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  • Writer's pictureWILLIAM HAZEL

The January Gym

Updated: Jun 15

The January gym reeks of resolution and self-loathing. New faces in new clothes staining in the sweat of want and willpower and wonderings of reshaping the shapes mocking in mirrors since the holiday binge.

The November gym was busy, though swathes of open space brought ease for finding a place to knock out sets far from a neighbor’s stench. A mill always open for grinding. The December gym was quiet, hollow empty, echoing clatter of the regulars, rats, and runners.

The January gym is an overcrowded asses to elbows hell rush to wellness. A once-a-year extravaganza. It will swell with flesh shortly ahead of summer, but this month, this new year beginning is stand alone.

The mass of bodies is thick and hurried. Movement and machine mixing the din of pounding music piping treble hollow. The treadmills are full. A dozen in a row. Another half dozen in half row. Full. Three rows of weight machines filling the space beyond are covered in humanity. Many working in pairs: friends, partners, couples, workout buddies, one on the machine, the other waiting.

Fear is palpable. We are afraid.

The young afraid of not being young. The old of being old. The middle afraid of both.

I am afraid.

The gut grows while metabolism slows. The core blurring center in relentless spread of dread. Another inch on the belt once tightened against svelte. The resting heart feels unrested. Arterial pressures increase for matching life’s ever rising stress-meter. The marathon legs are memory. I move through the January gym humbled and awed at the rapidity my body can betray,

But fear has served me well throughout this temporary time of bone and blood.

I was afraid in the hospital of never leaving the hospital. Fear pushed me to endure the pain, the sleepless nights to fight for chance of another tomorrow. I was afraid of not being able to walk across the room, so I practiced walking across the room. I was terrified of forever pissing in a jar, so I learned how to get to the bathroom on my own.

I feared having back pain for rest of my life, so I bought a yoga mat and trusted a notion the doctors may have been exaggerating. I was afraid of falling on my ass in yoga class, so I learned to let myself fall on my ass and get back up to try again.

And I was afraid of becoming a body that struggled on stairs. That couldn’t disappear into nature, climb a bluff, sit on a ledge of rock, share an overlook with other animals of equal curiosity. In fear of not being able to walk, I walked. I hiked. I climbed. And then I ran. I ran for a few minutes and then I ran a mile nonstop and then I ran a marathon.

Most of us working out this month are here because we don’t like our bodies. Whether we struggle with our weight, our strength, balance, or resilience, we share the space in common distaste of our physical selves. How have I learned to dislike my body with such ease? To see a mirror filled with flaws?

I am nearly all water, and the formidable power of this tiny ocean has brought me through years of neglect, fast food, salt and sugar. Through major trauma. A night when a helicopter crew and an ER team figured it was 50/50 I’d be moving to an ICU. This very same body later allowed me to be one of the one percent of the population called marathoners. And the floor is filled with the same kinds of stories. So many of us in this jammed huddle have tales of overcoming hardship and pain. And still, we look in the mirror with disgust. We are in this gym afraid.

I have grown to enjoy the month, for the collective energy of our wanting to be healthier colors the arena in hope for stronger tomorrows. The room is filled with desire. And a greater understanding that our emotional wellbeing is directly connected to movement. And though the theme may be loathing, our behavior has changed. We have paid for a gym membership. We have hauled ourselves from the comforts of inertia. We are working out.

This is my fifth year of membership and experience tells me the machines will be more readily available by late March. In the weeks of early spring, we are in the gym because we like our bodies. The change of mood is distinct. Inked biceps radiate in reps. Sculpted backs and stone smooth scaps highlight in sweat-soaked shine. Quads and glutes parade. Familiar faces nod or wave. We’re plugged into our music, celebrating our glow, sharing selfies unashamed.

I will be in that gym in the months ahead. But in this moment, in this now, I am afraid.

I am in the January Gym.

© Copyright William Hazel, 2023

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