Triple Digits


I shut my alarm, so it didn’t wake the baby. We live in a two-bedroom, but that doesn’t mean much in New York. When I first started exercising in the morning, I set three, four, sometimes five alarms to get myself out of bed. I never skipped a day, so I wouldn’t have to listen to Simon moan about the price relative to a gym membership. Going also gave me an excuse to expand my wardrobe.

I used to judge their outfits because I didn’t understand the importance of looking fierce. For my birthday, I treated myself to one of those expensive pairs of leggings, which evolved into color-coding based on the workout. I always go with stripes on one-rep max days.

Clean and Jerk is part of Olympic weightlifting. That’s right… I, a thirty-three old mother who used to think exercise meant a half hour on the elliptical followed by a low-fat smoothie, can pull ninety-three pounds from the ground and muscle it overhead. And I couldn’t wait to hit triple digits.

“There she is!” Amber announced from the front, stretching on the mat.

A former gymnast, Amber is a six-foot goddess with a tattoo sleeve. Before signing up, I explained my terror of turning into one of those female body builders. So she did a back flip and said: It hasn’t happened to me after five years, so I like your chances.

As an aside, she has the most amazing calves I’ve ever seen.

“Is today going to be a good day?” she sang.

I swung my leg, holding onto one of the squat racks. The opposite wall had sneaker marks from handstands. I was too scared when I first started, afraid I couldn’t support my weight. I can now stay inverted for over a minute.

“We’ll see,” I tucked my bicep beside my ear. “You?”

“It’s going to be peachy,” she said. “Just peachy.”

As folks trickled in, I reminded myself how shocked I felt on my first day. People of all ages barbarically flopping around until failure, rolling on the ground, only to come back the next day for more. I tied my shoes and rebuckled the strap.

“Everyone line up,” Amber scowled at this gigantic man who always comes at 6:01 AM.

Our twenty-one person class crawled up and back, hopping and duck-walking until we were all drenched in sweat. Well, not everyone. That would be doing Teresa Jenkins a disservice.

There are some girls you will NEVER come close to catching. Sure, our class has a few former high school and collegiate athletes. But Teresa is on another level. She can beat Amber in pretty much any event. I used to not be able to lift half as much as her.

“Okay, guys,” Amber lowered the music following a few rounds of drills.

Taylor Swift is my guilty pleasure. I know all the words and dance between sets. My first few lifts felt smooth.

“Let’s see it, Shelley!”

I loaded my bar with ninety-three pounds, which would tie my personal best. Standing upright, I inhaled deeply. I wrapped my fingers around the bar, bending my thumbs. I exhaled. My arms extended overhead less than three seconds later.

“Nice, girl!” Amber called from across the gym. “That looked easy.”

But it wasn’t. I feigned a smile, so she wouldn’t regret congratulating me. Up front, Teresa caught her one hundred-ninety three-pound bar in a deep lunge. The entire room erupted with applause. Now, that looked easy.

Screw it,” I added another ten pounds.

I stood shoulder width-apart and flattened my back. Darting underneath, I struggled to straighten my legs. Jesus Christ, I thought. This is the most weight I’ve ever cleaned. Gravity took over shortly thereafter.

“You TOTALLY have that,” Amber cried, doing a cartwheel between a pair of twenty-something year olds. “Rest five minutes and try again.”

I grabbed my water bottle and waited exactly two hundred ninety-nine seconds. You can do this, I told myself. Yet two more unsuccessful attempts ensued.

“Damn it,” I cursed to myself. I come five times a week for two years and still can’t reach my goal. Of course, I ignored destroying my original personal best of fifty-three pounds, but it’s easy to take progress for granted.

As the rest of the class cleared out, I gave it one more go. At least I tried. I scribbled ninety-three on the whiteboard and told Amber I’d see her tomorrow. I hit one hundred eight pounds a few months later.

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