GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — I am approaching slim and healthy with great speed, it appears, but some cracks are beginning to show in my smile.
My right shoulder (specifically, the rotator cuff) isn't taking well to weight lifting. That's the first problem. I haven't been able to really work out for a week. Then an acquaintance, I think without meaning to, belittled both my progress and my efforts. And the real world came to visit my island and hasn't left yet. My phone rings too much, my budget isn't working, and my typewriter won't talk to me.
But my shoulder scares me the most. You know how much I have always dreamed of having hunky shoulders and arms, not to mention a whole new body. Last year, when those who know muscles said I really could have rippling ones, my heart skipped a beat. It was like the flutters brought on by my first serious crush 30 years ago. Last week, when one of my doctors said matter of factly my dream could end with too many shoulder injuries, my heart skipped again, an unpleasant lurch that seemed prolonged and dangerous.
Now, intellectually, I know the shape of my body isn't important. I am happy my life has been guided more by the meatiness of the mind than the shallowness of muscle tissues. And, hurt shoulder or not, I'm living an exotic year. But I'm still very capable of a trite and shallow thought or two. As I sat glumly nursing my shoulder after visiting the doctor, a friend tried to perk me up by noting the many pluses in my life. To her kindness, I snapped, "and I suppose you're going to tell me I have a nice personality, too."
The following day things got worse. An acquaintance who recently returned to Grand Bahama Island stopped me outside the Underwater Explorers Society saying, "Remar, you look awful! Stringy." The word took me back years.
She continued, "You know, you should take up weight lifting." This to a man who had lifted more than 500,000 pounds in the past two months. I had a fleeting image of what it would be like to trip her accidentally into the sharp spikes of the giant century plant by the front door, but I simply nodded. "Yes, that would be a good idea. Nice to have you back," I lied as I walked on, rubbing my hurt shoulder.
It was a mile walk to my house, a pleasant walk even when things aren't going well--past tennis courts, three oceanside hotels separated by wide open spaces, and dozens of large, mushroom-shaped banyan trees.
I walked particularly slowly, my mind on the things that probably caused me to injure myself. Trying too hard, not heeding the warning signals (like the first shooting pains) and fear of looking wimpish at the gym were probably the culprits.
I stopped under the banyan before the Holiday Inn and purchased a cup of conch salad from the small native stand there. The tree virtually surrounds the stand, roots touching its roof and sides, even attaching themselves in places. But Bertha, the owner, doesn't seem concerned about the creeping roots. Good island psychiatrist that she is, Bertha sensed my mood.
"Give it away," she said when I told her about my slight depression. I blinked. She was right. If exercise--even when it brings a little injury--is good, and if diet--even when it makes you look "stringy"--is healthy, decent people like me should share their blessings. Right then, under the banyan tree, I decided to form my own exercise class.
I called Lauren Hunt-Manning. Laurie and her husband are both instructors at the Underwater Explorers Society; she is also a certified aerobics fitness specialist. During the past 10 years, the Mannings have lived, exercised and scuba dived from Australia's Great Barrier Reef to the Taiwan Straits, the Gulf of Siam, Barbados, New Guinea and, finally, back to Grand Bahama Island.
Laurie looked me straight in the eye when I told her I wanted to form an aerobics class at my house. She spoke quickly, "Why do you want a class, Remar?"
"Well, I thought it would be good for my book," I said. "You know, understanding the dynamics of exercise physiology and . . ."
". . . the principle of misery loves company, eh?" she said, smiling, as if her words were part of my sentence. Bingo.
We will meet for the first time and begin to explore--hurt shoulder or not--what this kind of aerobic exercise can do for hunkdom. More about this next week.
I miss the gym, feel restless when my friends go there without me. Feeling "stringy" is worse than feeling fat. And though the difference between stringy and hunky seems very small--a couple of inches on the shoulders and biceps--I am beginning to realize how far those distances may be.
Do you really need to warm up and cool down?
Oh, yes. Especially if you haven't worked out for many years. Any trauma, including a rapid increase in your body's workload, can place a strain on your heart and its support systems, throwing them into shock.