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2005-02-22 - 5:19 p.m.

Can I talk to you a moment about the joys of the elliptical?

There are a lot of reasons I never got into exercise before. I don't come from an athletic-or even particularly active-family. Exercise I (we) always felt, was something taking us away from a perfectly good book. There's the sweat, which, as my roommate so lovingly told me, I produce in excess of the average person. And there's the asthma. Exercise induced asthma, ironically enough, which means the harder I exercise, the less I can breathe. I always interpreted this as a sign from God that they don't want me to exercise; a private commandment I was all too happy happy to fulfill.

Good reasons, all, right?

But thinking about it now, I have to think that-for me-the most compelling reason to not exercise was the onset of puberty.

We're talking boobs, folks.

And not the tiny perfectly proportioned ones my mother inherited. No-legions of German and African ancestors saw to that. I got all the child-bearing hips, and booty for a whole ship of pirates, and the boobs. Frankly, I think I must have got my share AND my mom's, and all at the delightfully awkward age of nine.

Yeah. Nine. Sucks to be me.

Because lets face it...athletic women are not chesty women. We all know that's usually the first thing to go, if it was ever there to begin with. The mere act of going down a flight of stairs without a bra is a workout all in itself and forget about the years of state sanctioned humiliation and torture they like to call 'phys ed' ahead of me.

The running. The tumbling. The *shudder* jumping jacks. And lest we forget...the school swimsuits. You couldn't bring your own, you see. You had to wear theirs, in all their WWII glory.

I mean, I didn't care so much that they were old-fashioned. The more I could cover up these embarrassing appendages the better. But they were so old that the elastic had crapped out a long time before (solved handily by the school by handing out a supplemental piece of clothesline to tie at the back of your neck) and the material had worn thin. Thin enough to see through, anyway. We used to fight for the black and dark blue ones, which at least had some pretense of opacity. God save you on the day you were late, because the orange and red suits didn't leave a whole lot to the imagination.

I think you get the idea.

So I don't think I was too unreasonable to decalare undying hatred for all things active.

But then I got fat.

Now I'd like to insert my disclaimer here. I have nothing against the fat, hefty, chunky, thick, or whatever. But like being black, or Jewish, or whatever, I feel that having been one of y'all, I know of what I speak. If you are a happy person of size, then I wish you all blessings and happiness. I was a very happy person of size myself, right up until the day I couldn't fit into any of the rides at Great America.

I'm not a 'dieter'. I'm not one of those people constantly on a diet, or moaning about how I need to lose another 5 pounds to fit into that dress. I love food, I like eating, and that is what I unrepentantly did until I decided it was time to change.

People now congratulate me on how much weight I've lost and (truth be told) I feel like such a cheater. I mean, I did the work, I lost the weight...but my mind has always been my strongest ally and my most bitter nemesis. Once I had made up my mind that I wanted to lose the weight, it seemed easy. I joined Weight Watchers with my best friend and my almost SIL and watched them struggle and agonize and just couldn't understand. I had made up my mind, and the weight just seemed to go.

But at some point (I knew uneasily) I was going to have to exercise.

I chose yoga first, mostly because of its low-impact nature. Yoga was exactly what I wanted and needed. Exercise without the sweat and joggling that made "real" exercise such trauma. And the pounds just kept on going. One hundred of them.

And then I took a break. I wasn't where I wanted to be, weight wise, but other things got in the way. Mom's cancer. David disappearing like he'd entered Witness Protection. How ARAC turned into the job I loved to the job from hell. The final breakdown of the already cancerous friendship between me and Ada. And the minor matter of a nervous breakdown from all of the former.

Getting back on the horse took a while. Oh hell, coming back to life took a while; worrying about my weight took even longer. But I was no longer obese and it was no longer easy. I'd wanted to lose weight to change my life. And I'd done it, and my life didn't change at all. So what had I done this all for again?

But it's still unfinished. I didn't get to goal and even if it didn't mean much else, it would still be doing what I set out to do. So I went back. And I joined a gym. Foreign territory indeed.

It took me a long time to come around to the elliptical. The treadmill and bike were the most familiar and that was where I started. And where I stayed, leery of the exercise Gestapo I was sure was lurking just out of sight, waiting for me to show just how clumsy and inexperienced I was. There would be, I was sure, laughing. Possibly mocking and jeering, and that was NOT what I had signed up for, no sir.

But at night I would dream about running.

As a child I used to run a lot PB (Pre-Boobs), asthma notwithstanding. But that was before my body betrayed me and before the forced competition of school. I could start and stop as I liked. I ran against no one but myself, because usually it was only myself. I never did play well with others, a trait I'm amused and dismayed lingers to this day. But I think then, before it was spoiled, I must have loved it, the running.

I wanted to run again.

The acquisition of a heavy duty underwire sports bra was essential. I wasn't going to have the girls bouncing around like crazed jumping beans. I prefer my humiliation in single serve, thank you kindly. And I had to work my way up to it. I tried the elliptical stepper first, and despite the first week of feeling like someone had driven rusty spikes into my shins, I liked it. It was aerobic, and-inevitably-sweaty, but the endorphins didn't take long to kick in, and I felt wonderful afterwards. But it still wasn't running.

Getting on to the elliptical crosstrainer for the first time actually happened almost by accident. An unusually crowded day, all the steppers were taken. There was nothing for it, and if the Gestapo caught me, I had my excuse.

The elliptical itself was everything I'd dreamed it could be. I mean, okay, there was sweating and a fair amount of huffing and puffing and the first five minutes my legs wanted to quit about once a second...but other than that, it was all gravy. I was running. Without all the bobbling, and joggling. Without the pain of having two punching bags attached at the chest. And once I hit the zen, I run for miles.

Sometimes I run with my eyes closed, just me and the music, perfect as so few moments are, timed to my pulse and breath.

Mostly, I just run, grounded and centered in a way I never knew was possible. United, body to mind, in a union as gorgeous as it is temporary. We have always been in contention, this body and I, and it is only times like this that we can put our disagreements aside and have a moment together. And then it is just like I dreamed.

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