Last spring, my brother announced his impending Long Island nuptials, and I knew something had to be done—something radical. All my life, I’d noted events in the future and told myself I’d get in shape by the time they rolled around, and had always failed miserably. The weeks flew by, and I’d end up zipping myself into whatever forgiving garment suited the occasion.
I really couldn’t do that this time. My little brother was getting married. Everyone would be dressed to the nines, in full Strong Island effect. I would be bringing my beautiful partner Laura—a first for me, and definitely the first time a same-sex couple would attend a wedding in my family.
It was a great excuse to get in shape.
I am not very vigilant when it comes to body maintenance. I’m more like the person who goes out of town for a few months, leaving the house with friends, and then comes home and says, “What the crap did you do to my house?” because the picture in my mind is entirely different than what’s looking back at me.
The “friends” I leave my body with are beer, wine and white flour. They let tequila and smothered breakfast burritos come visit. The next thing you know, it’s time to get all hard-ass and lay down the law.
I also have a dicky thyroid so, if I eat less, my metabolism slows down and I gain weight. If I eat the same amount, I stay the same or gain weight. And the older I get, the more certain worry-free zones go rogue on me and turn into issues: such as my upper arms; and the middle of my back; and the area below my armpits, dubbed “the chicken cutlets” by a friend of mine; and the skin above the backs of my knees, which seems to be crawling south.
This time would be different. I needed to be accountable. If I made my own plan, it would fizzle like so many others (as much as I wanted to be someone else—someone who would follow through solo). I called up a personal trainer, Jax Manhoff, who had been recommended to me as very cool and down-to-earth, with rates I could afford.
We went over my goals: “My brother’s getting married, and I want to lose weight and get toned before the wedding…and also, I want Michelle Obama arms.”
“OK,” she said. “Let’s shoot for that. But I should tell you that I don’t believe in scales.”
I agreed. I wanted to feel accomplished because of what I had done, and how my clothes fit. Weighing myself could be encouraging, but it also had the power to crumble my self-esteem and erode my workout schedule.
“I train people at the Salvador Perez [Pool and Fitness Center],” Manhoff said. “It’s great, and really inexpensive.” (At the time it was $51 for three months; now, it’s $64.)
When I walked into the gym, it struck me as bare-bones. The space was compact, and the equipment was neither fancy, shiny, new nor abundant. There was a certain medium security prison-gym vibe. I knew it wouldn’t have the Jack LaLanne panache of El Gancho Fitness Swim and Racquet Club, or the scale of the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, and I definitely knew that I wouldn’t get confused and think, “Am I at Body?” but still, it was a little scruffy. There were certain machines we just avoided because they were flat-out broken. People were working out in their jeans. The free weights had an ancient metallic sweaty tang on them that had me running to wash my hands afterward.
But people sweat, a lot, in all kinds of gyms. It would take an army of hygiene police to ensure all surfaces remain constantly sanitized. I had to be realistic and focus on the goal.
At the beginning of our first gym session, Manhoff spoke words she’d go on to repeat until I knew them by heart. “Checking your systems,” she called it:
“Chest open, shoulders down and back, look straight ahead, back straight, tighten your abs and pinch your glutes, and breathe out on the hard stuff.”
She monitored my form, noted my reps, and inched my weights up over the course of three months.
I won’t keep you in suspense. It happened. I lost inches and went down a size. I went from being unable to bench-press the 40-pound bar to popping it up and down as if it were a yardstick. A couple of times a week, I went running or rode my bike to work. My upper arms ceased to be an issue, although they stopped short of being first-lady buff. And the jiggle above the backs of my knees was gone, baby, gone.
At the wedding, my mother, who is a gimlet-eyed body critic (if she had ever joined a sorority, she would have been the one circling with a Sharpie marker the fat on crying frosh girls), said, “Wow, don’t you look svelte! Hot mama!”
I said, “Thanks.” I honestly never expected to receive approval from my mother on that level, and it didn’t suck. But it was gravy. I felt good in my skin, and appreciated how much my training had paid off. I learned so much about what my body could do, and how good it felt to sweat and groan and feel the burn.
After I got back, I continued to run and meet with Manhoff. Unfortunately, one day when I was running, my back began to hurt. And then it got worse. And then I realized I had a back problem, which took several chiropractic sessions to fix. It took me out of the game, for a while. But I just moved to Eldorado, and I’ve been walking several times a week. It’s a nice contrast to working out at Salvador Perez. Instead of dodging someone else’s flying perspiration droplets, I get my sweat on (and a sweet solitude hit) on dirt roads with lizards popping out to give me their skittery version of a high five.
I still haven’t given up on those Michelle Obama arms. And there’s another wedding coming up in my family. Considering the dress I picked out, I’m going to need upper arm definition, and some nice shoulder toning. This wedding is local, though. It’s mine.
Many—if not all—of Santa Fe’s gyms either employ or host personal trainers. Some good rules of thumb when considering a personal trainer:
• Ask about the trainer’s education and certification
• Ask about what types of programs he or she uses
• Be clear on your fitness goals
• Don’t be afraid to ask for references