I am not an athletic person.
I hate exercising so much that unless I am punching, kicking, or choking something I can’t make myself do it. The thought of running makes me ill; the actual act of it makes me want to die. My lack of body fat keeps me from swimming for more than 10 minutes before I start to go into hypothermic shock. I like to bike, but I hate the pedaling aspect of it. And I tried the elliptical machine at a gym once and nearly dislocated everything in my body all at once.
My neighbours, however, are a different story. The Jets (as I will call them here) love the gym. They are there something like 10 times a week. If they aren’t weight training, they’re running, or biking, or swimming, or pulling cars with their teeth for fun.
Ian is one of those guys whose abs are visible through his winter jacket. His forearms are as big around as my waist. I’m pretty sure that he could bench press me along with the weight that I could bench press all at the same time. With one arm.
Normally I don’t like this kind of person. (It could be because of many years of getting shoved into lockers by people that are physically similar.) But Ian is a rare combo of massive physique and even more massive generosity of spirit. He’s the neighbour that offers to cut your lawn, bring in your garbage cans, or shovel your driveway. No, that’s not true. He’s the neighbour that does it without even offering first, and then apologizes later on for not doing sooner, cleaner, or faster than he did. He has been known to say things like, “I was just barbequing some steaks and I realized that I had cooked two extras by accident. Do you want them?” He has also told me, with unmitigated sincerity, “Nick, I am so sorry that I didn’t wave to you when we passed each other in the traffic circle. I didn’t realize that it was you until after, and I felt like such a jerk.”
It’s awfully hard not to like someone like that, even if you do feel physically inadequate just by standing near him.
Meg, Ian’s wife, is every bit as a nice and every bit as fit. Her particular bent, however, is in the discipline of brutal, flagellatory, masochistic endurance training. She is the girl you pass at 6:00 AM, her shoulders hunched over the handlebars of a bike that weighs less than your Starbucks grandé latte. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen her jogging into her driveway, drenched in sweat, only to have her offer to weed my yard for me.
“Aren’t you tired from your run?” I ask her.
“Oh, this was just a short one. I just went to the next area code and back.”
Meg recently completed her first official Ironman competition, finishing in under 12 hours (her personal target) and somehow not dying in the process. For those of you that don’t know what’s involved in this race, it is a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bike and a marathon (26 miles 385 yards, 42.195 km) run.
That’s right. It ends in a marathon. Marathons regularly kill people that don’t immediately precede it by swimming across a lake and biking the length of Highway 400. I don’t know how you can train for it. I don’t know how you can do it on race day. I don’t know how you can recover from it without your limbs staging a violent, face-smashing mutiny the next day.
Feelings of physical inadequacy aside, I can’t help but be proud of my neighbour.
And neither can my little girl.