5:30 AM Monday
To say I which I dreaded more, the 5:30am start time, or the feeling of walking into that gym; I could not tell you. I woke at 3:48am, a bundle of nerves. I may have started hiking 10 days before, but today my fitness quest was really about to begin. I was entrenching myself with Kickstart Bootcamp for Women, with Sergeant Steve leading the drills.
I have always hated exercise. Always. I cannot recall a time in which I ever felt like exercising, even before one of my favorite hikes. As one who is easily winded before getting fit; I dread, loathe, despise the month that it takes to get my lungs to agree to the exertion. Being tall, and obsessed with the number 8 (which happens to be the size of my jeans) I have managed to keep my weight within reason. Nevermind that I weighed 136lbs. when I married in 1993, and weighed over 160lbs. when the quest begin. So long as my size 8's fit, I was ok. Until they didn't.
It was in Sedona a few weeks ago while trying on a skirt I realized I had a problem. I gain weight on my thighs; which is an "easy" place to hide it; not so in a trumpet-cut stretch skirt. To say I was appalled is an understatement. Add to that the neurological issues (from a recent closed head injury) had made a resurgence, and my neurologist's insistence that the only way to avoid medication was hiking, and I knew the time had come. The quest was on, and this past Monday morning it was time to really take up the gauntlet.
Meet Sgt. Steve
Enter Sgt. Steve Rosen, a twenty year Army veteran, who founded Kickstart Bootcamp for Women (aka: Prescott Adventure Bootcamp for Women) in 2013. I sat down with him last week, to find out his fitness philosophy. "I define fitness as ‘Feeling, performing and looking my best.’ In order to do that, I focus on three areas: Movement, nutrition, & recovery," Sgt. Steve shared. Surely this was from his years in the Army, right? Turns out I was wrong in that assumption.
"About five years ago, I was the poster child for unhealthy choices," Sgt. Steve related. "This ongoing behavior led me to be overweight, out of shape, depressed, and physically/mentally drained. My blood pressure was high and my mood was low. I was 36 years old and headed down a path that was leading to illness, disease and perhaps even an early grave. I knew I needed to make some changes, but just could not seem to find the motivation to get myself off the couch. I would think about starting a new diet or exercise program, but it never amounted to anything. Then one night I was sitting on the sofa (half drunk with a tummy full of beer and pizza) watching a popular home fitness program demo on a shopping network. I had seen it many times before, but had always used one excuse or another to not try it. Finally something clicked inside my head. I was ready and willing to take action." He got fit, but it didn't last. Like many of us, he began to ride the weight loss roller coaster - losing the weight, only to gain it back.
Fast forward through numerous fitness programs that worked for Sgt. Steve, but then would fail as he "fell of the fitness wagon."
"I had to figure out my motivation," Sgt. Steve explains. "Motivation is simple: It’s an inner drive to act or behave in a certain manner. This inner drive is based on even simpler reasons: Avoiding Pain & Gaining Pleasure. That’s it. Those are the two reasons we do or don’t do everything in life. The reason I am able to stay on course with my fitness, why I have gotten off the rollercoaster, and why I am able to crush the Excuse Monster is because I have gotten very clear on what I want to avoid (pain) and what I want to gain (pleasure). I don’t use tobacco because I don’t want to die from mouth cancer. I do Yoga and mobility work because it makes my joints and muscles feel good. Simple, yet powerful reasons. I know what I want and what I don’t want. Once you figure it out, you will also have the motivation to overcome your own Excuse Monster."
I assured him my Excuse Monster was close by at all times, having been a dear companion for at least 15 years. My number one concern with the camp would be my ability to keep up.
Sgt. Steve promised me that I could adjust the bootcamp workout to my own fitness level without shame. "We have women of all ages, at different levels of fitness in our bootcamps. We don't judge in our camps - we are there to support." I accepted his promise with a little trepidation, I had been hiking so I hoped my lungs wouldn't do a burn out on me. Over the weekend, I only managed one three mile hike, but it was a mild hike.
The Excuse Monster and What to Wear?
By Sunday night, my nerves started to get the best of me. My first concern, of course, was not whether I'd make it through a class, but rather what to wear.
Being tall has blessings, but clothing is not one of them. Pants are simply not long enough, and shirt sleeves rarely touch my wrist. Should I wear shorts? Sweats? As any gal knows, you don't want to look out of place. Bad enough I was there to report on what they were doing - I'd best not stand out by looking ridiculous, too. Given that I should be hiking the Constellation Trail soon after the class, and the weather had taken a turn for the cold, I chose my one pair of black sweat pants, a short sleeved magenta Underarmour top, and my zero incline New Balances. With that momentous decision decided, I fell into bed and prayed for sleep.
Sgt. Steve likes to call it "The Excuse Monster." You know, that ugly creature that convinces you that the warm bed is your friend, and that a 4am wakeup call is really not your thing (I was also to discover The Excuse Monster is not a fan of squats, fancy feet and a myraid of other exercises.) Nerves woke me up early, and I decided I had to read my daily blogs before getting up (because one must know what jewels the Queen of England wore yesterday. Seriously.) I rolled out of bed and dressed quickly, snagging a sweatshirt from my husband's closet. Driving in the dark night to the gym, I truly wondered what insanity had possessed me. Exercise? Every day for a week? Plus hikes? And a bootcamp?
