Back in 2010, I wrote about my fitness-buddy pact with my niece, Xanthi. We started working out together way back in 2008, before she had started college. I shared elements of our experience in my Revolutionary Acts blog, which includes a fun video and podcast with Xanthi (see “Fitness-Buddy Transformations”). The basic story, though, is that my niece dropped a lot of weight, got into terrific shape, built her body confidence and discovered her athleticism.
Over the course of a few years, I witnessed a wholesale transformation in Xanthi. She changed her eating; learned to handle her gluten intolerance; took up running, cycling and lifting weights; earned her 4th-degree black belt in karate; and eventually joined the University of Wisconsin–Stout’s rugby team. She rapidly became a top player and just last year was named team captain.
This morning, I gave Xanthi a big hug goodbye and wished her luck as she headed off for the Midwest Rugby All-Star tryouts in Illinois. In that moment I realized, perhaps for the first time, that my baby bird was leaving the nest. My fitness buddy was heading off into a world so far beyond my own fledgling athleticism, I could hardly even relate to it. And I couldn’t have been more proud.
Although our fitness-buddy arrangement started out with me as “teacher” and Xanthi as “student,” today those roles are reversed. Xanthi long ago surpassed me in every aspect of fitness. Now, I couldn’t keep up with her if I wanted to. And having seen this girl mix it up on the rugby field, let me assure you I would never dream of trying.
Today, I regularly go to Xanthi for lifting tips. She put me through my first TRX and sprint “ladder” workouts. She also encouraged me to try my first Zumba class.
We haven’t been for a run together in a while now, because at this point, I have to ask Xanthi to slow her pace on my behalf. That gives me immense pleasure, though, because when we first started running together, it was I who had to slow my pace for her.
The fact that I can no longer keep up with my old fitness buddy doesn’t bother me in the least. I now have a great new buddy in my personal trainer, and a wonderful group of yoga pals with whom I enjoy practicing regularly. And Xanthi has a whole team of rugby-pal workout partners with whom she trains, hardcore, almost daily.
Some things haven’t changed: Xanthi and I still compare workout notes and sore muscles. We still swap fitness tips and give each other high fives whenever one of us achieves a new workout goal. But we’ve also given each other enough space and flexibility to pursue the goals that matter most to us individually, and to do so in a way that respects our other priorities and passions.
In many ways, I feel like our experience offers a great illustration of what a good fitness-buddy relationship is supposed to be — a transformative, feel-good, inspiring partnership that helps everybody move forward in the direction of their fitness dreams.
One reason we dedicated this issue to healthy connections is that we wanted to shine a light on the power of our interconnectedness, and the way that our personal relationships can provide support for our well-being.
From Elena Brower’s insights on the important role community plays in supporting our healthy perspectives to our feature on various types of fitness-buddy arrangements and how to make them work for you, I hope this issue gives you an opportunity to reflect on your own healthy-community connections, and to do whatever you can to make them even stronger.
As we noted in a feature we ran back in September 2010 (“A Healthy Kind of Contagious”), research suggests that social factors can have a huge influence on individuals’ daily health-and-fitness habits, as well as their health outcomes.
So surround yourself with people who are healthy, or who are inspired to get healthier. If you haven’t already found yourself a fitness buddy, by all means, start looking. And if you aren’t sure where to start, see if there’s a good group fitness class or club at your local gym or rec center. Because one thing’s certain: If you’re trying to get healthier and more fit, you are most definitely not alone.
Pilar is the editor in chief of Experience Life magazine.