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A Dragon at the Gym

Breathing fire and never backing down

By Barb DukemanPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
A Dragon at the Gym
Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

My personal trainer, Carrie, has me focus on how much weight I can handle at one time as she counts sets and reps. This is a different concept for me; I like the safety and comfort of a simple countdown. This tests me on a different level: it’s me against myself. Can I do two more? Yes, I can. I realize, though, that sometimes I don’t know how much I can truly handle. She usually waits until I click-hiss like a cat or make a high-pitched squeaky noise, which is my version of grunting and saying I’ve hit a wall.

Carrie is a dragon. She is a lung cancer survivor, and although health issues sometimes take center stage for her, she always focuses on the client. She convinced me to do a fundraiser called Fight for Air where we walk up 42 flights of stairs. I’m doing this for her and for others facing lung cancer. If she can work out, train others, and walk up flights of stairs with one lung, I should be able to as well. She’s my inspiration for making to the gym just for the privilege of getting sore.

If I’m feeling sore more than a couple of days later, that was too much. I call it the Law of 23. Twenty-three hours after a workout, something hurts; she calls it delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). After a recent upper body work-out I winced in pain the next day hitting the pump of the soap dispenser. I told her which machines or weight exercises hurt more than others, and then avoid them for a couple of weeks. I understand that with enough adrenaline I could lift a car in a crisis, but I won’t be able to move the next few weeks. She powers through her pain daily; she’s a bionic woman with several replaced joints. I know she feels it when rain in nearby. I marvel at all she can do.

She also prefers to stay in the area of the grunters, some of whom are self-righteous dinky fools who think only of themselves. One almost hit me with his Ferrari in the parking lot because he was busy on his phone. Granted most of the grunters have beautiful bodies which they watch adoringly in the mirrors as they lift 4,385 pounds on barbells or something like that. They drop weights leaving earthquakes in their wake, forget their empty water bottles and drop towels on the floor, and “forget” to re-rack those huge wheels of iron that I can barely budge. Carrie has to remind them of the gym rules – re-rack that stack - as flames shoot out of her mouth.

I, on the other hand, still have soggy self-esteem and an even worse self-image. I see myself in the mirror as nothing more a fat blob like Evelyn Couch in the earlier part of my favorite movie Fried Green Tomatoes. It should be noted that Evelyn, who has better insurance, undergoes a similar transformation throughout the movie, and I’m following that same path. It’s nice to have fictional role models; they never let you down no matter how many times I watch the movie. Real role models like Carrie are harder to find and much more valuable in real life.

Here I am pumping iron in the grunt zone. I’m ok standing up, lifting hand weights or a small barbell or kettle bell up and down. I think Carrie switches them out and gives me heavier ones when I’m not looking; this must be what they’re taught in trainer school. She has me throwing nope-ropes, pushing the Tank, playing wall ball, "planking," and a thousand other things.

When I bend down or over, however, I absolutely despise the woman in the mirror. My shirt tightens over my blobby belly, underscoring it, italicizing it, bolding it so its emphasis is available to everyone’s eyes. I should believe that no one else cares, but I’ve seen enough YouTube fails where the goal is to humiliate people like me who are trying desperately to change. At the gym I can’t tell if someone’s replying to a friend or Snapchatting a photo of me in my Scooby-Doo shirt looking like Danny Devito’s Penguin with “lol” written over my body. When I told Carrie how I don’t like looking in the mirror at myself, she stepped in between the mirror and me and kept counting. That was a nice move on her part; that's part of our routine now. I don’t do math, and I forget how to breathe. She counts and breathes fire, I believe.

She’s produced several Instagram reels promoting her clients’ successes, and I’m in one of them. The music is perfect, the little comments in white that she put in some frames, and just the overall feeling that I can be successful is there. I’ve never put myself on social media like that because of the utter shame I feel. My dragon Carrie is worth her weight in gold and is someone I want and need on my team. Because of her, I am finally winning.


About the Creator

Barb Dukeman

After 32 years of teaching high school English, I've started writing again and loving every minute of it. I enjoy bringing ideas to life and the concept of leaving behind a legacy.

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