I fussed around in the car for 5 minutes before getting out, The Excuse Monster in full force. I could tell Sgt. Steve I had gotten a stomach bug. What if the women didn't like that I was writing about the class? What if I was too warm? Too cold? I entered the gym, where women who had gathered early were already walking laps. "Over-achievers," The Excuse Monster whispered. Sgt. Steve greeted me warmly, and explained the layout of the class. I had left my water in car, so I hastened to retrieve it. As I collected my water, I hesitated for a half second. Could I actually do this? Those women had on color-coordinated matching gym clothes to their shoes! (Well, actually only one did, but the The Excuse Monster was taking no prisoners. Surely they all noticed my haphazard apparel, right?)
Taking a deep breath, I went back inside. A woman named Tammy greeted me, easing my qualms. Sgt. Steve introduced me, and everyone smiled when they heard I was a reporter. Another burden lifted. We started by standing in a circle and doing mild warm-up exercise; light banter went back and forth between Sgt. Steve and the women. It was obvious the women held Sgt. Steve in great affection, and the social rapport among the campers was palatable. It was five freaking thirty in the morning, and these women were here, exercising. Happily! Well, maybe not happily, but they didn't look unhappy. To make it more amazing, I was there, too, exercising. Will wonders never cease?
The warm up continued, and I felt a few twinges from my prior days' hikes. At least I could breath with no issue, this wasn't hard. Sgt. Steve reassured everyone to listen to their body, and to only do what it could handle. He wasn't like Richard Simmons, yelling motivation and telling us we could do it. He wasn't a drill sergeant, barking orders. He let us know what he expected, and watched our form, correcting with words only (I learned that my knees shouldn't go past my feet, and my butt needed to go lower. Repeatedly. This was something called a squat, and it was apparently a favorite of Sgt. Steve's.) After our warm-up, we broke into smaller groups. Tammy was in my group, as well as a student from ERAU and a mom who came with her teenage daughter. We were instructed to take turns running down to the end of the gym and grab a letter out of a bowl until we had 20 letters in our group. I tried to spell VEGAS but ended up with VOGAS. Turns out spelling wasn't what Sgt. Steve had in mind.
"Today we are making Alphabet Soup!" he announced, while passing out the "recipe" for the soup. Apparently each letter had a corresponding set of calisthenics to complete. Like 30 "swimmers" and 20 "locomotives." The ladies in my group delighted in showing me what the terms meant, and as a group we completed each letter. I could not keep up, and lost count a few times ("10, 11, 12, 13, 19, 20!") Not once did I feel embarrassed or discouraged. My fellow campers, although focused on their exercise, kept conversation flowing and cracked jokes. Sgt. Steve kept up with all of us, answering questions and correcting form. Almost too quickly, we were back in a big circle doing cool downs, and the class was over. I was delighted. Day one was done. (Imagine my further delight when no fewer than five women from the class friended me that night on Facebook. Now that alone tells you volumes.)
8 AM Tuesday: Cardio
Tuesday morning I attended the 8 am class, as attendees had told me there was a different vibe at the later session. While a little sore from the day before, the Excuse Monster didn't join me in this trip to the gym. Sgt. Steve and his campers had welcomed me with such warmth I was excited to meet the new group. Indeed, the 8am group was very friendly, and I was delighted to see a friend in the class. I noted the group did seem significantly more bubbly than the 5:30am group, and attributed it to coffee consumption (I know I was super happy to have had mine.) Then I realized it was a cardio day.
My entire life, I get short of breath easily. My throat feels like its constricting, and only copious amounts of water helps. My worry was real that I would not be able to handle what Sgt. Steve was about to dish out.
After warmups, we each picked out two cones and placed them eight feet apart (mine were a green pair. Interestingly, no one else chose a matching pair.) Sgt. Steve then instructed us in three sets of cardio - each set getting progressively more intense. From "fancy feet" to sprints, thrust kicks to air boxing, we were kept active for the next thirty minutes. Sgt. Steve corrected form and kept an easy conversation going with the group. Again, I marveled at how he didn't have to yell motivational sayings or bark orders to get results. Rather, the camaraderie that he had fostered focused the campers on their individual goals. They didn't need Sgt Steve giving them platitudes about pushing through the pain. Instead, they had learned from him the principle source of motivation: avoiding pain to gain pleasure later. These women wanted to do their best so they could feel their best later. It was a powerful revelation.When cool down was over, and I was a sweaty mess, another camper asked me what I thought about the class. "I'm at the point were I believe every ailment we have can probably be fixed by having good physical fitness," I replied. I had had a breakthrough during class: I realized my lower back had not hurt in the past 25 hours. After two years of almost daily pain, I had relief. I knew it was from the simple workouts at the camp. My fitness quest was off to a great start.