Those who know me will attest that I’m something of a fitness buff. The credit or blame, take your pick, goes to my seventh grade gym teacher who once lined me and my knobby-kneed classmates against a wall and declared with unmitigated disgust, “You boys are the poorest excuse for the male species I have ever met.” Let’s just say he was less-than-dazzled by our performance in a series of exercise drills.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the gym teacher, a muscle-bound former Toronto Argonauts running back named Ulysses “Crazy Legs” Curtis, followed it up with this gem: “When you boys get older, you are going to want to sleep with girls, and before any girl will sleep with you, she’ll want to know how many pushups you can do.”
Alas, Curtis’s tenure at our school was short-lived, but I took his counsel to heart and began doing pushups and weight training from that day on. Nearly four decades later, I’m still at it, giving the younger kids at the gym a run for their money. (I was the first runner up in a contest last year at an Equinox Fitness Club to see which member could do the most pushups and pull ups within a minute; the guy who beat me was nearly 25 years younger.)
While I credit Curtis for getting me started on the fitness journey, in February I discovered someone whose influence on me already is equally profound. Her name is Jamie Graham, and she is a professional dancer who also oversees the Pilates studio at the Park Avenue Equinox club where I transferred last fall. Although I had long thought of Pilates as a “girlie” thing best suited for those who are looking for a simple stretch rather than a meaningful, sweat-inducing workout, the intensity and animation of Graham’s instruction and the level of attention she provides her clients, caught my attention. So when Equinox offered a free 30-minute session, I signed up. Truthfully, I wasn’t so much interested in learning Pilates as I was experiencing Graham’s passion for teaching it.
My initial session with Graham was quite sobering. One of the first routines she taught me is a routine known as the 100s, an intense abdominal, breathing, and concentration exercise that I found excruciatingly challenging. Graham is a stickler for detail and every movement she taught me required radical corrections. She also wasn’t shy about identifying my numerous weaknesses and body imbalances. As someone who was long used to impressing personal trainers with my fitness prowess, I found the constant adjustments both frustrating and humiliating.
But Graham inspired confidence, both in her abilities and my own, so I continued training with her. Though soft spoken and decidedly more understated than Curtis, Graham is equally tough and teaches with the same discipline as he did, albeit with more support and nurturing encouragement. She doesn’t care whether I like an exercise or routine, insisting that I embrace challenges that initially overwhelm or frustrate me. She knows my body’s limits better than I do, and without exception, each session with her has proven to be more challenging than the one before.
Though it took a few months, I gradually came to enjoy my sessions with Graham and increasingly experienced dramatic increases in my strength and flexibility. Whereas I first regarded Pilates as an activity for my “rest” days between my weight training sessions, it’s now my primary fitness training activity. Frankly, I’m starting to regard weight training as somewhat of a “girlie” thing.
Graham’s leadership also is impressive. Graham’s instructors all teach with the same enthusiasm and dedication she does and span at least four generations. By my estimation, they have well over 100 years of combined experience. If Pilates instruction was a competitive sport, Graham and her colleagues would unquestionably be the baseball equivalent of the New York Yankees.
Graham doesn’t engage in small talk while she’s teaching, and I know virtually nothing about her other than she is a performing modern dancer who hails from Nashville and trained at what is now known as True Pilates, a legendary Manhattan studio that research suggests is the Harvard of Pilates instruction. I’ve also learned that Graham, who has a maturity and poise way beyond her years, has no time for vanity. When I proudly told her a few weeks ago that the six-pack stomach I had in my youth had returned, she grimaced and replied, “A flat stomach is one of the results of Pilates, but it’s not what we are trying to achieve here.”
Given that Joseph Pilates initially conceived the practice that bears his name to rehabilitate hospital patients, I’m certain he would be quite pleased with Graham’s answer and with her mantra that Pilates is a process – a lifetime challenge that never ends.
Many thanks, Jamie, for starting me on my journey.
1 Comment for this entry
Audrey CampbellNovember 19th, 2009 on 7:09 pm
What a wonderful commendation, Jamie! I enjoyed every work—-I mean WORD!!! AC