I had the fortunate opportunity to visit Los Angeles from Toronto for a getaway with a girlfriend. Two weeks ago I landed in (what I would call) tropical temperatures. As I grabbed my 45 lb suitcase of clothes I would later find out I would not wear, I slipped off my long leggings and turtle necked sweater for a sun dress and my Berks. I was ready for seven days of bliss. And it was.
This week’s post isn’t about the exercises I did while away. It’s not about the ‘must haves’ when booking accommodations, like a full kitchen to cook my own food or that I needed to be in driving distance of a Trader Joe’s. It will have very little to do with the T.V. show tapings I saw or the beaches I walked. It wont be about surviving vacation while keeping on track.
It will, however, have everything to do with with a five-minute conversation I had with a stranger and an hour workout I did in one of the most iconic workout studios I will ever experience in my life.
For those of you who have not (yet) listened to my podcast, I had an awareness of my extra weight at the age of 11. In the 8th grade, to prepare for my graduation from grade school, I tried my very first diet – Slim Fast. After that, I tried it all! I even, somehow, researched what Deal a Meal was all about and fabricated my own version out of Que-Cards and an old wallet. I am guessing, considering there was no internet then, I taped the info-mercial and hit PAUSE on my BetaMax and eyeballed what this program was all about.
I mention this particular attempt at losing weight because it was Richard Simmons that caught my attention. His bubbly charisma and wonderful outwardly appearance felt like I had known him forever and he was someone I could trust.
Fast forward 26 years and we land to today. After watching several of the hilarious interactions with Richard on countless Letterman Shows, numerous Sweatin’ to the Oldies workouts and seeing his face everywhere on media throughout the past couple of decades, I had the opportunity to go to his studio. I was hopeful he would be teaching and wore my Canada Tank top so he could sign it. I was excited.
Come Saturday morning, we made a quick call to the studio to ensure the the hour and a half to get to Hollywood was enough (honestly, LA traffic is horrible!). We were intending to go to a chat lead by Richard and then his hour and a half aerobics class. I listened to the first few seconds of the voicemail message on the other line. I panicked! “Give yourself at least an hour and a half to register and get in line for Richard’s class”. I hung up and we bolted out the door of our cute bungalow in Encino.
Traffic sucked. As usual. It took us the whole hour and a half to get there. We walked up to an unassuming door with a note posted that no cell phones were permitted beyond the front entrance. I snapped this shot.
I found it strange that it was so quiet, but we dropped our phones in the trunk, paid the meter, and were on our way.
Inside, I instantly felt at home. Richard’s face was adorned on product, t shirts, bags, towels, and all of his books and VHS tapes were displayed in glass cases. It was like walking into a museum set in 1973. While my excitement overcame me, part of me felt very melancholy as I looked around the room at what was an amazing career of a man who gave everything to everyone around him.
We were greeted by a beautiful older lady (in tan coloured spandex) named Sherry – she had attending the studio for 20 years, and worked as the Manager for the last 10. We started to chat and she asked us whether we were aware Richard would not be in. My heart sank, but clearly this was the case as we were the only ones there so far. We read a notice that Richard had been having knee issues and that he would be taking a wee bit of a leave from teaching.
We talked a lot with Sherry and a few other ladies arrived. We entered the large hard wood studio that was fitted (perfectly) with a disco ball in the centre. No air conditioning! The back doors were open and a massive fan that fed outside turned on. Just before class started, a well-put together woman walked in. Another lady came up to me and said, “That’s Geri. She’s 92 years old.” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A woman dressed as though she was going to an afternoon tea, walked in, familiar with her surroundings and ready to move. Her Hollywood glasses took up half her face and I felt as though Richard himself had walked through the crowd and was waiting just for me.
We walked up to her and I don’t even know how the conversation started. She grabbed my hand to shake it and immediately put her other hand on top of mine. She talked to me as though I was the only one in the room, completely locked in to my eye balls. I wasn’t going anywhere. And neither was she.
We started the intense workout (I was sweating instantly) and Geri was doing her thing (we founds out she was featured in most of Richard’s videos). At the hour mark she slipped back, got her glasses and big purse and made her way out to reception. I needed a picture.
We followed her out and asked if it would be okay to grab a shot with her. It was the next few minutes that really stuck with me.
“What you girls are doing now is important. But, I’m 92. It’s good that you’re doing this for you now, but it’s for later that matters most.”
She explained to us that she had always done ‘something’. She said, “Do you know Jack LaLanne and Jane Fonda? ” (of course) “I used to workout with them and have been coming to Richard for over 30 years”. Honestly, I was blown away. Not only was she showing up numerous times a week to workout at Richard’s studio (for 30 years), but had physically moved with legendary Jack & Jane.
She held my hand again as I told her my weight loss so far and the sincerity in her eyes was palpable. She said again, “Continue what you’re doing. It is so very important. This is what Richard is all about. You do want to get to 92 like me, don’t you?”
It was a brief encounter, but for someone like me with my past, who was occupying a space that had housed thousands of people and their struggles with weight and body image, I was moved to tears. I gave her a sweaty hug good bye, grabbed this shot of her above, and she slipped on her Hollywood glasses. Red lipstick in check, she walked out to her gigantic white SUV, and drove herself to wherever she was headed that beautiful Saturday afternoon.
Those two hours in Slimmons and that 8 minute conversation with Geri was honestly the highlight of my trip. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed I didn’t get to meet the Weight Saint himself, but, that intimate workout with a few ladies who have all lost an incredible amount of weight with his help, and the dedication and loyalty demonstrated was wonderful.
Geri was absolutely right. We are all making changes with our health, fitness and mental well-being for life now. I still want to be able to do Monkey Bars with my kids. I would love to play tag for more than 10 minutes without fumbling. I want to be able to look in the mirror and see my body as it is and not as it was. All this matters. But what matters as well is getting down on the ground with my grand kids to play; having a strong and healthy body to help ward off any illness or disease that may haunt my future; it’s about being able to tell my story of visiting LA and meeting Geri 55 years from now (Jeez!!).
Thanks to Sherry, Geri and the rest of the group there for welcoming us into their home, but for a short period of time. And thank you Richard for changing so many lives. The 12 year old Adina thanks you as does the 38 year old version!