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A story about being 73, imperfect, and perfectly happy keeping your gym resolutions every year

Barb was walking past me as I donned my earbuds in the locker room at my local 24 Hour today. It was barely six-thirty.

I asked, “How ya doing?”

DONE,” she said, grinning. “My favorite word.”

We spoke for a few minutes. I’d not seen her before, largely because just as I’m coming in, she’s leaving. She hits the elliptical, the weights. She puts in at least 90 minutes every day. Has for years and years.

Barb’s 73. Eight months ago she had open heart surgery. Apparently (and kindly, I couldn’t translate most of this) her heart only had two valves where it was supposed to have three. You medical types will get that part.

Now she has cow parts and replacement parts, and a more efficient heart all around.

“I can’t believe all those other people in rehab,” she said. “They’re much younger than I am and they’re having a terrible time.”

Barb works a few days a week at a local school from ten to two pm. Been retired a while.

Lest you imagine a picture like this:

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No. Let me dissuade you. Barb is short, very round, and her belly is the resting spot for her generous breasts.

Nobody would call her a fitness model.

But she’s FIT.

She is a perfect model for fitness. And that’s why I so enjoyed meeting her.

Here’s the piece.

In Barb’s youth she was a gymnast, long before it was the sport it was today. She liked being strong, and she liked how she felt being fit. While kids and life and Sunday dinners reshaped her, she never lost her commitment.

When my local gym opened, like me, she was right there. Always has been. Like me, Barb’s been exercising her entire life.

Barb’s heart defect was discovered late. She signed up for surgery. Came out a champ.

Sure it hurt. Sure it was hard. But she went under a very fit 72-year-old woman.

Here’s what’s interesting. For her entire life, her damaged heart with a missing piece was asked to be an athlete. She never quit. Neither did her good, strong heart. She operated as though everything was fine, and put plenty of demand on her most essential organ.

Her heart rose to the occasion. It pumped hard. Grew strong. Never missed a beat. So much so that even when they discovered that Barb had a serious heart defect, that heart had not slowed her down significantly.

Her doctor told her the same thing. The miracle that is our body is simply unbelievable when we ask it to work. It can find go-arounds and back doors and new pathways to do what it’s being asked to do.

Barb doesn’t consider this a miracle. Neither do I. Her body was just doing its job because it was being asked, consistently.

Because Barb’s heart was strong going in, she has healed swiftly coming out.

And she is leaving her fellow rehabbers in the dust, as well as showing up at the gym every day.

Fit isn’t about thin. It’s not about perfection. It’s not about bigger biceps or whatever the hell we might think it is. It’s about having options. Good ones, as we age. Options that disappear the less we move.

For my fitness dollar, Barb’s story is a perfect example why we go to the gym.

Barb will never be an elder fitness model.

But she IS a model for fitness, why we exercise for life, and why in every single way, keeping that resolution to keep moving can, and will likely, make all the difference.

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