Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change

CHAPTER 17: NOT QUITE THE MILITARY, BUT THE YELLING WAS FAMILIAR

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Real boot camps are all about conformity, obedience and uniformity. Oh, and yelling. They shave your head and issue you really ugly clothes and army boots. And then they yell at you.

We’ve all seen the movies, from The Dirty Dozen to An Officer and A Gentleman and shouting is all part of the training. It makes for a good movie image to have some hulking goon screaming in a poor recruit’s face, humiliation being one of those macho army things.

Good thing I already knew that, because being yelled at on a sunny Saturday noon-hour — actually, being yelled at in any situation — does little to motivate me. Under ordinary circumstances, it sets my back teeth on edge at which point I become impossibly stubborn. I revert to a kind of childish sulk, during which the only word capable of passing my lips is “no,” which may explain why I’ve never been interested in joining the military.

(Dating a man in uniform is another story completely and involves the air force base that used to be just outside Penhold in Central Alberta and a good-looking blond pilot who proved to be my first blind date ever. He was also the last, not wanting to ruin such a pleasant experience by tempting fate. Then there was the tall, dark and handsome army captain in Calgary. But again, I digress, that being one of my foibles whenever I tell a story.)

So I never expected to be in boot camp — until last weekend. Those of you who do not live in the frozen north need to understand that November is not the best month to schedule any out-of-door activities that do not include skiing, skating, snow-shoeing, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate accompanied with warm boots, toque and mittens.

When the Calgary Herald Health Club advertised a boot camp in November, outside, I had images of jumping jacks performed in a blizzard, or push-ups in a snowdrift, but the gods of weird weather delivered a moderately benign Saturday with no snow and above zero temperatures.

That meant I had no excuse not to attend the so-called boot camp at St. Francis High School in northwest Calgary.

(Where is Calgary? my southern American friends ask. Given that Canada seems to exist as a large but unknown — and mostly frozen — land mass above the United States, I always try to make things easier. “Can you find Great Falls, Montana?” I will ask. They will nod. “Drive to Great Falls, turn north and keep driving until your tires freeze. That’s Calgary. If you want to find Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, keep driving farther north until your engine block freezes over.” My husband always rolls his eyes whenever I pull this on some unsuspecting listener. Nonetheless, it gets the whole northern climate thing out in the open.)

Calgary has weird weather — a warm chinook wind can blow in allowing shirtsleeves on New Year’s Day. By January 2 it can be -10 Celsius. The mean temperature in Calgary in November is -2C or about 35F, usually with a skiff of snow, even though there was so much snow earlier this fall that the ski resorts opened early. And just as a matter of curiosity, snow has actually fallen in every single month including July and August, although thankfully, not in the same year. But if we seem obsessed with the weather, it’s because that’s our Canadian nature. (Here’s the extremes: the lowest temperature ever recorded in Calgary during November was on Nov. 30, 1893, when the thermometer plunged to -35C or -31F and the highest was on Nov. 4, 1975 when the mercury read +22.8C or 73F. )

Just in case the weather did its snap-change trick, I found a long-sleeved tee shirt, a fleecy sweatshirt and a faded pair of stirrup pants. I neglected the hat, much to my chagrin when a brisk wind chased us around the field.

I had forgotten what schoolyards are like. They’re huge, they’re barren and they have goalposts. And if you don’t play football, you are condemned to run around them. I don’t do running well. Blame it on a lifetime of wearing high heels.

Stan Peake and his army of lithe, limber, loud-lunged and enthusiastic fitness trainers from Innovative Health Group turned on the stereo in one of the SUVs, and started yelling over the loud hard rock sounds of something called Wolfmother from Australia.

I am assured that Stan was not a drill sergeant in a previous life, but he might as well have been. Let’s say that Stan has an impressive fitness CV that includes such fun activities as hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day; biking from Seattle to Portland; various half-marathon races and hiking the West Coast Trail. Stan is all about fitness, and has the educational mojo and degrees to back it up.

So when Stan yells, we listen. Personally, I’m adopting the old Royal Canadian Air Force Latin motto — per ardua ad astra — through adversity to the stars. And while I’m at it, I’m adding a little dose of the Roman poet Ovid: “prefer et obdura” his advice to “be patient and tough.” There’s another line after that — “dolor hic tibi proderit olim “ — which roughly translates to “some day this pain will be useful to you.”

So while I’m spending much of Saturday’s boot camp face down in the chilly and almost frozen grass because I still can’t do a push up to save my life, I’m thinking of obscure Latin phrases? Well, I was at a Catholic high school, and I’m old enough to have learned all the Latin phrases for the old Tridentine Mass (lasting from 1570 to 1962, Catholics not being ones to rush into change) and so old that I took Latin in high school simply to avoid taking biology. And boot camp involves pain. I try to tell myself it is good pain and I will benefit by it. I stopped short of offering it up for the souls of the departed, something the Ursuline teachers in our high school used to advise us to do when we didn’t like something.

But there’s Stan’s voice in my ear, and he’s still smiling at all of us, so maybe he’s a forgiving type. We range from the young to the old, with a smattering of men including one who remarked he should have read the paper which invited public participation after lunch, rather than before, laughingly insisting that he could have avoided boot camp — and the charley horse he was contending with — if he’d done so.

The killer was a fiendish exercise that involved sprawling on the ground and jumping back up. I did not do well, maybe because we all looked so silly that half of us were laughing which, naturally, is a cardiovascular exercise in itself. The half-killer was sprinting up a hill about six million times. I did not do well at this, either.

But what I did really well at was motivation and when Stan ended boot camp with what looked like a group hug and a loud yell of 1-2-3-Change! I drove home smiling.

Sunday morning I got on my treadmill for 45 minutes and did the same Monday morning.

After one month, I’ve lost a couple of pounds but, more importantly, I’m slowly getting into the exercise routine. I don’t have to like it, but I do have to do it.

NEXT: The husband talks about eating clay as I’m eating an apple.

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Written by Catherine Ford

November 9, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Stirrup pants? Where the heck did you find those?! I laughed so hard seeing you out there, sprinting, pushing, grimacing at the fiend. Wish I was there to share the joy; instead, I’m trying it all by myself and that’s hard. AND I haven’t even lost the couple of pounds, so be proud!

    PS, it really is better doing all that ‘healthy’ stuff in the cold vs the rain. You can dress for cold, but you can’t keep the rain out of your underwear, no matter what.

    Marcella (big)

    November 10, 2009 at 1:59 pm


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