Not Surrounded by Buff Twenty Year Olds 

I decided that while I have a couple weeks down time, it is time to start something new. 

I have been staying in Paignton England for the past week, and will be here till the end of February. Four weeks in a new routine. Falling into the family dynamic of my older cousin (Daryl), his wife (Sally. Yes we are both Sally Freeman) and their two kids (Eleanor and Thomas). Spending days alone, and nights with the family. Not to mention their new fourteen week old puppy, who I walk and play with during my day. Sally and I have been referring to me as the new oupair, which I am more than happy with. 

7:30, I start my day off by waking up and saying goodbye to the family. All of which are  rushed out the door to school and work. My first class starts at 9:40. After getting ready I enjoy a big bowl of cereal and a hot cup of coffee, ready to hit the road. 8:30. A 45 minute walk through town to get to the local leisure center. There you can take classes, use the gym, or take a dip in the pool. In Concord, I could have never imagined wanting to willingly walk 45 minutes to anywhere. But here, in a new surrounding, it was nothing less than enjoyable. 

9:10, my fast paced walk got me there early. And good thing! After giving my name and class to the older woman behind the desk, she informed me that I was not on the list. I had booked and payed the night prior over the phone, so with a confused look I let the woman know my pradiciment. She hustled and bustled around on her computer for a bit. I don’t know if it was because I was kind or because I was American , but the women let me go with a pass and no payment. 9:20. After asking twice where the locker rooms and gyms were, I still managed to get lost in the long halls of blank orange doors. Not one door was labeled with “big gym” or “pool”. After minutes of circulating hopelessly, I stopped a young women to ask for help. She led me into a massive gym. One that looked shockingly similar to my high school’s gym. I was alone. 9:30. I decided to sit and stretch while I waited for what was going to be a “tone and trim” session. Now I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about coming to class. With no idea what the teacher, location, and workout was going to be like. But I didn’t let my anxiety get the best of me. Just then the two double doors slammed opened, and in walked two gray haired women. Kindly greeting me they each said “good morning” in their soft British accents. Still feeling out of place I went and sat on the bench near the two. Hmm. These women couldn’t have been any younger than sixty. In walked two more women, and the class instructor. Each of them being over the age of fifty. I went up to the instructor to hand him my class pass and to introduce myself. He asked if this was my first class, and continued to tell me that it was going to be mixing 90’s aerobic dancing and strengthening exercises. Apparently that’s what this regulars enjoy.  The faces of everyone who walked in and saw me were the same. Pleasantly shocked. 9:35 and a bubbly women bounced through the doors. Everyone in the gym seemed to greet her by her first name, followed by a short ‘how have you been’ conversation. Like everyone else, she looked at me with a double take. But unlike the others , she turned to me and said, 

“Good morning! Is this you first time here?”

Of course she could tell. I mean let me be real, I was a nineteen year old girl surrounded by a bunch of old birds who I assume come to this class every week. 

“Yes! This is my first time here, and my first class!” I said cheerfully. 

“Well, you look like you’re in good shape so you should be just fine!” 

I noticed her accent first. There was tones of British , but the bases of it was something different. We continued to chat about the leisure center, Paignton, Donald Trump, and my interest in Europe and backpacking. I learned her accent comes from Belgium, just like herself. 9:45, she gives me a friendly wave to the front of the gym, skipping around like a little girl. 

“My name is Sally by the way!” I said yelling over the dance music. 

“I’m Rita! It’s nice to meet you!” 

10:40. Leaving the gym I thank Rita for helping me throughout the class, but ultimately I was thanking her for her kindness. My first new friend while traveling  was met in a very unexpected way. Here I am now, looking back at how nervous I was to be intimidated by a bunch of fit gym junkies. Don’t get me wrong, these men and woman definitely kept me going, but I felt welcome in the class. Even more so I felt like I fit in with everyone there. Thank you Rita for reminding me of the human kindness that is all around. 


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