I remembered a little story about personal training that I want to share with everyone.
It was the end of a session with T. As always, we finished up in the stretching area, stretching my hamstrings and quads. I noticed another woman staring. I’m no stranger to others staring at me, my gait, my crutches…whatever. Whenever I’m stared at it’s like I’m a kid again. The one getting pointed at and laughed at during recess or at the playground or walking down the sidewalk. It sucked and it still does. Unfortunately, it’s a reality. So at the gym, I paid the woman no mind, but I did notice her staring. She wasn’t subtle. It was like she was getting paid to stare. Like I was the star of some play or show. Except I wasn’t. All I wanted to do was exercise. Get my workout in and go home. Maybe even enjoy it. I would’ve if I wasn’t being gawked at. Last time I checked, I wasn’t an actress and working out at the gym wasn’t the content of your newest overdramatic soap show.
I debated whether or not to address her. Walk up to her. Ask if she needed something. Except I was already on the floor on the mat and it was a pain in the neck to transfer to standing from the floor. I wasn’t going to go out of my way and get up to deal with some stranger who didn’t even have the courtesy to um, I don’t know, not stare and mind her business? We were at the gym, for crying out loud. Go lift some weights or run on the treadmill or something. While I was on the mat, I almost didn’t notice my trainer get up and walk over to her.
“What’s up?” He asked, an edge to his voice. I perked up. Whoa. What was happening?
The woman started talking. I was a bit too far to hear everything she said. I caught some of it, though, and it sounded something like this:
“I just wanted to say it’s really inspiring that you’re working with her.”
Ugh. Cringe. Not only was she commenting on how I was such an inspiration (here we go again) but she didn’t even say so to my face. Sigh. And on top of that, I was the one exercising and she didn’t even want to give me any of the credit. Wtf?
“….She’s the one doing all the work,” T said. Yes. Way to go, T! Seriously, I’m just trying to exercise. If you feel the need to comment or “compliment” me or whatever, at least address me. You know, like I’m a real person. With ears. Who can hear. I can’t stand when non-disabled people talk over disabled people like they’re not even in the same room. Or ignore them. Let me spell it out: we’re here. We can understand you. Talk to us.
And on the whole complimenting thing. Double sigh. I was in pain and tired from working out. It was not the time to shout from the rooftops about me being inspiring or whatever. Honestly, it can get irritating, even if you might mean well. Plenty of disabled people go to the gym and workout. I’m not some pioneer. I mean, what do you want? The gym is a part of my ordinary daily life. That’s all.
Don’t get me wrong, recovery and rehab from SDR has been hard work. It’s not a vacation by any means. I’ve said before that I’m literally rebuilding my body. Sound difficult? It is. It’s a commitment. An investment. Hard work. I wouldn’t mind being complimented over that. It takes grit. Thing is, though, this non-disabled stranger at the gym knew nothing about me, not even my name. She definitely didn’t know SDR. She was just being….rude. Annoying. And she interrupted my training session, too. T was right. I’m the one doing the work. I was honestly happy he pointed that out. From what I know about him, he’s not one to spout BS. Talks truth and is real. I could tell when I first met him. Those are qualities I admire in a person.
Here’s something else. T is physically non-disabled. I was happy he confronted the woman, but I also recognize that not every non-disabled person will defend me that way and be an ally. It’s another reality. I shouldn’t expect every non-disabled person I encounter to be an ally. I can’t just drop that role onto somebody else. It’s not my responsibility and it’s unfair. They have to want to be an ally and for that matter, know how to be one. Also, I don’t always want to be defended or protected or for someone to “come to my aid.” I can stand up for myself. I’ve had tons of practice. I have a voice. Clearly, I’m not afraid to use it. If I had a chance to speak to that woman at the gym, I probably would’ve said something like, “Ok….this show’s over.”