My Sales Pitch for Toadal Fitness in Santa Cruz, or What Happens When French People Name a Gym
I was getting skinnier and skinnier. At one point in my life, that would have been an exciting thing, but at 54, skinnier was meaning weaker. Skinnier meant I looked like I’d gotten my legs from a chicken and my butt from a pancake. I started running when I was 13, and I started doing yoga when I was 31. I’m one of those people who would chew off my own arm or yours if I sat around and watched TV all day.
I used to wonder how people could deal with their lives without doing some form of fairly vigorous exercise almost daily. And then something happened. I don’t know what it was. I suspect it was a shift in hormones or the fact that I chased a wild dream and got it and then was exhausted. For two years. Exercising sounded like the absolutely wrong thing to do—it felt as if I had just run a marathon so the idea of doing anything physically challenging was zero percent appealing, and when I pushed myself, my muscles started to burn in a sickening, you’re out of gas, kind of way, and I’d end up either lying on the floor, crying, or, more often than not, both at the same time. Maybe that is what a quiet mid-life crisis looks like (assuming I am going to live to be over 100…).
All I know is that I didn't know who I was anymore. I used to feel strong, athletic. and now I felt like a popsicle stick had mated with a bird and produced me. What the heck was I going to do with myself? I walked a lot—walking felt manageable, but it certainly didn’t build much muscle. Or joy, really. I was fairly happy, but I didn’t live off that endorphin rush I used to get after running or doing yoga. I tried drinking lots of coffee, but it wasn’t the same. Irritable and high is not the same as sweaty and euphoric.
And then, over Thanksgiving, my friend I had known since I was ten months old threw down the hammer. She handed me a pink book called Younger Next Year: for Women and she said, “You have to start working out. I love you. I’m sorry, but really. Come on.” I took the book and asked if she had any dark chocolate. I wanted something to eat as I read and ignored a book all at the same time. My working out days were over. They just were. I was a walker. A skinny, weak, almost-happy walker.
Two hours later, after reading about the chemicals and hormones that get released from different forms of vigorous exercise, I came back to my sane mind. What had I been thinking? My body was MADE to be pushed. I was like a stagnant pond, and if I wanted to live as fully as possible, I needed to get up and move. I also needed to pump some iron if, as a past-middle aged woman, I wanted to keep my skeleton whole when I fell down some stairs or out of a car (or, more likely, tripped over my own foot).
A few days later, I flew out of Logan Airport wondering how I was going to get myself to go to a gym. I’m an outside person. The idea of being inside when I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the country seemed crazy. Gyms were places where people with faces pumped full of Botox tried to get perfect. Gyms were place where big guys threw big weights and gave the stink-eye to guppies like me who were lost and confused. Gyms were punishment. And I was going to find one.
I had walked by Toadal Fitness countless times—the Wednesday downtown farmer’s market happens right outside the back door, and the toad thing was off-putting. I didn’t get it. Toadal? Like, frog?
But I was going to go to a gym because the pink book had told me my life would be better if I did, and I had, despite my best efforts, become a believer. I went to Peet’s, got an iced tea for courage, and walked a couple of blocks to the front door.
Reader, my life changed. First of all, Chloe and Allison at the front desk were warm and funny and helpful. Secondly, I won’t talk numbers here, but the club was so much less than I had expected to pay. I don’t know how the owners can offer such low monthly rates and such a low fee to join. I’m not asking questions. I’m even afraid to write this—maybe they don’t realize just what a bargain they are giving people, for I have access to not just the downtown facility, but to a second one also (I chose the Westside gym, and now that’s where I go almost daily).
When I signed up for the year, I also got three sessions with a trainer. Chloe told me everyone loved Jacob, and a week later I could see what she meant. Jacob had the hour planned out, and he walked me through a series of machines working my upper and lower body. I have to tell you that secretly I was afraid that my brain wasn’t up to learning new things. This isn’t something I like to admit, but there it is. I was afraid I was going to look like an idiot. I was afraid of making mistakes.
When someone compliments you, you get an oxytocin rush (or at least I do), and I was BATHED in good feelings the whole hour. “Good form,” Jacob said, over and over again. “Nice pacing.” He was so careful that my form was correct and that I felt safe and confident. He kept the weights low so we could work on form, and so the next day I wasn’t even sore. I felt good, buzzy. My body felt more alive. I felt stronger, like someone had put batteries in my pack.
I was hooked.
It has been more than a month and I still walk miles every day, but I also go to either the downtown or Westside location and play. I do some cardio; I lift some weights; I drink some water. I also sweat, and after two years of not sweating, I get euphoric from being in a body that feels well used. I sort of fell off the stairmaster once and apparently I feel comfortable enough that I didn’t even get embarrassed. I just laughed. The other day I was on one of the bike machines (there’s probably a better word for it, but I don’t know what it is). and I heard a trainer tell a woman on the machine next to me to steer the bike using the handles and I laughed again. My bike kept going in the grass, and now I knew why.
I never imagined I would go to a gym and feel at home there. I thought I would always feel sort of…fake, but it’s just so easy. I go in; everyone’s nice; I do my stuff, and I leave. It’s all so simple and clean and healthy and fun. There is so much I haven’t done. I haven’t done any of the classes. I haven’t gone into the sauna. I haven’t asked what the Hot Box thing in the stretching area at the West Side gym is for.
I almost forgot to tell you: I learned the owners of Toadal Fitness are French, and total sounds like toadal when you were born in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. So it wasn’t about working out to be a toad! It was about language and cultures mingling! The name was cool!
This morning when I woke up, I put on music and danced (white girl from Boston—you get the picture) as I brushed my teeth. I felt ON.
Then I tied on my sneakers, walked alongside the ocean until I got to Natural Bridges State Park, took a right, and walked down the street to the gym.
Where I worked OUT.
Note: I wrote this because I felt like it. Toadal Fitness had nothing to do with it—I get nada from them in exchange for this praise fest other than euphoria and all that I mentioned in the above paragraphs. Here’s a link to their website if you want to (move to Santa Cruz) and join me: https://www.toadalfitness.com.