There was a time in my life when going to the park meant I was going to have fun.
In the winter I’d ride my sled down this big hill in Owl’s Head Park and in the spring and summer there was softball and all sorts of kid-fueled insanity to keep me occupied.
As I grew older, I looked forward to going to the park only in the warm weather to read, work on my tan, and happily sit on my rear end. My childhood park romps were over.
That all changed, however, when I signed up for a group exercise class at the New York Sports Club that trades the confinement of the gym for the freedom of the great outdoors.
At an age when the only things I should be doing at the park is leering at the scantily clad girls and cursing at the pigeons, I’m doing push-ups and squats off benches, punching focus mitts, swinging a sledge hammer, repeatedly flipping a truck tire and running up that very same hill I used to sled on.
And I’m loving every minute of it.
I’ve always had this problem with going to the gym during the summer. Yes, the workout only lasts an hour or so, but when you’re indoors on a bright, sunny weekend afternoon you often find yourself itching to get out there with the rest of humanity.
Plus I often went to boxing classes in Manhattan, so there's another two hours gone riding underground on the subway.
I get pretty manic about the summer. Warm weather has this sneaky way of blowing right by you and the next thing you know you’re wrapped up in overcoats and stumbling around in the freezing dark.
I love working out and I love summer, so if I can get outside and get a workout at the same time, I’m going to do it.
Outdoor exercise has a nice primal feeling to it as well. Instead of pressing buttons on the Stairmaster or adjusting the speed on a treadmill, I’m charging up that hill like one of my ancient ancestors fleeing a saber-toothed tiger.
I actually look forward to getting up on a Sunday morning for the 8AM (!) class. And it’s fun seeing people stare at us while we work out as if we’re all lunatics...which I suppose we are.
I was doing planks one morning when I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a big old dog.
“Go get help!” I said, recalling the old “Lassie” TV show, but this mutt apparently wasn’t into nostalgia.
Our trainers, Xristina and Tyrone, never let us rest for a minute. They bring kettlebells, the battle rope and that goddamn truck tire to keep us busy.
During one drill, Xristina sent me running to one end of a field and then shouted, “now run toward me!”
“I want to run away from you!” I wailed as I rapidly did what I was told.
I’m getting dirt all over my workout shoes and clothes, which hasn’t happened in God knows how long.
We ended one class with a tug of war—I haven’t done that since the Cub Scouts--and though my team lost, I wouldn’t let go even when I was pulled to the ground and dragged through the dirt.
Hopeless as it was, I didn’t feel like quitting. I guess being around nature brings out that survival instinct.
I had been reluctant to take this class, convinced that it wouldn’t be as a tough a workout as the one I got in the club. And that’s true. The outdoor class is tougher.
So I’m getting out in the fresh air and meeting people, the very things my mother wanted me to do when I was a kid.
And somewhere I like to think that my stone aged forefather is watching me dash up that hill and pounding his chest with pride.