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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 email@example.com 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?