I entered into what I imagined would be a gauntlet of eyes scrutinizing my rather flaccid physique. I brought an equally terrified friend along for moral support, and we made our way from Ellingson down the continually muddy hill slope and through the glass doors of the imfamous Tostrud Center for Recreation.
At the time, I had only a vague knowledge of how to use the assorted exercise equipment available in the upstairs fitness room, so I instead ventured onto the suspended track. After a week or so of running, I worked my way up to treadmills, and then one day, a few weeks later in a moment of sheer bravado, mounted one of the ever-awkward ellipticals. It was love at first non-impact stride.
Over time, I grew acquainted with the various weight machines, mat exercises and free weights dispersed throughout the room, and as I got to know them better, I realized that there were certain crowds of users that went along with each one.
Tostrud is home to many different recreation areas, each with its own athletic culture. What one may not realize, however, is that within these little nation-states of sweat there lie even more finite divisions. Let us now begin our foray into the many subcultures of Tostrud by starting with the most obvious and noticeable area the upstairs fitness room.
An estrogen-dominated domain of exercise machines, free weights and mats, the upstairs fitness room houses Tostrud's extensive collection of elliptical trainers, stationary bikes and treadmills, as well as most of the regular exercisers. Here is where you will find the daily exercisers, mostly women, clothed in varying degrees of spandex, athletic shorts and baggy T-shirts. These regulars all work with the same amount of determination in their faces as they tackle their machine of choice.
Although to the visitor's eye there appears no difference between the ladies of the upper fitness area, there is, in fact, a defined hierarchy. At the bottom are the two rowing machines, shoved off into the distant corner of the machine compound.
Those machines are predominantly frequented by the occasional male that makes his way up to the area as well as senior citizens and assorted faculty and staff members during the designated hours they are allowed.
One step up from the rowing machines is the treadmill, generally home to less-motivated power walkers and the occasional real-deal runner. Most non-track-team-affiliated runners can be found on the suspended track, artfully dodging varying concentrations of Northfield community members and slightly more ambitious power walkers.
The rulers of the machine world seem to be the elliptical trainers, mostly due to the incredible elevation they provide for their users. Towering over the rest of the fitness area, the mindset of the elliptical users seems to be one of total domination. Permanently plugged into their iPod minis or Nanos, elliptical girls fall into two subsets that extend to the rest of the gym: those who read magazines, and those who read for class.
I personally have never been able to understand how one can complete an academic reading while furiously pumping ones arms and legs in tandem. Usually, I can hardly manage to stay balanced on the machine, let alone incorporate such fine motor activities as page turning into my routine. Yet there are those who are continually found with course readings dutifully positioned on the screen in front of them.
When asked how they manage such a feat, the dominant response was one of mild disdain, as if the answer was anything but obvious that they simply read while exercising.
The magazine readers tend to be slightly less intense in their devotion to reading they are easily distracted, often positioning themselves in the front line of machines from which friends circling the track are easily conversed with.
The suspended track is an interesting culture unto itself. In the early afternoons, track team members that move about in large packs at alarming speeds dominate the track. In the designated community hours, the track is dominated by a large concentration of senior citizens, again adopting the pack mentality as they clog lanes with as many as four people across, seemingly oblivious to frustrated power walkers.
Non-track affiliated student runners vary in degrees of technique and speed, but for the most part are an easy going crowd. There is of course, the occasional suspended track runner who obviously speeds up as they pass the front line of machines, only to slow down a few yards after that one stretch. I often amuse myself by timing such runners as they go by. Try it sometime.
The weight machines and free weights of the upper fitness area are also regions where males can occasionally be found, although in general members of this sex frequent the downstairs weight room.
The downstairs weight room has a particularly distinctive sharp odor not found in any other part of Tostrud, mostly due to the fact that it is one of the few contained areas. Here, one can witness excessive grunting, panting and other manly expressions of strength as massive amounts of weight are hefted and shifted around. The occasional females found in this area are generally affiliated with a varsity sport.
Another fascinating region of the gym is our deluxe, 48-foot rock climbing wall. Frequented by rock monkeys and climbers alike, the rock wall has an aura of relaxation and ease not found in other regions of Tostrud. Although the occasional couple makes it to the wall for a session of team building and bonding, the majority of climbers tend to be laid back with hints of patchouli oil peppering the air. The climbing staff is much in the same vein.
Of course, Tostrud is home to a host of other subcultures, whether they be the sauna frequenters, the varsity athletes or even the noon ballers. But who wants to write about those crazies?