Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Can-Do Shower

To the outside world, it would have appeared I was at my own baby shower. No—I’m not referring to the shower I threw for my sister-in-law in absentia, where I had to fill in as the mom-to-be and open presents in front of friends and family (she lives in Germany with my brother who is in the Air Force). I’m referring to the happy hour I went to a few weeks ago, where dozens of people came to share a drink with one another after the final class in an 18-week Advanced Cycling Program that I created and coached at Gold’s Gym.

For the first time in my adult life, I stood in a room and felt a celebration happening around me, FOR me, whilst wearing a pink shirt with the words, “Push, push, push!” on the back, and the initials C.S.B. on the front. No—this wasn’t in reference to a baby girl whose name would start with “C,” this was in reference to me...the “Crazy Spin Bitch” and her drill-sergeant mantra to continue moving the pedals at pace.

All while engaging in “can-do attitude” – something of a motto for our class.

My boyfriend secretly hijacked the class email list to coordinate a celebration of the program in its final week. As a result, my 90- and 120-minute spin classes were filled with remarkably coordinated athletes sporting pink shirts (my favorite color) with messages on them for me to read.

After the final class on Friday, everyone was invited to come to the happy hour at Chili’s to get a few drinks and celebrate the end of the program. People arrived with cards and gifts in hand, congratulating me for a job well done and sharing stories with me about how much the class meant to them.

People thanked me for the opportunity to get stronger in their fitness.

For the experience of being coached again after 30 years, when they believed that time in their life was over after high school.

I was compared to a life coach. A counselor. A friend. A force.

People handed me bottles of wine as if it were a housewarming party; festive gift bags as if it were a bridal shower; and bouquets of flowers as if I were on Broadway. Homemade hats and T-Shirts in various shades of pink peppered the classes like a bachelorette party, each of them with sayings I regularly used in class.

One woman pulled me aside at the party to tell me something that she’d been hanging on to for weeks. She never wanted to let me know the ways the class affected her while I was teaching it, for fear that my knowing would alter the way I coached.

“I was a very unwilling participant in your class," she said. “My friend dragged me there because I needed something to take my mind off of things.”

Unbeknown to me, she was recently widowed and my class had become part of an “intervention” of sorts where her friend did the hard (and important) work of reminding her that life was still out there waiting for her to live it.

“You said something in those first few weeks in class that changed me. It allowed me to finally grieve. To move on.” She continued. “While we were in the middle of one of the hard songs, you asked us to feel the work that we were doing…all the sweat that was on our skin, the way it felt as it dripped down our bodies. The way it tasted on our lips, the way the pain felt as we were pushing the pedals, and how our muscles started to hurt just as we started to think that we didn't want to do this anymore. You told us that to work this way would suck. And to let the suck in. Do you remember that?” She asked.

And I did, or at least I was familiar with the concept and the way that I coach. So much of what I enjoy about training and racing are the endless parallels you can draw between a hard workout and a hard time in your life. They both require perseverance, a positive “can-do” attitude and the will to push through and see another day.

In training, it’s race day. The celebration of all your struggles coming together for a single, glorious moment as you cross the finish line and are rewarded with your accomplishment. In life, it’s the realization that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you will find it if you are persistent enough to do so. Either way, the push gets you through the hard times and you realize that the struggle was worth it.

For this woman, Advanced Cycling Class allowed her to tap into that resource—the part of her that could push through and make it to the next day. And the one after that. And the days become weeks, and in her case—the weeks become part of a plan to complete a triathlon.

I was much more than a cycling instructor to her, and she was much more than a person who wrote a check to come to my class for 18 weeks.

Fitness is a funny thing. Yes, it’s good for you and keeps you physically healthy. But it’s also the only way most people are ever introspective. When you’re working out, it’s all about you. It’s a time to be selfish, to delve into all the things that make you tick. When you see results you are pleased. When you feel fatigue you are unhappy. Training calls upon a spectrum of emotions that allows us to be fully aware of ourselves for better or for worse. And this is why fitness becomes just as important for our minds, as it is for our bodies.

The happy hour lasted for a while, with many rounds of margaritas bolstering our post-exercise glow. I was honored that my classes thought so highly of me that they would thank me so graciously with their gifts and kind words, but I’m sure they’ll never realize that the real gift to me was the experience of watching them all change and grow through the program.

Many of the classes I taught included actual Ironman workouts that I had to do as part of my own training. There were times when I was sure that if I wasn’t responsible for motivating them through hill repeats, tempo rides and intervals that I wouldn’t have pushed through them so hard myself. The irony is that I created a program to train people in endurance riding, and they actually made me into a better athlete.

Last year I wrote a blog on “Showers for the Women of 2009,” titled so because I feel our society doesn’t celebrate women enough for the accomplishments they can achieve outside of marriage and motherhood.

Sure, the commitment of marriage and the birth of a new life are worthy of their fanfare—but I watched 65 people make a commitment to themselves to be in my class for 18 weeks. New athletes were born before my eyes. People who started the class to lose weight were finishing the program with registrations for their first races ever. Sparks were ignited, and the sport of triathlon is now being courted by a crop of new athletes who can’t wait to tackle goals they’d never even thought of until now.

I may not have a birth certificate to prove there is new life in the city of Syracuse, but if you come to any of the area races in town this summer, you can see it for yourself on the shores of the Finger Lakes and the roads of Central New York.

One day, maybe I will marry and have children. Those will be proud moments for me and I may find myself at my own wedding and baby showers being congratulated for these sacred milestones.

But it will be hard to find an event in my life that will compare to the first-ever Advanced Cycling Program, and being part of something that helped so many people grow and change in positive ways.

My thanks to all of those people who helped to celebrate the class, and their can-do attitudes.


Kristin (Triathlon Dreams) said...

nice Lisa!! Maybe Ill be at the next one!! :)

Krispin said...

Great class, great blog entry!

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I agree: single people deserve to have "shower"-like moments such as this. Good for you :)

Egan Ninjas said...

Leese- this post gave me chills and even sparked a tear or are a true mentor and real life hero for many. including me. now i just need some darned motivation.

FitGirl15 said...

WOW! Being a fitness instructor myself, I could only imagine the sense of pride that you felt this get together! I have neever had the pleasure of such a party... yet!?!

You are very blessed to have such thoughtful and considerate friends!