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Gym Belle  - noun  one who enjoys pull-ups, push-ups, lifting things up/putting 'em down, PRs of all kinds, racing, jumping, spinning, daring and blogging re same (more here)


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A Foreign Gym

When I was twenty, I spent two months in St. Petersburg. I lived with a 60 year old widow, Galya, and her 25 year old son, Andrei. Galya was an excellent cook. To this day, I have not tasted anything to rival her pizza. Nevertheless, knowledge of her standard ingredients literally gave me nightmares. I had never seen so much oil, cream and butter (often together). I couldn't not eat my host-mother's cooking, but I feared for my waistline.

It took me about a week to come up with a two-fold solution. First, I gave up public transportation. It was a nightmare to navigate anyway, and half the time it didn't run properly, so that wasn't much of a sacrifice. I walked everywhere, including to my internship and back. I probably walked for at least two hours a day.

Second, I decided to join a gym. In the years that followed, Russia would experience a western-style fitness boom, but, in 1999, my options were fairly limited. My host-mother took me to look at two gyms near our apartment. I quickly decided on the swanky new one. It was large and Equinox-esque. There were aerobics classes, saunas and a spa in addition to the weight rooms. I settled in quickly.  I was thrilled to discover that "step" was a universal language. I spent a lot of time on the treadmill. I used the abductor/adductor machines. It was familiar.

My St. Petersburg gym was quite pricey by Russian standards. At a time when the ruble really wasn't worth much (good opera tickets cost me about $3.00), the gym cost me around $60 a month. That was about what my gym back here cost me at the time (NH, not NY). This wasn't a gym for the average joe; it was a gym for the rich. My understanding was that money in St. Petersburg meant mafia. I can't vouch for the accuracy of my perception, but, at the time, I didn't doubt it. I decided that chilling in the sauna with mafia girlfriends was educational. They were very entertaining. Occasionally, I felt guilty for flaunting my relative wealth in front of my host-mother. For the most part, though, I remember feeling as though I didn't have a choice if I wanted to go to the gym.

The gym that I had ruled out right away was a single room with blue mats on the floor an a slight musty odor. There were barbells and free weights. There was a pull-up bar or two and not much else in terms of equipment. I didn't see any women when we visited. I don't think I even considered working out there. Had that been the only option, I probably would have scrapped the gym idea entirely. That place wasn't what I meant by a "gym."

All this came back to me on Saturday as I walked home from Crossfit Metropolis. Crossfit Metropolis is located two flights up above an auto mechanic shop. There are black rubber mats on the floor. It has barbells, kettle bells and medicine balls. There are pull-up bars. Saturday's workout involved shoulder presses, burpees and box jumps. There is a fan, but no AC. I wore shorts, and when we were done my legs were blackened from hitting the floor for the burpees. I was drenched from the exertion and the heat. I got some interesting looks as I walked home, past NYSC, past Equinox.

I made the right decision in St. Petersburg. I would have been out of place at the other gym, and I wouldn't have known what to do. Everything else was foreign during my time in Russia; I was entitled to take comfort in the familiarity of my American gym routine. Still, it's interesting that while I thought nothing of traveling to Russia alone to live with strangers, a grungy gym was too foreign to contemplate.

These days, I don't get to travel like I used to and routine abounds. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that Crossfit Metropolis is foreign. Despite it's aesthetic and philosophies, it's filled with bankers. And it would be a stretch to say that exploring new gyms truly satisfies my wanderlust. Still, it wouldn't have occurred to my twenty-year-old self to set foot in Crossfit. So, what I can say is that I'm grateful to have local unchartered territory to explore, to recognize those opportunities when I see them, and to be in a place to do it.

-Gym Belle-

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Reader Comments (1)

Great to have you back on board Gym Belle! I'm glad to know we remind you of gritty Russia. Seems appropriate.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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