Shark Bait

By Jade Walker


I've hit the last stage of my reinvention process. In the course of three years, I've started my own business, changed my name, altered my personality, moved to a new city and developed a fantastic career. I only have one thing left to do to complete the transformation. Yep, it's time to focus on the body.

So with a bit of trepidation (mostly for my bank account and sense of self-worth), I joined a gym.

First let me say that I'm not an athletic person. Yes, I studied dance for years, participated in gymnastics and swimming, and even flashed my pom poms in high school. I looked great but I always thought I was fat.

Then in college, I gained the prerequisite Freshman 25. I attribute this addition of fat to the fact that I stopped exercising completely and simply worked/studied. To combat the weight I gained, I spent much of my sophomore year wearing baggy clothes and vomiting up my meals. This continued until my boyfriend realized what I was doing and demanded I stop.

Three years later, I added another 25 pounds when that same boyfriend split. My reaction to this break-up was to consume entire pints of ice cream and whole pizza pies.

Once the depression passed, I lost a bit of weight simply by throwing myself into work and skipping meals. As I got older, my work load increased until the pounding of my fingers on a keyboard constituted the majority of my exercise regimen each day. Eighteen hours of such activity, and I managed to build up some major strength in my hands. My body, however, has gone to pot.

I do a lot of walking -- you can't help it when you live in Manhattan without a car -- and I climb up three flights of stairs daily to my attic apartment. When time slows in the middle of the night at work, I scooter around and watch the floor spin past. Surely these activities should count as exercise?

Alas, my heart and lungs say no in the form of wheezing breaths and attacks of irregular heartbeats.

After a bit of research, I learned there was a gym five blocks from my job. I no longer had an excuse to continue stalling. So last Saturday, I plunked down $100 of hard-earned cash and signed away the next three years of my life.

On Monday morning, I returned. This was a huge achievement. I don't mind working out, per se, I just have trouble getting my butt to the gym. Once I'm there I'm fine.

Monday was particularly hard. I'd been up since Sunday at noon, working nonstop on my magazine, and then pulling a full night at The Times, without sleep. Plus, I still had another six hours of work waiting for me at home.

All I wanted to do was get naked, turn on the fan and crawl into bed.

But no...I went to the gym.

Of course, once I was there, I found my groove. I'm starting slow, since it's been years since I've had regular exercise. I do 15 minutes on the stationary bike and another 20 on the treadmill. I do 25 abdominal crunches, 10 minutes of stretching and various weighted arm exercises.

When I finished, I felt good, proud of myself even. That's when I was attacked.

The bored personal trainer, or the muscle-bound shark as I call him, saw me going through my reps. He had a hungry look on his face, like I was a fat flounder just waiting to be eaten.

Shark bait.

That's when he made his pitch. Why, for another $600/month, he would be happy to work out with me.

Oooh. Be still my beating heart.

He was undeterred by my withering look. With a critical eye, he took in my thighs, busty chest and wide, peasant hips. Clearly he was unimpressed and wanted to shame me into signing up. In the process of his judgmental once-over, the shark told me all about the things he could do to "help me," if only I'd let him control my life.

For a split second, I almost gave in. But then I calmly explained that I wasn't at the gym to lose weight. I didn't need to pay extra for a trainer, nor did I intend to start eating power bars and swallowing packets of supplements.

I'm no supermodel, so my response confused him. Surely I wanted to make exercise the main focus of my life until my body was transformed into the shape of a stunning mermaid.

I met his look of disbelief with one of determination. I just want to get healthy, I said, and I want to do it on my own.

It was the final test, the last block that needed to fall into place for my transformation to be complete.

I know he wanted to continue offering one-on-one handling, and the old me might have succumbed to his sales pitch. Once I was so obsessed with my looks that any complaint or insult would have sent me into bouts of varying degrees of tears and bad eating habits.

But that was the old me. The new me is happy in her skin and eager to continue the journey to good physical health. I pointedly returned to my workout and finished the round of weightlifting. After a few minutes of being ignored, he left and I smiled at the small triumph. I had won the first skirmish.

Everything I've done to transform myself into the woman I am today has been a success; I have no reason to think I won't succeed at this too. And within a year, when that shark comes trolling back for another round, this flounder may just turn him into fish food.