I grew more and more depressed as the summer drew to a close for reasons not entirely tied to my dissatisfaction with my weight: in September, I would be starting a three-year grad program in New York City; Lysander would be starting a four-year program in North Carolina. I had already decided that he was the man I wanted to marry, and the thought of being separated from him for so long was agonizing.
We spent our last week together by driving up to his house in NC to get him set up for school and then flying to NYC to set up my apartment. I would be living in Washington Heights with a friend of Lysander’s from college. I was nervous but excited.
I weighed myself every day that week, gloomily noting the numbers: 129.5. We dined like kings in New York, wolfing down plates and plates of the best foods in the city. Once Lysander left, it would be back to the regularly scheduled meal plan, so I indulged as much as I could while I had the chance.
When Lysander left, I took a look at myself in the mirror. I felt like I was bursting out of my clothes. Curves, breasts, hips and thighs…I had become “ugly” once again. It would be about 3 months until I saw Lysander (since he was flying me in to NC for Thanksgiving and my birthday), and so I decided that I would give him a surprise: I would go through a transformation so profound, that he would be even more in love with me. I was going to be thin and beautiful and strong. I was going to learn how to lift weights.
I remembered a conversation that we’d had about his favorite fitness model, Jamie Eason. I didn’t really know anything about fitness modeling or why Jamie Eason was an important name in the fitness industry, so I decided to look her up.* Needless to say, she was absolutely drop dead sexy–even with muscles, Jamie was more feminine and beautiful than I had imagined. I decided at that moment that I would look like her when I visited Lysander in November. (An added bonus would be impressing my fellow classmates and my professors. I was nervous, convinced for some reason that I might be the dumbest–or least experienced–person in the room, so knowing that I could at least impress people with my physique was somehow reassuring.)
The first thing I did was look up Jamie’s fitness routine. (I quickly found an interview she had given some months back that contained a workout plan, along with several websites full of gratuitously sexy photos that made me feel even worse about my own body–thank you, Google!) Instead of cardio, the plan included lots of weights–she used body part splits and machines I’d never heard of, too. No matter. That’s what YouTube was for. I still had a few weeks until school started, so I signed up for a gym on 181st street. I bought a little red scale and started weighing myself every day. I also took my first progress picture to document how my body would be changing.
Now, let me tell you about my three weeks at J’s Big Gym:
Every day, I would run a mile underneath the Washington Bridge and up 181st Street to St. Nicholas and back. The gym itself was intimidating. On the first floor, they had their membership desk, their cardio machines, and their traditional resistance machines…and a parrot. A very loud parrot. A parrot that screeched incessantly until a blanket was put over its cage. If a blanket was put over its cage. If you stayed downstairs, besides potentially losing your hearing or your mind, you’d mostly encounter older folks doing abductor exercises and ladies dressed in neon workout clothes with matching fake flowers in their hair.
The free-weight room was an entirely different beast: Up one flight of stairs lay this den of testosterone and bro science, a dark room haunted by leering men in wife beaters and bandanas. My first trip up the stairs nearly had me turning around before I even entered the room, but I clutched my Jamie-Eason-Workout notes and soldiered on.
I had no idea what I was doing–or what I was getting myself into–but somehow I managed to figure out the Smith Machine and pull off a squat without killing myself. Looking back on my first few weeks (okay, months) in the gym, I wonder how I didn’t injure myself worse.
Oh, yes, the injury. The first one, anyway.
I felt the pain in my right foot after about a week of running to the gym. Doing lunges and strange weight circuits copied from Women’s Health Magazine only made it worse. Refusing to let a little pain stop me, I bought an ankle brace from Duane Reade and kept exercising.
And, because I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t stop until she’s literally unable to walk, I didn’t stop until I was literally unable to walk. I had developed plantar faciitis. Plantar Faciitis is an injury caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a tissue that runs from your heel and through the arch of your foot. It causes pain especially when the foot has been in plantarflexion for too long (think: toes pointed like a ballerina’s). PF is basically an overuse injury; the best medicine is rest–which is exactly what I didn’t want to hear. I had weight to lose, muscle to build, and a body to transform–I had a deadline, and rest was not an option. I tried to stick it out a few more days…
And I started my school year on crutches.
*For those of you who don’t know her, Jamie Eason is the female face of Bodybuilding.com, a contributor to Oxygen Magazine, and a hugely popular member of the health and fitness world. She is also very active on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and her sunny demeanor and tendency to respond to and encourage her fans (as well as her famously perfect glutes) have cemented her star stature among bodybuilding hoi polloi.