Gym and Tonic

Last week, I had the rare opportunity to have my work day end early on a Friday.  I finished morning clinic on time; I attended virtual Morbidity and Mortality conference at noon via Zoom; I worked on curriculum from about 1:30 to 3:30, but couldn’t really do more until other faculty turned in their materials.  At an impasse, I thought, well, what should I do next?  Not many will meet for a happy hour, lately, due to the ongoing pandemic, although vaccines are rolling out and cases are dropping, thank goodness. I could leave early, stop by Cub on the way home and avoid my usual Saturday grocery run. Then I remembered, I hadn’t gotten much exercise this week, so I decided to go to the Rec Center at the University of Minnesota and squeeze in a workout instead. I also read that Spin classes were back, and wanted to see if any worked with my schedule. Spin classes are a great way to train for the Tri-U-Mah, the indoor triathlon held every February at the Rec Center.  Sadly, this was postponed in 2021 due to the pandemic, but is rumored to return in the fall.

I was thinking about the Tri-U-Mah–and what that might look like with masks and social distancing–as I strolled through campus and crossed Washington Avenue. I passed by several coffee shops and a couple bars where students and faculty alike would normally gather at the end of the day to socialize. Sally’s did have a few patrons inside, sitting at every other table, and I could hear laughter and conversation as well as music coming from inside. I thought, here others are enjoying happy hour, and I am going to the gym instead? How incredibly dull. Oh, well. I guess this is what happy hour looks like at my age.

I entered through the modern glass and metal doors to the lobby of the Rec Center.  It is now named “RecWell” but most still call it the Rec Center.  It underwent a significant remodeling and expansion in 2013; truly a beautiful and spacious facility with state of the art equipment, a fantastic pool, great gymnasium spaces, a climbing wall, running track, you name it.  I have come to realize that I started using the Rec Center when I was in medical school–in 1994.  That’s approaching 30 years of working out at the same facility!   Certainly, it helped that as a medical student and resident, I could use it free of charge. But even now, it is extremely reasonable for faculty: only $16 a pay period. 

The front lobby was also dramatically improved during the renovation.  It is now an expansive, natural light filled space with high ceilings and exterior walls made entirely of windows.  Mid century modern furniture and multiple seating areas are interspersed throughout; a tall stone fireplace adds warmth to the southwest corner.  The French Meadow Café on the north side offers healthy lunch options and snacks for after the workout.  The design adds a calming, very “zen” feel to the space.  As I walked through it on my way to the main stairs, I could feel myself decompress, and I thought, I guess this is my happy place.  Or happy hour.  Whatever we might call it.

I proceeded to the card access area, and after swiping the gates opened up and let me through.  At that moment in time, I passed a young woman who was heading into the weight lifting area across from the main stairs.  She was wearing a grey t-shirt that said in big green letters:  GYM and TONIC.

I laughed out loud, because here I was thinking, I’m missing happy hour, or rather I’m at my own personal happy hour, and clearly, she shares the same sentiment.  In many ways, there are similarities; it accomplishes a similar task, getting our minds off of the workday, reducing stress, promoting well being.  Although, it’s probably much healthier in the long run to get an hour of exercise than to drink a pint of beer.  Still, I just had to chuckle and think, where can I get one of those t-shirts?

Later, after a shower, I’m exiting the Rec Center and heading toward my parking ramp. On my way out, I ran into one of my residents who worked in our clinic for three years, participated in the Tri U Mah in 2019, and also rode the Chainbreaker in 2017. We stop, and catch up; he tells me about his research project in Heme Onc. We share a few more stories and a laugh and then part ways. Turns out the gym can be a social experience, after all.

Driving home, I once again contemplated Gym and Tonic, and it reminded me how extremely grateful I was that the Rec Center reopened despite covid-19.  When it was closed, I almost panicked, thinking, it’s the dead of winter in Minnesota, what can I possibly do for exercise?  I eventually replaced my worn out home exercise bike, and was able to keep running outside when the weather would cooperate.  But now I have many more options. Thankfully, very few cases have been tied to a gym, of any type.  And a workout is even more essential during these times to cope with the stress of a pandemic; a true “happy hour” that restores wellbeing. Certainly, it can be every bit as refreshing as tanqueray and tonic.  And the twist?  Well, if necessary, French Meadow has two smoothies on the menu that both contain a generous squeeze of lime.  

Honestly, this could be my new definition of happy hour.  I’ll have to shop online later for that GYM and TONIC t-shirt.  Maybe I could even wear it for the next iteration of the Tri-U-Mah.

How are you staying fit this pandemic season?

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