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Reflections January 2016

Tunnel Visions

Fit, Fitter, Fittest

By Bonnie McCune

He's near-blind (carries a white cane) and has other obvious physical abnormalities that make using equipment a supreme challenge. Yet there he was, striding on a treadmill, pulling on various weight-lifting machines.

I've always hated exercise. If there's a choice between vegging out on the couch or playing an exhilarating game of tennis, the couch wins every time. Except. . .except. . . I've exercised so much during my life, I now get withdrawal pains if I neglect fitness.

I think my revulsion came from my lack of athletic ability along with my small stature and my delayed physical maturation. I learned I'd never be better than anyone else at physical prowess, so I didn't want to compete at all. Bodies male and female that consist of absolutely trim and toned musculature discourage me because I know I'll never look like that.

I grew up during a time when children walked to school and activities, and recess and P.E. were part of the schedule, I had a basic level of fitness that's stood me in good stead. Then came college where I fell in love with dancing. So about nine hours a week for four straight years, I pranced and shimmied, jerked and ponied with the best.

Since then, my husband and I have egged each other on to maintain a minimum level of exercise. He's been more of an egger-on than I, but together we've jogged, walked, biked, lifted weights, and one hideous summer even hiked up mountains. We've been so consistent, I feel ill and depressed if we don't move something somewhere several times a week.

Which brings me to my local YMCA. The people there who inspire me are the people who lack native talent or who have physical challenges. They put forth so much more effort and are dedicated far beyond the scope of the guy flexing his well defined biceps or the sculpted feminine version. The woman in my Zumba class who has cerebral palsy but lives and breathes every tune. The older man who's suffered several falls and broken bones but appears regularly to work out in splints and casts.

Then there's the fellow I spotted today. He's near-blind (carries a white cane) and has other obvious physical abnormalities that make using equipment a supreme challenge. Yet there he was, striding on a treadmill, pulling on various weight-lifting machines. As I huffed and puffed through my mediocre routine, I was glad I'd suppressed my native reluctance and had chosen to come to the gym. My inspiration to keep up the habit was right in front of me.

The appearance of the less-than-physically-perfect in the gym began about ten or 15 years ago, as my generation began to age. Other changes have occurred at the local Y over the years I've been a member that aren't so positive. In the weight room, visitors are lackadaisical, leaving 50-pound moveable plates locked on the ends of the bars, usually perching the contraptions on racks far above my head. Since I'm neither six feet tall nor a muscular football or soccer player, I can't remove or change them for my own use. Smaller dumbbells are strewn across the rooms, handy for tripping over and breaking toes. Towels litter the exercise areas and actually seem to reproduce or replicate in the dark corners and under benches of the locker room, in damp white-ish piles.

Then there's the matter of smart phones. Young exercisers are getting their fingers in great shape since they spend more time sitting on equipment to text their friends than they do actually using the apparatus. Or perhaps they're checking the stock market. In any case, again, no one else can use the gear.

What can be done? Nothing, an attendant told me. There are no rules regarding this behavior.

Are humans, or at least Americans, losing their basic intelligence? No other explanation for this behavior, for we used to learn at our mother's knee to endeavor to pick up our own messes and be considerate of other people. Are we getting ruder? Maybe this is the cause of the poor behavior. Strong signs support this theory. Experts believe that day-to-day conduct has become more aggressive, less patient, and certainly not as sympathetic.

My inclination is to blame modern technology for both these phenomena. I no longer need a memory as long as my computer and phone remain ever-ready. And since I'm dealing with humans almost totally via these lines of communication, I can't begin to sense the humanity that links me with those on the other ends of the networks. They're just voices or words, symbols or algorithms.

I've pledged to do my best to combat the growing tide of stupidity and rudeness. I can't do a thing about war half-way across the world, but I can try to improve my little corner by picking up dirty towels and asking politely for courtesy at the gym.


For reasons unknown (an unacknowledged optimism?), Bonnie McCune thinks one person can make a difference in this world.

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