My mind seems to be connected to my feet and when one starts to go into gear, so does the other.

This became very apparent to me when I became a fitness instructor four years ago. I was a regular cardio junkie at the gym, taking step aerobics and weight-lifting classes, and doing spin classes to cross-train on days when I wasn’t running. The spinning instructor suggested I get certified in a new type of cycling fitness class called Group RIDE that Gold’s Gym was going to offer. I passed my certification test and started teaching my own class two times a week.

Becoming a fitness instructor has allowed me to wear almost every hat I’ve ever tried on (or pretended to try on). The 11-year-old girl who used to wear her swimming suit over tights and jump around the bedroom to “Like a Prayer” with a sweatband on beamed with pride as I took my place in front of the class for the first time. The up-and-coming track star that was buried beneath the softball-team-reject jumps with joy now that I can wear a microphone and share what I’ve learned about discipline and perseverance with the masses. And the writer in me glows with enthusiasm now that I’m a Contributing Columnist with the local paper offering weekly tips and advice in my very own column about triathlon training.

We dream about being many things when we are young. Armed with toys and imaginations and all the time in the world, we’re free to see a future that can’t hold us back. As we get older, the realities of life set in. Budgets, rules, limits. Self-esteem, insomnia, peer pressure. We learn the art of “the excuse,” and rationalizing why things must be the way they are. We forget that somewhere deep down, there was a dream. A seed that lies within the soul waiting to find light...waiting for us to till the land and tell the dream it’s okay to come out.

The new year is on the horizon, marking the end of another decade. All around the world people are thinking of resolutions, planting seeds to harvest in the new year. Making promises that they probably won’t keep much past March.

This year, consider going for one of those old seeds. One of the vintage dreams. Look inside your soul for something you used to save and cherish like a fine bottle of wine and open it. Twenty years ago I was playing with the Barbie and her stationary bike. Now I’m the blonde on the bike (sadly, sometimes in teal and pink). Ten years ago I was writing in my journal about wanting to be a writer. Now I’m a contributing columnist with a well-read spinster blog.

I’m realizing dreams I never thought I’d see come true, and things are unfolding and interlacing in ways that I never would have imagined. I’m encouraged by this especially after so many rough years both personally and professionally. I’ve been patient and persistent, yes. But most importantly – I never forgot the promises I made to the girl wearing her bathing suit over her tights. And I’m just getting started.