I’ve been thinking quite a lot in the past year about fitness. Namely, about how to be fit on a budget. It’s been a process. One thing that has given me some great food for thought are the children I work with. Great kids, they daily participate in sports. Sometimes these sports are race related, other times, soccer, golf (using sticks and rocks), stickball (using a stick and dog-chewed tennis ball), lacross (using a stick with a knit together end piece and the same tennis ball), and football. Nobody is excluded from running the field. The field, I should say, is slanted, on the side of a hill, with a tree stump as one goal/base/finish line, and a giant tree (beloved on our campus) as the other. Nobody ever cares that the team on the downhill must have the advantage. If your team has to run it uphill, you just try harder. You work for it. The children run back and forth, and the field (not fancy gear or gym membership) is the equalizer. Watching these games over the past 4 years has tought me a lot. Not the least of which is this: staying fit doesn’t cost anything. And this is terrific news for me since I’m a single mom on a limited budget.
It’s actually free. Now someone will say that of course you need the basics….like this 2,000 bike/kayak/home gym. Or shoes. Of course you need shoes. And I guess that’s where I agree. You will need some shoes that don’t suck. I’ve scouted out the perfect shoes for all of my fitness shenanigans–vibrams. Your perfect shoes may be something else entirely, but these work for me in any situation. And since I’m cheap, I often think they cost too much. Thus I wait for sales and also work at an outdoor fitness center that offers a discount. There…shoes are done. Now…clothing? Of course there’s only a few kinds of exercise you can do naked, and I won’t be addressing those here. 🙂 But you can exercise in just about anything. If you have boobs, a sports bra is a good idea. It is nice, but not necessary, to have fitness model style clothing. Wetness-wicking outfits seem to be all the rage. Sometimes I show up to free events and notice everyone around me looks as if they just stepped out of a dicks sporting goods advertisement. I may be wearing cut-offs, a t-shirt, or one of my limited number of actual running shorts. I hardly ever look fancy, and you will almost never see me in neon brights. I am the “stickball” version of a runner/cyclist/raftguide. I mostly buy gear based on cost. My first rafting pfd and helmet were the absolute cheapest in the store….”looks good to me,” I said when I saw the pricetag. You know, they worked splendidly at both floating me and protecting my head. And also it was nice that I could still pay my bills after.
This year I took up cycling as a “group activity.” I’ve never cycled as part of a group before and at first it was daunting, as some members insist on showing up to rides wearing full cycling kits and on the fanciest bicycles. What I love about these group rides is the enormous diversity of them. You will see every kind of bike coupled with all sorts of cycle wear. It’s free and all kinds of people show up to ride. Which is good because here again, I approach everything with “stickball mentality.” I found a decent used bike at a terrific place in town called “The Recyclery/Trips For Kids.” This awesome place takes donations and provides low income children with free bikes and lessons. I like my bike and I like where it came from. But I’ve had several people approach me with “that’s not the right kind of bike” talk. I always come back with, “you know…it works. It’s not about the bike. It’s about the rider.” Just like it’s not about whether your goal is on the uphill, it’s what you put into it that makes the difference. Perhaps I am metaphorically cycling on the uphill, but I like my bike because it gets me there. Also, I feel really strong and terrifically free when riding it.
I think that often, people become overwhelmed with all they might “need” to get started in doing an activity. Yesterday, at the top of a tall mountain that I hiked in cut-offs, a t-shirt and my all-purpose vibrams (passing neon-bright sport’s models along the way), we met a well seasoned, veteran back-packer. He’d hiked everywhere and looked to be in his mid-fifties. My friend wants to get into backpacking so she asked what gear she’d need. He said my favorite thing just then, what I’ve been thinking all these months; what the kids at school know instinctively, “it’s not about the gear,” he said. “You just need a backpack, which you can get on the cheap anywhere.” He showed us the one piece of important gear he has. A water filter for when you run out of water.
I’ve come to believe that what being healthy has to do with is showing up with your body and puting in the work. you don’t need a gym to do that, or any fancy clothes. You just have to accept the here and now. I will run today in this here pair of cut-offs or ride on this here bike, or raft in what I like to call “the budget pfd” That is what is available here and now. It is all I need to go.