Standing along the East River, surrounded by a large group of twenty-somethings dressed in the latest lululemon athletic wear, I hold my head high. Decked out in my old Target jogging pants with the faded out crotch and an unraveling waistband—the same tired pants my husband and daughter christened the “uniform pants,” I try to ignore the startling contrast in age, fashion, and physique.
Five minutes in, the trainer introduces himself as G5, asks us to sign in, and then directs us to line up in rows. Before I have a chance to find a comfortable spot, G5 reaches for the whistle dangling from his toned neck in what seems like slow motion and, suddenly, a shrilling sound echoes in my ears. I sprint up the hill desperately trying to stay in front of someone, anyone, so that I will not be last. But last is where I finish each time.
My friend, Heather, tries offering her famous positive smile but I see the sides of her mouth quiver. She points to a nearby planter and tells me she’s found the spot where we can throw up if we need to. And for a brief, ever so brief, moment, relief steps in as I study the planter.
During the lunge sprint, I glance awkwardly to the side and consider making a run for the planter. By the time I’m sprinting and trying to incorporate the backwards lunge, I’ve decided it’s too much effort and that if this urge to be sick continues, I will simply collapse right where I am on the hill mid-sprint.
I trail behind the others and am barely making my way back to my spot in line when the whistle breaks the sound of my heavy breathing. I watch the group dart past me with what I believe to be a sparkle of judgment in their eyes. We grab waters and I gulp mine down as if I’ve been trekking the desert for weeks. The mirage disappears quickly as G5 gathers us all in a circle. Two team captains announced–the high school gym nightmare of choosing teams commences. And I am officially done with boot camp. Of course, I’m one of the last to be picked. I join the group and listen as we’re told how to move across the obstacle course of interval training. I’ve seen many of these on Biggest Loser. But seeing them and using them are two entirely different things. I am awkward. I struggle. I want to run away and cry, but I know my trembling legs cannot carry me. And so I stay, reluctantly, as if a prisoner shackled by my own weight and self-loathing.
At one point, G5 tells me to sit out a minute and rest. When I try to get up back up, his hand comes down on my shoulders and he says, “Just relax.” I can do nothing that closely resembles relaxing. When I finally grab the ropes and start, I overhear a group complaining about too much downtime, how they want to push harder while their heart rates are up. I understand I am the reason the pace has slowed.
The grueling hour ends and the sun begins to set. We gather one last time as G5 applauds the group efforts and promises the next boot camp will be even better, because he’ll have different areas for those who aren’t as boot camp savvy, or something to that effect. At this point, I’m fighting my own battle of anger and tears, realizing he’s calling me out in front of everyone. Although I try to opt out of the group photo, I end up reluctantly standing along the edge, offering a halfhearted smile.
As we grab our bags and empty water bottles, I hear G5 chatting behind me, working to get my attention. Heather makes small talk with him, and I walk faster, trying to get far away.
The following day, I’m tagged in the photo via the fitness studio’s Facebook page. Surprised, I consider untagging myself, but instead stare at the photo. It’s not as bad as I remembered. Yes, the uniform pants with the bold white stripe stand out. And my face is bright red, radiating with sweat and embarrassment. But I’m there. I stayed till the bitter end. And all at once, I understand that my anger towards G5 hadn’t been about him at all.
I still have two months left to use the rest of my boot camp Groupon deal. In the meantime, I’m working out with a trainer, eating healthier, and incorporating health and wellness into my family’s everyday lifestyle—something I wish I’d done long ago.
Before you know it, I’ll be back standing along the East River with another group of young, fit individuals, and this time no uniform pants, no excuses. . . Oorah!
Maria Riley is a Writer and Social Media Consultant. A Southern transplant now raising a teenage daughter in New York City, she writes, blogs and tweets from a new New Yorker’s perspective. You can follow her adventures at LifeofRileyNYC.com and connect on Twitter @LifeofRileyNYC. She lives on Roosevelt Island with her husband and daughter.