The fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Lex Hall

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

AMONG the ex­er­cise fads I have suc­cumbed to re­cently, my lat­est is per­haps the most cu­ri­ous: the weighted vest. Never have fit­ness and fash­ion com­bined in such dis­tilled masochism. This self-in­dul­gent act of lu­nacy was prompted by the mil­i­tary mem­oir Lone Sur­vivor, re­cently made into a film, which re­counts the har­row­ing true story of a four-man pa­trol of US Navy SEALs bat­tling the Tal­iban. The more I learned about the ill-fated 2005 mis­sion the more I be­came fas­ci­nated by the group’s leader, Lieu­tenant Michael Mur­phy.

The New York na­tive died on the mis­sion and re­ceived the Medal of Honor, the US mil­i­tary’s high­est ac­co­lade. Ad­mired for his lead­er­ship, Mur­phy was also for­mi­da­bly fit, and has be­come a fit­ness icon. There is even a work­out named in his hon­our. Known as “the Murph”, this tor­tu­ous ses­sion in­cludes hun­dreds of pul­lups, sit-ups and press-ups, and be­gins and ends with 1.6km run in a 15kg weighted vest.

No sooner had I dis­cov­ered this lit­tle ac­cou­trement than I was on the in­ter­net or­der­ing one. Days later, an over­weight de­liv­ery man ar­rived at the doorstep wrestling with the vest, which had al­ready burst through its pack­ag­ing. “Be care­ful,” he said, “it’s heavy.” At $150, I had opted for the in-be­tween 20kg model.

“I’ll be right,” I said non­cha­lantly, as he pushed it into my hands. Only the chair on the por­tico saved my fall. I re­alised I had grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the weight. My dream of em­u­lat­ing the great Murph lay in tat­ters. But in a rare show of de­fi­ance I picked my­self — and the vest — up and, to my re­lief, re­alised I could lighten it by re­mov­ing a few — OK, sev­eral — of the cylin­dri­cal sand­bags from their neo­prene pouches.

Scoff­ing at the thought of Bob Carr and his one-legged Ro­ma­nian dead lifts, I got the vest down to 15kg and suited up for my first run. “Don’t have a heart at­tack,” my mother breezily ad­vised as I set off. Un­de­terred, I trun­dled up the street, Cicero’s words ring­ing in my mind: “It is ex­er­cise alone that sup­ports the spir­its, and keeps the mind in vigour.” I felt pleas­antly snug in the vest, ready for a 45-minute trot through Syd­ney’s east­ern sub­urbs.

Five min­utes in, my heart was pound­ing, my lungs rup­tur­ing. With the Tal­iban nowhere in sight, I per­se­vered, pass­ing a newly es­tab­lished “Pa­leo” cafe. While its brushed con­crete floors and “clean and lean fare” didn’t ex­actly con­jure im­ages of 10,000BC, the cafe of­fered a cu­ri­ous re­minder of the era in which hu­man ex­er­cise be­gan. An era when, as Lance Dal­leck and Len I HAVE been a mem­ber of many groups, start­ing at pri­mary school, where join­ing was a forced en­ter­prise (read con­scrip­tion): we were var­i­ously shep­herded into choirs, net­ball teams or Brown­ies, ac­cord­ing to our in­ter­ests.

Be­long­ing to a group re­veals a lot, not just about our in­ter­ests and hob­bies, but some­times our stage of life. Re­cently, I crossed that magic thresh­old into re­pro­duc­tion, and thus I have joined a moth­ers’ group.

There are five of us, each a pro­fes­sional, all first-timers, and all liv­ing in the same re­mote north­ern com­mu­nity. We are prob­a­bly aver­age age by mod­ern Aus­tralian sta­tis­tics, around the 30 mark, but this is con­sid­ered old for start­ing out in a town where min­ing af­flu­ence has sparked a pop­u­la­tion boom among cashed-up young­sters still wear­ing de­signer sun­glasses and tot­ing fake de­signer hand­bags from Bali.

We are all mar­ried, to al­ter­nately be­wil­dered and be­sot­ted hus­bands, and our ba­bies all ar­rived within weeks of each other in the tiny hospi­tal where I worked. We are all thou­sands of kilo­me­tres from our own moth­ers.

