A poster hangs in the lobby of my fitness center reminding anyone who stops to read it that being active helps us stay independent longer. I suspect my eyes linger longer than most. It reminds me of my parents.

My dad played baseball, basketball, water skiing and was a coach. But he rebelled against physical therapy after his knee replacements and hip surgery. He started watching “Lawrence Welk”, “I Dream of Jeannie” and any sport, preferring that to going out.

Janet Alessi with her parents, Anna and Spencer Meckstroth, at the airport in Asheville, North Carolina, on their last family trip.  The Meckstroths both struggled with mobility issues in their later years.

Eventually, he became bedridden.

My mom never played sports, but she embraced physiotherapy after her knee replacement and did water aerobics in her 80s. She remained active and was able to get around with only a cane until the day she died, six months before 90.

Janet Alessi's regimen includes regular bouts with the weight machines at her fitness center.

When my surgeon recommended low impact exercises for me after my hip replacement, I listened. Three days a week I hit weight machines for an hour and swam for half an hour. Four days a week I walked my dog ​​and rode my bike.

When it rained, I climbed on my elliptical trainer.

But in 2020, after seven years of this routine, I was 60, bored and eager to try something new.

Try new things… at least once

Many of my friends swear by yoga, and one of them managed to convince me to try my first fitness class as an adult.

“Relax your big toes.” How am I supposed to do this?

“Now relax your second toes…your middle toes…your fourth toes…and your little toes.” You are laughing at me.

“Relax your eyeballs.” Alright, I can do it. Or am I just bringing them back to my head?

“Now relax the back of your eyelids.” What? I can’t even feel the back of my eyelids. How can I relax them?

It wasn’t for me.

Two days later, I tried a spinning class. I arrived 30 minutes early. Yet there was only one bike that didn’t have a body sitting on it or a towel draped over it to “save” it.

At 5:30 p.m. the teacher came in, turned off the lights, and put on some music. I longed for earplugs. I wanted a good workout, but I didn’t want to go deaf in the process.

I could tell the teacher was barking orders at us, but I couldn’t make them out through the music. I tried to follow his example, alternating between standing and sitting while pedaling.

Every few minutes I mopped my face to keep the sweat from stinging my eyes. I was comforted by those who were sitting when they should have been standing and sweating as profusely as I did.

A thousand times I wanted to stop. I am not exaggerating.

I had no way of knowing how much time had passed. My biggest fear was that we weren’t even halfway through class.

When I couldn’t take another second, I dismounted and tried to sneak out of the room. I fumbled with the doorknob for what felt like a good minute before I was able to get away.

Passing the reception, my eyes searched for a clock. I was mortified to see that it was 6:28. Two more minutes, and I wouldn’t have been marked with a scarlet “Q” for “Quit.”

But there would be a next time, because now I knew I could endure a whole hour of torture. And, surely, I had burned off at least a small piece of cellulite.

The following Thursday, when I arrived 35 minutes early with a bottle of water, towel, magazine and earplugs. I draped my towel over a bicycle and sat outside the room to read.

When the instructor approached, I walked towards the room. But I was engrossed in a story and continued to read as I walked. Never a good idea.

Having gone through before, I knew the door was low and at 6ft 2in I would have to duck, but I underestimated the amount of setback needed and hit my forehead against a concrete block.

A woman who heard the thud and saw what happened offered to call 911 and get me some ice cream. Pain with a rapidly growing lump and embarrassed, I insisted I was fine.

When I started pedaling, my bike squealed. The instructor asked me to switch to the only other bike available, but this one didn’t have a cup holder.

The angel who offered to call 911 offered his bike instead.

Though dazed and bewildered, I kept time.

Earlier that week, I had attended two funerals, which left me wondering how I was going to die. I even made up a mental list of possibilities, from most likely to least.

Cancer, heart attacks, strokes and car accidents were at the top of my list. Fires, drownings, shootings, stabbings, suicides and plane crashes were at the bottom of the scale.

After that second spinning class, I was overwhelmed with thoughts like, “Bumping your head against a concrete block wasn’t even on my list. Who knows how else I might die? Wouldn’t it be ironic if I died trying to improve my health? Yes, but if I died, could I take advantage of the irony? Did Shakespeare know he died on his birthday?

Shelved, but not for long

Before I could attend a third spinning class, I caught the worst case of the flu of my life – COVID-19?

Did the universe weigh against riding your bike nowhere in dark, deafening rooms?

Weeks later, when I was no longer contagious but still weak, I tried again. I chose a bike that had a bottle holder and didn’t squeal. I ducked in and out of the room.

But my airways were so constricted that I gasped and wheezed as I struggled to breathe. “Will this be how I die?” I was wondering.

For Janet Alessi, spinning and yoga couldn't survive the pandemic, but weightlifting did.

Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. After having my other hip replaced last year, my surgeon told me I couldn’t swim for four weeks to avoid possible infection. Guess who was counting down the days until she could get back in the pool and swim three days a week since…

I was also looking forward to getting back to my fitness center. Only a few days after my operation, I came back with a walker.

I used to look at others who walked or pedaled very slowly on a treadmill or stationary bike or who barely lifted a weight and wondered why they bothered. I had become one of them.

Now I admire anyone who tries, and I remember that I don’t know what their situation is.

Janet Alessi added some shallow stretches to her pool routine.

These days I’ve added stretching and running in the shallow end of the pool to my routine. I gave up yoga and spinning.

I haven’t tried Zumba, barre, hot yoga, Pilates, water aerobics, or any of the other classes that a lot of people besides me love. But I didn’t rule them out either.

I enjoy working out for a multitude of reasons – to look better, be healthy, relieve stress, and be able to eat as much as I do while still in my clothes. When I’m bored, the promise to stay independent for as long as possible – for me and for my loved ones, who may one day be my guardians – brings me to the gym.

Janet Alessi has taught at John I. Leonard High School since 1983 and is a frequent contributor to Accent. She can be contacted at [email protected]