Body Building Through Amazing Grace


The first time it happened, I knew it would be a recurring theme throughout my life and resigned myself to trudge on. It happened on a Saturday in the 1950s at the New Mission Theater in San Francisco between a double feature — after watching “The Blob,” and before a screening of “Man of the West,” staring 56-year-old Gary Cooper.

The house lights came up and they brought a small hand-cranked drum onstage. They tumbled the contraption, the movie-house manager reached in and pulled out ticket stubs, announced winning numbers. Delighted children ran to the front to pick up their prizes. I studied my losing ticket, prayed a little, knowing enough at nine to rely on Amazing Grace and not too expect much.

My brother Richard won a red and yellow dump truck, huge and gaudy, the back end filled with candy. He put it on his lap, shared Milk Duds with me when the lights went down. I settled into the realization that good luck is hard to come by and prepared to be a perpetual loser, an understudy for the role of enthuser — the one who congratulates others for the good things that befall them and doesn’t betray their own disappointment.

Later iIMG_4498n life I discovered a four-leaf clover pressed in our family Bible, in the Book of Esther: Cha. 2, v. 15, and knew my Great Aunt Eva had found this Irish good-luck charm, that all benefits accrue to the finder, not to afterthoughts like me. They say the odds of finding a four-leaf clover yourself are like 10,000 to 1. I’d already given up playing long shots and closed the book.

When the phone rang yesterday, the woman called me Katherine, my given name, but a name mostly used by telemarketers, dentists and my mother, who died nearly 30 years ago. I braced for the sales pitch, was still clinched when she said, in a flowery voice, “Congratulations!” Faster than a squirrel after a nut, Yeah Right! ran through my head.

It was sitting on the tip of my tongue when she told me I’d been selected in a lottery at the sports club where I practice yoga to participate in weight lifting classes–for free. While not a toy dump truck filled with candy or a four-leaf clover, I’m delighted nonetheless with my unexpected winnings. Except I’m not sure actually what this stroke of luck means.

I’ve always sneaked past the weight room at the fitness club, hustling to get my favorite spot on the floor in the yoga studio. Stud muffins performing feats has never been a particular interest—six packs, eight packs, buns and guns—who gives a rip? Right?

But, truth is, some of my body things have gotten a bit mushy. OK, a lot mushy, like instant oatmeal with tiny apple bits, disgustingly gelatinous in hot water and inedible, if not for the sugar and cinnamon.

You’re not destined to grow softer and weaker just because you’re getting older, experts say in that “Now, Honey” voice. Most muscle loss comes from not using muscles enough as we age, they say, rather than aging itself. Using muscles regularly helps them stay strong and firm, regardless of age, adding it’s important for older adults to strength train. I’m sure there’s truth in this, but wish it didn’t sound so much like a laundry soap commercial.


An article on the AARP website says studies show men in their 60s and 70s who strength train regularly have muscles that look and perform as well as “inactive men in their 20s and 30s.” An image of beer guzzling, pizza scarfing video game players comes to mind.

The article is supposed to be about the benefits of weight training for “Boomers,” which I thought was a unisex thing. Instead, it focuses on benefits for men.

Turning back to the Internet for further enlightenment, I find a lot of old-lady weight training photos showing white-haired women sitting in chairs at rest homes waving hand weights or worse, grannies with cigarettes dangling from their mouths hoisting a weight in one hand, throwing a middle finger in the other, with a caption something like: “You want a piece of this?”

There are also photos of contemporary young women pumping iron that feature booming bosoms and bulging buttocks and women practicing Olympic-style clean and jerks. More than a few shots feature ladies working out in high heels with adoring men spotting them. Even movie stars have tried their hands at dead weight.

I’m beginning to wonder if I had a winning lottery ticket to a geek show, but I’m not going to act like a dumbbell. No Sir. For the foreseeable future, you’ll find me in the weight room on Thursday evenings with the other winning women. We’ll work up a sweat and count our lucky charms. After all, wise men throughout the ages have noted women hold up half the world. I just want to continue carrying my share of the load with a little bit of grace.


Published by Kate Campbell

Writer, editor, photographer, novelist, short story writer, poet.

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