Alison Berkley: Body of Aphrodite doesn’t come easy
November 12, 2002
There’s this super-skinny girl at my gym who is always on the Stairmaster. No matter what day of the week it is, or what time I stumble in there, she’s chugging away on that thing like she’s on a mission from God. She cranks it up as fast as it will go, long legs blurred in a flurry of motion like that chick from Flashdance. Sweat drips from her long, thin body like wax from a lit candle, as if one day she might melt away altogether. She wears fancy sweats low on her narrow hips, exposing a lanky, thin torso and an all-too-flat stomach, straight blonde hair wrapped high on her head in a loose bun.
I’ve had plenty of time to notice these things since I’m on the treadmill across the room from her, doing the exact same thing and wondering just how many hours it took for her to look like that. I’ve only been going to the gym regularly for about a week (today is day 11, not that I’m counting) which is a good thing considering I’ve been paying $70 a month for a facility I’ve hardly used since I joined six months ago. I signed up out of blind obligation, a detail I took care of as soon as I moved here, before I got a P.O. Box or registered my car. I still had that So Cal workout mentality and didn’t realize that the real value is in the land, not what was built on top of it. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be more interested in exercising outside instead of two stories underground in an overpriced gym. I know real estate in Aspen is expensive, but it seems like an awful lot of money just to sweat it out in a glorified basement.
The gym thing is a phenomenon I could definitely do without. Aside from its practical application as a place to stay fit when weather or hours of daylight won’t permit, the gym is a twisted institution that fosters America’s superficial fascination with appearances. That’s why the people who own gyms put mirrors everywhere, as if you really need to see what you look like from the front, side and back while you’re about to pass out from running away from an image of yourself that you don’t like and toward one you think you do. Confronting that discrepancy can be a painful process, especially when the Stairmaster Goddess is there every day to make the unobtainable even more obvious. Like I really want to spend my entire life bouncing up and down on that thing when I have better things to do, like check out all the cute snowboarding instructors or make powder turns at Snowmass on opening weekend!
I go to the gym anyway, partly because I want to get in shape for the ski season, and partly because I can’t fit into any of my pants. I did buy them all in So Cal and they are pretty small, but I simply refuse to go out and buy bigger clothes. I’ll suffer the torture and monotony of an indoor workout if it means the quickest and most efficient way to having a tighter ass. So back to the treadmill I go, to watch seconds slowly tick away on that bright-red digital readout where minutes seem like hours and a tenth of a mile seems like an awfully long way.
I try to distract myself with a magazine, but it’s hard to turn the pages, so I end up leaving it open to a photo of some supermodel who is the very reason I’m on this stupid machine in the first place. I get tired of staring at that, so I try to watch the closed-caption TV hanging from the ceiling instead, but it’s on some local newscast that requires far too much concentration for very little information. Sooner or later I realize the most fascinating thing is watching the minutes and the miles and the calories go by on the digital readout, so I go back to being tormented instead of distracted. After 45 minutes on the treadmill, it’s down to the wall-to-wall mirrored stretching room (two stories below ground) to suffer through a series of core stabilizer exercises that do little more than make me sore as hell. I do crunches by the hundreds in every position imaginable with the hope that one day my stomach will be flat. I try not to get claustrophobic or wonder about the poor ventilation and all the germs and sweat molecules floating through the air. I ignore the guy who glances at me sideways from his bicep curler, and wonder if he’s checking me out or just thinking that my workout might be more effective than his.
All that time in the gym does absolutely nothing for me on opening day. Five turns off Big Burn and I’m sure I’ve collapsed a lung. I imagine myself being carted off to the hospital in one of those sleds, the first 32-year-old female in Aspen history to die of a heart attack on the first day of the season. So I blame it on my equipment and try to focus through breathlessness and cramped muscles to the smell of snow and the way the trees look sugar coated. I manage a few clean, untracked turns through the trees on Powerline, but it still takes six beers with my friend Krista and the snowboarding crew at The Daly Tavern to dull the pain and celebrate this amazing first powder day, even if it did kick my ass.
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I know the only way to overcome early season soreness is to push through it, so I go up for more runs the next day and then straight to the gym to sweat it out with Miss Stairmaster USA. She’s there doing her thing as usual, long before and long after I’m done with my workout and time in the steam room. Maybe I shouldn’t be so critical. She probably rips.
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