“Looking for a new exercise opportunity?” read Marybeth’s message. I sipped my morning coffee and scrolled through the link she’d posted on my facbook wall.
“DILIFit,” said the link, a free community exercise program with the crew of the USCG Diligence. “Work out with the Coast Guard!” read the very catchy headline.
Marybeth is my former boss, and she knows I like to exercise. Mondays around the office, she always asked about my weekend adventures: boxing classes; sunrise surf sessions, powered by two separate wake-up alarms; a rock climbing trip to West Virginia with an old friend from Colorado. Of course she knew DILIFit would interest me.
“Tuesdays at noon, bring a water bottle and a positive attitude. Meet at the grassy area beside the ship.”
I glanced at the clock. Blame it on Daylight Savings, but morning coffee had spilled over to quarter of noon. I threw on my running shoes, grabbed my water bottle, and biked the few blocks to the Cape Fear River.
“If you don’t snapchat it, did you really exercise?” queried one of the Coast Guard officers, with a smile. Following a hearty hello from our cast of Coasties–energetic, and happy to see us—the captain of the ship gave us the low-down: mile and a half run to Port City Marina and back, with fitness stations along the way, including pushups, jump squats, bear crawls, lunges, plank, more pushups…and my least favorite exercise in the world.
* * *
The last time I did a pull-up was in 2002, and the ESPN Winter X-Games were in my then-hometown of Aspen, Colorado. The Navy Seals had an info booth adjacent to the Snowboard Superpipe and about ever 5 minutes, a deep male voice bellowed from the tent: “Navy Seals Pull-up Challenge! Ladies and gentlemen, test your fitness with the Navy Seals Pull-up Chal-lenggge…”
The announcer droned on and on, the word ‘Chal-lengge’ infiltrating the atmosphere like the latest pop song. Finally, I buckled—or rather, I unbuckled my ski boots, pulled up my ski socks, and hoisted myself into the air.
I only did eight pull-ups, with the announcer aiding and abetting my wiggly ascents, but the bruiser gal who’d done a whopping 13 had left the Games early. By default, I was declared ‘Winner, Female Civilian’ category, and they handed me brand new Burton snowboard.
Unfortunately, I was a skier, not a snowboarder. I considered mounting the trophy on the wall, like a prize Marlin caught, but never eaten, a constant reminder of the time I somehow rigged the Navy Seals Pull-up Chal-lengge.
* * *
And now, 15 years later, my second-ever military fitness challenge, the nice Coast Guard Captain was telling us that Station 8 was the pull-up station.
Ugh. Don’t worry, I self-soothed. Maybe you’ll pass out before then!
Satisfied the handful of participants felt comfortable, safe, and ready to challenge ourselves at beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels, Captain Carter asked if there were any questions.
“You’ll have a rescue squad, correct?” asked one participant, kind of sort of joking.
Everyone laughed; and then, following a toot toot from the ship’s horn, we started on our self-paced jog toward Port City Marina.
It was an unseasonably warm March day, and Riverwalk was a busy place. I nodded to couples on benches, families meandering along wooden walkway, dogs and owners chasing each other around. A woman glanced up from her book, our collective draft ruffling her pages.
The first fitness stop sat adjacent to Cape Fear Community College’s boat-making workshop. Several students set aside their wood, paint, sanding and sawing, to watch us do jump-squats.
I’d opted for the advanced level of each exercise, aside from the accursed pull-ups, but my legs started to burn after about seven squats—only 22 more to go. I got through it, but the leg burn remained. Recommencing my jog took a hot minute or two.
Next station: 90 seconds of forearm plank. Plank was an old friend of mine, and today, I relished the opportunity to rest my legs. Feeling slightly refreshed after a couple minutes of no movement whatsoever, I cringed at the next command.
It involved the straightaway near the Wilmington Convention Center, what makes for a beautiful stroll past boats, slips, and the outskirts of Port City Marina, if you’re not told to “sprint this stretch!”
I’m a lot of things, but a fast runner, I’m not: think snapping turtle, not Easter Bunny.
I took off as fast as those turtle feet would go, and then, my face on fire, I slowed to a near halt near Port City Marina’s scenic stretch of riverfront.
A beautiful metal statue of a sea bird sat hovered on its fixed axis, bearing silent witness to my waning energy. I jogged in place for a moment, then resumed a comfortable, forward-moving pace.
I plodded past True North, my nautical crush, a sweet little pink and green sailboat that lives in one of the marina slips. I waved at the empty craft, then pulled my trucker hat a little lower, hoping my face might morph from purple to a more comely, energized pink.
Crew members ran ahead, behind, keeping stride with everyone’s steps. These heroes in dark blue waved and encouraged we troops, high fiving the air whenever we passed
My feet hit the bright new asphalt of Pier 33, Port City Marina’s floating concert venue, where a visiting yacht was extending her stay. Her friendly crew wandered onto the deck, watching today’s steady stream of fitness seekers stop and drop beneath the open-aired band shell.
Staggered push-ups, said this station’s leader. I gave him a small nod, nothing too enthusiastic (best to conserve my energy, I decided), and placed my left hand slightly ahead of my right. It was cooler beneath the band shell, its big iron limbs casting lengthy, artistic shadows, and as I executed my first staggered pushup, my nose dipped into a long slice of shade.
Kind of awesome, I realized.
I smiled up at my Coast Guard guru, sparing no enthusiasm this time. “Beautiful place to do staggered push-ups,” I huffed, gazing at the USS North Carolina, our resident battleship, floating in the distance.
“Maybe I’ll do just a couple more.”
Postscript: I survived the unsightly Bear Crawl and managed 5 fully-assisted pull-ups. Will I ever do one legitimate pull-up, without more than a little help from my friends? Probably not. But it’s always fun to try.