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Evelyn Reid

A Montreal Fitness Story: If I Can Do It ...

By September 10, 2009

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Probably the best decision I ever made in my life -- quitting smoking is tied for first place -- was getting fit. And committing to it.

It was in September, my favorite month for change. It was also one of the most humiliating, ego-crushing experiences I'd ever faced in my then tender 19 years. Easily forty pounds overweight with a face full of pimples, experiencing daily panic attacks, broke/in debt and living in a cramped studio apartment years before I was ready to move out on my own -- long story -- I knew something had to give. I needed a change. And I needed it yesterday.

Enter my future fitness trainer. We met in my first stats class on my first day of my first year in psychology at Concordia University. Sitting to my left, she struck up a conversation with me based on her appreciation of my animé girl sketches -- when I'm bored, overwhelmed, procrastinating, or in need of focused attention during a speech or phone call, I draw doe-eyed gangly-limbed ladies with supermodel cheekbones -- and I continued our discussion after class based on my admiration of her soon-to-be-revealed favorite pastime: fitness training. By the second class, I mustered up the courage to ask Nina, after a couple of sleepless nights, for help in changing my life.

Within a week, Nina showed me the basic ropes of weight training and cardio. By Week 2, she was weaning me off her. By Week 3, I was on my own and I think many of you who've taken the same leap can echo the emotional terror of entering gym territory as a fitness newbie. I was mortified every time I walked into Concordia University's Loyola gym, an almost exclusively all-male football player weight room of linebackers and halfbacks and special team types heaving away with intimidating side glances as I used one of two rickety Stairmasters and a duct-taped stationary bike. I wanted to leave as soon as I arrived, but at $25 a semester, it was the only gym I could afford.

After a month of feeling like a dough girl surrounded by elite athletes, I was primed to drop what felt like a hopeless farce. Luck had it a friend mentioned interest in joining me before I gave up. We coordinated our visits for at least six months to counter the stinging wtf-are-you-girls-doing-on-our-turf vibe, taking solace in dubbing one frequently topless quarterback Gary Busey Number One, and a weight room attendant with a minor underbite became Gary Busey Number 2.

Why the fixation? Some people cope by imagining a crowd in their underwear. I prefer projecting the toothy Texan's face onto blonds who prance around like cowboys. Lightens the mood.

My motivation to keep going was also fueled by the single solitary welcoming face on the Stingers team, a man I recognized in the paper a couple of years later, future Montreal Alouettes receiver Sylvain Girard, a gentle-mannered type who never forgot to wipe his sweat off the equipment. And smile. And he didn't look at me like I was appropriating the men's washroom (seriously guys, what was that about).

Truth be told, it took one year of agony to get hooked on exercise. By then, I needed to go to the gym like I needed to eat. And the football guys? They didn't phase me anymore. They didn't seem to care after a while anyways. If anything, they unwittingly trained me to handle "territorialism" with a smile, a shrug and a "you done with that." And I started to like sharing the same space as these guys. Watching them focus on their performance goals with a fervor I haven't seen as intensely in commercial gyms was inspiring. I miss it!

So I lost about two inches off my waist in 12 months. Big deal, right? I don't think the post-workout poutines were helping the waistline much. However they might be partially responsible for conditioning me to love exercise -- exercise leads to poutine, eating poutine = must exercise. And besides, the goal was a long-term, permanent lifestyle change, not rapid weight loss. Any progress, however slow, was encouraging.

It ultimately took about four years to fit into size 6 jeans, which was a big deal because the last time I pulled that off, I was 12. And apart from one 15-pound weight gain after quitting smoking plus a couple of belt-tightening moments that took a couple of months to loosen up again, I never fit into plus size anything again. I also didn't -- and don't -- need to diet. With a sped-up metabolism that comes with regular cardio activity and muscle mass built from strength training, I can actually eat more today than when I was an overweight teenager. And the panic attacks? Gone.

One year of torment, a lifetime of benefits.

What about you? Are you feeling that September stirring? Flirting with the idea of getting more active? Looking for a change of pace from evenings of reality-infested TV? Keep reading.

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