43 Ladies Who Sweat

As we move into the last three months of our stay in Ireland, I am conscious of the stories I particularly want to tell in this blog, as I only have eight or ten weeks or posts remaining. I’ve known since last summer that at some 43 SportsCo gympoint I wanted to write about the remarkable women I’ve met in my water aerobics class “Aquafit” and in my exercise class “Active for Life” at the gym across the street from our apartment, SportsCo. You will have perhaps noticed that I mention these women often in my blog as sources of information, anecdotes, and insights about life in Ireland. They have also been valuable exercise buddies and great company for me three times a week whenever I’m not traveling. I’m really going to miss them when I leave in June.

When we were apartment hunting in Dublin in June 2014, I had my eye out for swimming pools I would be able to join and was delighted when our new landlord told us of a gym literally across the street from the Gasworks. SportsCo is highly rated in this city, where there lots of gyms. I like everything about it—the people, the rooms and equipment, the hours, the variety of options. The instructors–Warren, Kelly, and Seán–are patient, creative, and inspiring; I especially like it when Kelly, who is from Brazil, teaches us samba routines in the pool. And the gym has a wonderful swimming pool, a twenty-five metre ozone treated facility that is ideal for lap swimming and has repeatedly been rated the best in Dublin. I don’t want to make this an advertisement for the place, but let me just say that my SportsCo membership, which includes unlimited use of the facilities and all classes, costs me significantly less than my YMCA membership in Atlanta. Since it takes me less than five minutes to get there, I really have no excuse for missing my workout, even on cold and blustery days.

43 Ladies 4

Last summer I started my gym membership with a plan to swim three or four times a week, but I also decided to try a couple of the classes offered. I have to confess to being a water aerobics snob before this sabbatical. As someone who has swum laps regularly for years, I thought such classes were nothing more than water playtime, fine for old people or nonswimmers, but not for me. In spite of that prejudice, I went to an “Aquafit” class in my first week. While I didn’t admit it to myself, I think I was trolling for ways to meet people, something that just doesn’t happen to lap swimmers.

The women in the class were very nice to me from the start; the instructors were congenial and offered a lot of variety in the exercises, which I’ve found is what I need to stay motivated. What surprised me, though, was what a good workout the class turned out to be—much more so than the classes I’d observed from my lap lane at the “Y” in Atlanta. I loved it and became a regular, also joining “Active for Life,” a class that 43 Francesmixes aerobics, strength training, yoga, and Pilates. I was almost put off by that title, which conjures images of the old and feeble, but of course I was wrong again and found the class to be challenging and fun. It’s important to find yourself proven wrong, and to admit it.

These classes brought me a community of maybe twenty-five to thirty women who come regularly to one or the other, some to both. They range in age from the thirties to the seventies as far as I can tell, though most seem to be maybe fifty to sixty-five. Some are retired, many are working. Quite a few of them have been taking classes at SportsCo for over twenty years and know each other very well; others like me are blow-ins or have recently moved to the area. Over the years they have formed friendships that extend beyond the classes, but newcomers are continuously welcomed, and at least in my case, embraced.

People clearly join the classes for social reasons as well as to exercise, and class members make it a point to chat in the locker room; before, after—and sometimes during—class; and at “coffee.” From the very first I was invited to coffee after class in the gym’s nice café, where the cappuccino, scones, and sandwiches are actually worth going out of your way to get. These coffees—my favorite part of the gym experience—sometimes last up to an hour. People and topics of conversation come and go. We usually cover the latest news, particularly the political scandals and murders, mostly in Ireland but elsewhere, too. For the Irish news items, the other women fill me in on the public characters and their past exploits as well as on Irish law and custom and relevant examples from recent history. I do the same for the American stories. We also discuss personal and family news: Mary’s trip to Spain, Kathleen’s attempts to find a new car, Tina’s hip replacement, Nora’s daughter’s plans to return from living in Australia, the latest outrages at the local hospitals where quite a few of them are nurses or doctors—the kinds of things any group of women will talk about over coffee, but Irish style (I have changed their names).

Coffee after "Active for Life"

Coffee after “Active for Life”

We also talk a lot about travel, their trips and mine. They are fascinated by my jaunts around Ireland, as eager to make suggestions as to hear about my experiences. When Ron and I attended a candlelit dinner and tour at Russborough House in County Wicklow last November, at coffee everyone wanted to know the details and whether we thought it worth the price (we did). One woman who knows Belfast well recommended we attend the Christmas Market at City Hall there, so Ron and I planned a December trip around the suggestion. They’ve told me about out-of-the-way places worth visiting and scenic routes to get there. Though many of them travel frequently to the US to visit with family or to be tourists, they are always eager to hear about how things are done in “America”—no one here calls it the United States, the US, or even the States—and to ponder how life is lived in the two countries.

A surprising number of the women attend many of the same cultural events I go to, and in fact I’ve run into some of them at theatres, galleries, and lecture halls around town. For a city of well over a million, Dublin is a small, small world. So a very frequent topic is our reviews of what we’ve seen or heard and what we recommend or don’t recommend to the rest. They regularly bring me brochures and programs and give suggestions about what to see and do in the city. 43 HelenThanks to them I’ve discovered the invaluable Dublin Event Guide (for free events), attended several wonderful outdoor concerts, found my way to farmers’ markets, and much more. We also trade suggestions and opinions about television shows, particularly multi-episode dramas like Downton Abbey, The Fall, Wolf Hall, and our latest craze, the new version of Poldark. Ladies, if you were in love with Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark in the older version of this series of books by Winston Graham, wait until you see Aidan Turner in the role.

The language of these conversations is fast-paced, eclectic, and as I’ve noted in earlier blogs, rather salty, all of which I love. As the only foreigner in the group, I have to listen closely, because the pace, accents, usages, and references sometimes befuddle me. But my friends are very good about stopping and explaining and sometimes do so even when I haven’t said I need it.

The Aquafit Christmas lunch at The Schoolhouse Restaurant

The Aquafit Christmas lunch at The Schoolhouse Restaurant

For years they’ve planned special lunches and outings away from SportsCo. Both classes held a “Christmas lunch” at a local restaurant with a special menu, party crackers, lots of wine, and much hilarity. At the Aquafit Christmas lunch, it was strange to see people I knew only in their swim suits and caps with actual hair, makeup, and clothing. Less formal lunch events are also planned, like the one the “Active for Life” class had a few weeks ago at a local pub called The Old Spot, pictured at the top. And groups from both classes sometimes arrange to go on sponsored walks and public races together. I couldn’t go, but last Monday quite a few of them did a fifteen mile walk along the Royal Canal: they took the train west to Maynooth and walked back to Dublin along the towpath.

On more than one occasion I’ve heard them talk about money they’ve raised to help out in cases known to one group member or another. For example, they all contributed to help a friend of one of the women take her mother back to her home country of India for a visit. When one group member’s husband died last fall, the others rallied around her and made sure she came back to class when the time was right. 43 Ladies 2

Some of us are training together with Kelly to participate in a women’s mini-marathon on June 1, sponsored by the Irish Cancer Society. I was in town for this race last year: the city was swarming with groups of women wearing race t-shirts from their sponsoring groups and lots of men in varying degrees of drag, all welcome to raise money for cancer research. It looked like a lot of fun, but I never dreamed I’d be a participant. I’ve always been more of a lone runner, now walker, and so it feels rather daring to enter such an event—a result, no doubt, of the freedom of a full year in a new place and the camaraderie of the ladies who sweat.


From the SportsCo Web site

From the SportsCo Web site

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *