This morning, I’m back at Junior’s Gym and Chris and Bertina are outside waiting for me in their usual spot. When I see them together, I always have this warm feeling inside that I am watching love between two people made visible with every posture, word and gesture. They are happily chatting animatedly together face-to-face, looking healthy and vibrant. They have lived long enough to know how to mindfully cherish and respect each other for everything that the other means to them. It’s the kind of love that is clear and outspoken and I am learning just as much from being near them as a couple, as I am from following their physical direction as my strength trainers.
They’re eager to get started and introduce some new exercises to keep coaxing my lower body to take on more challenging goals. Bertina guides me through deep lunge stretches (honestly, these don’t feel like a warm-up stretch at all; it’s tough and takes careful breathing and concentration to finish the pose).
And then we are jumping rope again, which strangely I am motivated to do. I never would have predicted that I could love jumping the way that I do now after just a few short weeks. I find myself jumping while waiting for my morning coffee to brew or when I pass in front of a mirror just for fun. I realize that I have shifted back to a child’s perspective: jumping because it’s thrilling and you want to do it, versus feeling like you should do it because it’s good for you.
Next we walk out on our hands until our feet are posed on the edge of the medicine balls chest down in a plank pose. We are holding these positions longer this week which feels rewarding when Bertina shows me the stopwatch. We want trembling triceps, Chris reminds me upping the time. Now that we are warmed up, I sense that Chris is ready to have some fun (I am starting to understand that certain look in his eye now!).
Bertina and I head outside on the sidewalks of Calle Xalteva each armed with a broom handle. Bertina shows me how to keep it raised above my head while we do deep lunges on the same leg stepping out and over, and over again, making distance down the sidewalk before turning around and heading back on the same leg. It’s comical to see the traffic slowing down and the stares from my fellow Granadinos that are passing us by. When I was much younger I would have gobbled up all that attention like a piece of chocolate cake, but it just makes me laugh now because it is so out of my ordinary life.
Chris informs me before I repeat the other side that I am doing a military exercise that is substituting a broom for a rifle and that he has generously not made me carry a 50 pound backpack or asked me to stand ankle deep in water. Thank goodness for small favors! I am already in a world of pain at the end and there is still so much to go.
Back inside the gym we head over to the section that I normally think of as the men’s area. More than likely, I wouldn’t venture over here to the heavy weights on my own. Chris is still coaching Bertina how to take ownership of this area no matter what gym she is in any country that they travel. He hands me a disk that weighs 10 pounds which honestly feels heavy to me and them smiles at Bertina before he passes her the 50 pound version.
Weights held in a prayer position we head back down into deep squats, glutes out, squeezing tight on the way back up. I could seriously get stuck at the bottom and by the time we finish the third set, I come pretty close to not making it up at all, screaming to make the final stretch. Screaming’s good, Chris cackles.
We do more versions of the same quest for the floor shifting small weights to each side to work the various upper arm muscles. Chris loves to point out each muscle in Bertina’s beautiful back and arms and explain how there is an exercise that coordinates with achieving the form of each one. He promises me that he will never make me look bulky. His upper arm strengthening routine is designed with our bodies in mind to make our femininity compelling and pleasing. How in the world would I have known how to go about that?
When we finish our last exercises and I am sure that I will have to negotiate all the steps I have to take to close the space between Junior’s Gym and my car, Chris invites me to watch Bertina do handstands. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but I know that to both of them her handstand’s evolution into existence had been an epic development. Bertina had trained with Chris much as I do with her, cautiously optimistic but willing to leave the future fate of her body in her trainer’s knowledgeable hands.
Except for one thing: handstands.
Chris had asked her to do a handstand one day and she defiantly refused. It wasn’t negotiable. She was not going to do it. Everyone has a mental point of resistance. There were early childhood memories of humiliating failed attempts and as much as she wanted to comply, her mind just said no. Chris dug down deeper and they quietly faced off at the gym for an hour. I don’t really know why Bertina relented, maybe it was the conviction that Chris saw in her more than she saw in herself, or maybe she just really wanted to go home. I still have to ask her about that. But in the end she bent down and placed her hands by Chris’s feet and then in an act of total trust kicked her legs up high in the air where his arms awaited her.
Forty years of I cannot do it, melted away in one leap of faith. Now she is game to doing handstands all over Granada: in front of the churches, in the parks, down by the Malecon waterfront. Her point of resistance now just a milestone memory and a good story to tell a novice like me.
Bertina swings her legs up into Chris’s ready hands and she hovers there upside down, perfectly straight and strong. He lets her go for a few moments on her own, securely floating in space and then wraps her back up in his arms again.
What I do think when I have the privilege to share in moments like these?
-Oh, I’m so lucky, I’m so lucky, I’m so lucky…