At one of the first gath­er­ings, we ar­ranged Kravitz note in their 2011 es­say The His­tory of Fit­ness, “tribes com­monly went on one or two­day hunt­ing jour­neys for food and wa­ter”. Far­ther up the road, an­other cafe, an­other phase in the evo­lu­tion of fit­ness: an or­ganic cafe. Here the pa­trons were dressed for ex­er­cise yet it was doubt­ful, judg­ing by their bod­ies, whether they did any. Here, a more Ne­olithic at­mos­phere reigned, rem­i­nis­cent of an era, as Dal­leck and Kravitz put it, that sym­bol­ised “a more seden­tary life­style as man be­gan to al­le­vi­ate some hard­ships of life while si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­creas­ing daily phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity”. Here were the kind of people John F. Kennedy had in mind, I thought, when he com­posed his 1960 Sports Il- the ba­bies on the floor and took a photo, doc­u­ment­ing for pos­ter­ity the five small bun­dles of in­com­pre­hen­si­ble hu­man po­ten­tial lined up on the play­mat. As the weeks pass, we re­joice in their re­al­i­sa­tion of the world.

There is, of course, an un­der­ly­ing edge of com­pe­ti­tion. We lurk around the ta­ble, wait­ing to see who risks the first bite of Bos­ton bun and who chooses to forgo the sweets for the car­rot sticks and low-fat dip. There are dis­cus­sions over dum­mies and de­vel­op­ment, and a fierce race to an­nounce the first to roll (con­firmed by pho­tos on Face­book).

Sleep is the prover­bial pachy­derm in the nurs­ery. No one wants to ad­mit their lit­tle dar­ling is wak­ing them up 15 times on a good night, but Who was the sec­ond Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter to die in of­fice? Paros­mia is a dis­or­der of which one of the senses? The world fa­mous Wil­liam A. Shea Mu­nic­i­pal Sta­dium was lo­cated in which US city? Max­im­i­lien Robe­spierre was one of the key po­lit­i­cal fig­ures of which century? How many “in­sights” are re­vealed in the 1993 novel TheCe­lestineProphecy? 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. lus­trated ar­ti­cle The Soft Amer­i­can. “We are un­der-ex­er­cised as a na­tion,” he shouted to his coun­try­men, “we look in­stead of play; we ride in­stead of walk.”

I trudged on through the Bondi Junc­tion mall, my face con­tort­ing with pain. Shop­pers parted, un­sure if I was a sui­cide bomber or a cop on the hunt for one. Here, too, were mark­ers on the fit­ness time­line, more ex­otic this time: a pro­fu­sion of stu­dios de­voted to yoga, that 5000year-old enthusiasm con­ceived by fru­gal, dis­ci­plined Hindu priests who, through their mimicry of an­i­mals, sought to achieve the same bal­ance with na­ture.

By now I had slowed to a walk. I passed a pub where a TV was show­ing an army re­cruit­ment ad, which with its im­agery of soldiers do­ing press-ups was a stark re­minder of the pri­macy of fit­ness to the war­mon­ger­ing Spar­tans of an­cient Greece. Once home, I ripped off the vest and col­lapsed in a pud­dle. My one-man pa­trol had sur­vived. it’s so­cial sui­cide to ad­mit you wake up each morn­ing re­freshed af­ter eight hours of un­in­ter­rupted rest.

There are frank chats about leak­ing boobs and pelvic floor ex­er­cises. There is swap­ping of clothes and hand­ing down of the left­over new­born nap­pies. There is re­lief at dis­cov­er­ing ev­ery­one’s nip­ples are sore and that ev­ery­one’s baby has been ac­ci­den­tally sub­merged in the bath. And there is a care pack­age or­gan­ised for a mum and baby flown out for med­i­cal treat­ment.

If you had sug­gested a year ago I would join a moth­ers’ group, I would have laughed, but this is my tribe now. There is ca­ma­raderie, a weekly re­as­sur­ance that we can mas­ter this, we can adapt to this strange new life. In an age where we tend to live hours from our dear­est fe­male kin, these women are my sis­ters; my clos­est al­lies, the Sis­ter­hood of Nap­pies. Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au Which three coun­tries bor­der South Sudan to the south? Caipir­inha is con­sid­ered to be the na­tional cock­tail of which coun­try? Ro­man Polan­ski won the Best Di­rec­tor Os­car for which 2002 movie? The word Qan­tas was orig­i­nally an acro­nym for what? Son­nets­fromthePor­tuguese is a collection of son­nets by whom?

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