Our theme for the month of July is “stunt journalism.” Writers were asked to try something new, take on a challenge, or perform some other interesting feat strictly for the purpose of writing about it.

At Equinox, arguably the fanciest gym in New York City, you pay an initiation fee of a couple hundred dollars and are given a stack of guest passes. Chelsea used to be loyal to New York Sports Club, but when she moved to the Upper East Side, worked a year in real estate and then landed a private school teaching job, she felt ready to make the switch to the Equinox on her block. It was around the same time that I decided I wanted to push myself to work out more and start saying yes to more things that made me uncomfortable. Often these are physical things. I think that’s what happens when you don’t do sports growing up? I’m not sure. Anyway, when Chelsea offered to take me to Equinox on a guest pass, I decided I not only waned to check out the famously bougie gym, but also wanted to learn how to lift and use weights properly. Besides the fact that I almost exclusively work out by going to barre classes (a ballet-ish exercise method that is firmly in my comfort zone), there are several reasons why going to Equinox would be intimidating:

  1. The weight-lifting sections of gyms are usually dominated by men. And the women who are over there are always in way better shape than me.
  2. Most gyms in New York have huge windows facing streets with lots of pedestrian traffic who can just look in and watch you make a fool of yourself.
  3. Equinox is where the celebrities work out. My roommate goes to an Equinox in midtown where she regularly finds herself working out next to BRADLEY COOPER.

When our gym-date day arrived, I wanted desperately to call and cancel. The confirmation text from Chelsea included the words “leg day!” and this did bring some comfort; I have much more lower body strength than upper body strength. Still, the message wasn’t quite enough to quell my fear of making a fool out of myself in a public place. I fought the urge to cancel because I know you need to work out the mental muscles that make you brave. Do something for the sole reason that you’re weirdly nervous/afraid to do it.

So I looked through my workout clothes for my most expensive-looking ensemble, and boarded the 4 train for a one-hour train ride to the Upper East Side. I found the gym before I found Chelsea. The posters outside the Equinox featured a muscly man covered in bees. BEES. Over the photo, in all caps, was the slogan “COMMIT TO SOMETHING.” (I just googled their slogan to refresh my memory—please go look at their other ads. They are ridiculous.) I walked past the gym to meet Chelsea outside her apartment, as I couldn’t set foot in the place without my guest pass, or unless I was ready to fake being interested in joining a 300-dollar-a-month gym located an hour away from my apartment.

Now would probably be a good time to add that Chelsea is a beauty pageant winner and swimsuit model, a make-up artist and the daughter of a female body builder. Her inner beauty is equivalent to her outer, but I could not have picked a more intimidating person to work out with. When she met me on East 85th street, her dark hair was tied up into a perfectly messy high-top bun, and her green eyes stood out against her pale skin without the help of any make-up. Her boyfriend, Daniel, was also joining us. Daniel moved to NYC after growing up in Israel, where he performed his obligatory military service. He looked like someone you’d put on the label of a powdered protein shake. I imagined that when Chelsea and Daniel hugged each other they just made a sort of metallic clinking noise.

After I signed a waiver that confirmed I wouldn’t sue Equinox if I died on the treadmill or passed out because I saw Blake Lively, we entered the immaculate studio. The first room housed a smoothie bar and merchandise shop, where Tito’s vodka was doing some sort of free vodka-tasting that I obviously passed on. From there, we split up into our gender-assigned locker rooms, where I left my belongings in a locker I didn’t bother locking. I wanted to take a shower just to use the Kiehl’s products, and the plush white towels. I forgot to ask Daniel what fancy stuff was in the men’s room.

The gym wasn’t crowded—a few women on ellipticals and some men lifting weights. Personal trainers floated around with perfect bodies and wide smiles. Like most things I am needlessly afraid of, it was a perfectly fine, if not actually fun, experience. Chelsea was encouraging and patient, demonstrating each workout and telling me which muscles I was supposed to “feel it” in. We stayed for over two hours. She kept telling me “You’re stronger than you think you are,” especially when she asked if I wanted to add another ten pounds. I was surprised I could squat with more than just the bar on my shoulders. Men asked us if we were done with machines in polite, quiet tones. None of them were Bradley Cooper.

Chelsea had mentioned that there are chilled eucalyptus towels for you when you’ve finished your workout, and this thought got me through our last few sets of hamstring curls. Legs shaking, I joked that I wasn’t leaving without a twenty-dollar smoothie. Chelsea told me to eat a healthy dinner with plenty of protein. Chicken and veggies. Daniel told me to text Chelsea tomorrow because he was worried I wouldn’t be able to walk. I thanked them both for their encouragement and patience and sincerely agreed to a “next time.”

A week later, just as my legs and glutes started to feel normal again, my boyfriend asked me if I wanted to try to waterski, even though I’m a novice and hadn’t tried to get up in over two years. Immediately, my heart started racing (a difficult physical task! I’ll look like an idiot!). Instead I told him, “I’m nervous to even try. But that’s why I want to do it.” I got dragged around a couple of times, but I got up for a couple of minutes. I’ll be sore for another week.

Caroline Higgins

Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.

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