Day One of our weeklong stay at the retreat in Devon was a “light” day, mainly due to the Health and Fitness Assessments that took three hours to complete. However every day after began at precisely 5:45 a.m. It’s then we’d be awakened by a way too loud bell ringing three times, accompanied by Julie or Marie, our athletic directors, shouting, “You have 15 minutes!” Fifteen minutes to roll out of bed, into workout clothes, and across a gravel driveway into the barn #2.
Once there, we were treated to a thimbleful of juice that Julie said would power us through an hour of Stretch ‘N Move! After warming up, the circuit training began. Sit ups, next squats, then jumping jacks or what the Brits call stars. I was definitely seeing stars after doing them. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had to do jumping jacks, and for one minute straight! Give it a try! It is harder than you think. After three rounds of ten exercises –while listening to disco tunes like Cool and the Gang’s “Celebrate Good Times” (woo! hoo!) – we dragged ourselves back to barn #1 for breakfast. If you were a caffeine addict when you got there, you’d wouldn’t be one when you left. We learned the very first day, that yes, we could have coffee, however…we would only be given a single thermos of that rich black goodness to share among the twelve of us. And, no milk, no cream, no sugar and no sweet substitutes were allowed. Isn’t that the reason you drink coffee in the first place?
After a breakfast of eggs, meat slices on lettuce, and fruit like blueberries, the day got progressively worse…I mean, more challenging. Exercise Session #2 came an hour later, and was always instructor led, like aerobics or pilates, soon followed by a by an outdoor excursion in Exmoor National Park. Whether it be a run, a hike or a hilly bike ride, Exercise Session #3 was always my favorite. Before setting out, we’d each be given a 2 x 2 inch fruit bar that most of scarfed down before we even got to the location.
Lunch awaited us upon our return, around 13:00 or 1pm. Bellies filled with cottage cheese and turkey slices, we’d head to our Exercise Session #4, a team activity such as a relay, held on one of the verdant fields on the property. Then, it was workshop time. Workshops were always informative, covering topics like reading food labels, supporting thyroid function, and blood sugar balancing. It was really the only time we had any real…zzz…rest. Next, we had Exercise Session #5 something gentle like yoga or tai chi. Then a dinner of fish and salad and an hour later, it was time for…you guessed it…Exercise Session #6! Another team sporting game. Rounding out each evening, we’d get a debriefing of that day’s events, before stumbling off to sleep.
With a schedule so full and demanding, it shouldn’t have surprised any of us when on day 3, we were awakened earlier than usual, but not by the sound of bell ringing. At about 5:00a.m., we heard the distinct sound of someone lumbering down the stairs, a door close hard, a car engine rev up and then tires squealing on the gravel below us. We soon learned it was David who high tailed it out of there. I thought Robert would be bummed now being the only guy in the group, but instead, he reveled in the extra attention all the women gave him!
Many memorable moments occurred that week, like…me, hitting myself in the face during in a boxing session, falling asleep in a yoga class, and beating out Lizzie, a woman 16 years younger in a heated foot race. But the stand out activity had to be our tai chi lesson one beautiful afternoon. It will be etched into my mind forever, or in the mind of anyone else who had a clear view to the right of our instructor that day.
Barefoot on soft grass, Gary led us through the slow movements of this meditation in motion, after saying it would improve our breathing, reduce our stress, and lower our blood pressure. As we rooted our legs firmly and opened ourselves up from our waists, we followed him into “white crane spreads wings”…raising our outstretched arms to sky, that’s when I heard the first WHACK! Then another, then another. Though I tried to focus, as did everyone else, none of us could help but look in the direction of where this ghastly sound was coming from. Everyone, except for Gary. He was truly into his Zen world. What we saw there at the edge of a tranquil pond, was a huge man beating a squirming fish to death with a paddle. That’s when my breath got tight, I closed my eyes, and I felt my stress and blood pressure rise to unprecedented levels.
Not all afternoons were that eventful, but the balance of each day was about the same. Although every centimeter of my body ached, and I longed to touch even an inch of a fluffy warm bath towel, and I really really began to dislike disco music, I adjusted over that week. What began as a rude awakening (literally), ended a with a renewed sense of well-being. That’s when I knew some changes had taken place. By changing my expectations, and sticking with the program, I experienced some unexpected rewards.
I had lost a few inches around my middle and lost a couple of pounds off my frame. But, most importantly, I lost the fear of trying something completely different and physically challenging like boxing. I had gained a new perspective on exercise, opening up to activities like tai chi to stay fit. I gained an understanding of the science behind nutrition and how to eat smarter. And both Robert and I gained a few friends. One of whom we still keep in touch with, all these years later. This is a shout out to you, Rachel! Hello, dear friend!
From my journal: March 23, 2009 London, England
“…Julie has just opened a new business. If we get back to Devon, we’ll have to check it out…”
Five months after meeting Julie, the email explained, she had left the Fit Farm and went on to form her own company. It’s specialty? Why, boot camp workouts, of course!!