The YMCA (the “Y”) is full of misfits. It is unlike other gyms to which I have belonged. Other gyms seem to require muscle definition as part of the application process; the Y doesn’t care. At other fitness joints, women wear makeup and men drop senselessly heavy weights on the floor that are too heavy for them in the first place. Members of other gyms strut around in short-shorts and muscle tops. People at the Y wear clothes. I mean real clothes. The man lifting next to me yesterday had on a wool argyle sweater and pants. He was lifting a bit sloppily but with a smile. He came up to me and said, “I got stuff to worry about right here [patting his tummy].” I smiled and laughed with him.
Weight machines at other gyms are close together, making it easier for members to complete super-sets and strike up conversations with potential dates. The weight machines at the Y are spaced awkwardly apart to allow members to maneuver their walkers around them. Other gyms condescendingly snicker at age; the Y honors and accommodates it.
Other gyms advertise to narrowly defined, markets that include privileged, beautiful, near-flawless people striving for perfection. The Y’s demographic is “Everyone.” The Y operates as much on the generosity and kindness of others as it does on membership dues. The membership fees from one help others afford theirs. Exercise equipment and classes are a means to personal health; but more importantly, they are avenues that converge at the intersection of community and togetherness. At the Y, there is a palpable recognition that we are all in this life together and must help each other through it.
I, too, am a misfit. I am glad to be back at the Y. It is familiar and safe. I walk through the doors each day and proudly hold up my membership tag for the receptionist to scan. The “beep” comforts me and offers me the audible confirmation that with all of my own brokenness and imperfections, I belong. – The Gladiator Within ™