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Christian Cowart
Participants attend their last Thanksgiving Day two-hour cycle class.

Fifteen years ago, pregnant with my first baby, I waddled my way into the gym close to my parents’ home. We were living in Las Vegas and visiting for the holidays. Obviously I wasn’t there to work off cookies and fruitcake. I needed to move. I needed to remind myself that I still had working feet, even if I couldn’t see them.

When we relocated to Utah a year later, I came back to that gym, this time as a fitness instructor. My happy place became even happier as I met and made many of my greatest friendships. Together we shared a complicated relationship with push-ups, squats and wall-sits. Together we taunted boundaries we never would have dared to cross alone.

Most walked through the group fitness doors hoping to lose a few pounds. It’s no small thing to walk into a room where it seems everyone knows what they’re doing but you, but that’s just what every member did at some point. Many were fed up with where they were in life, no longer willing to accept what had become the norm. Many were looking for accountability and, if they’re honest, that magic formula for weight loss success. Alas, there is no magic formula, but there was magic in that room every time we set up our benches, selected our weights, brushed off our mats and got to work.

Over the next 12 years we celebrated births, graduations, homecomings and anniversaries. We mourned the deaths of family members and friends. We comforted each other when faced with cancer, teenage rebellion and self-doubt. We helped one another after car accidents, bike crashes and job losses. These people weren’t afraid to offer a sweaty hug when life felt harder than the bicep curls we attempted. We did this all while lunging our way to a better physical version of ourselves.

I’ve always encouraged my class members to be open to change. We take on challenges expecting a certain outcome, but if we’re open to possibilities, the outcome is usually better than we expect. In terms of fitness, the majority of new gym members are working for a number, whether it be on the scale, the label in their jeans or the weight on the rack.

But when we take a step back after time and effort, we realize that we’re sleeping better. We focus better. We can go about our everyday activities with less fatigue and more joy. We’re patient. We’re more forgiving. We’re kinder to others and most importantly ourselves. We take care of what we love. We love what we care for. It goes without saying when we care for ourselves, we love ourselves. I doubt anyone was promised that when they signed the gym contract.

Recently that gym closed its doors for the last time. I was more shocked by my reaction to the news than to the news itself. I hadn’t realized what this place meant to me until someone told me it wasn’t mine anymore. I realize how silly it seems to cry over a gym closure, but I wasn’t alone. And it isn’t silly.

It isn’t just a gym. Those weren’t just classes. They weren’t just paying customers. Those members were my fitness family. And while all family dynamics and situations change, it’s still hard.

The following Monday, new clubs were found. New routines began. I had to smile when members recognized each other at their new clubs and gave high-fives to familiar faces. It felt like moving to a new school in the middle of eighth grade, only to realize your best friend moved there, too. Hard things feel easier together.

Change is almost always painful, but how we handle it will either make us stronger or tear us down. What began as a side job has become a source of pure joy. The future is bright and the possibilities endless. And when one door closes, another door opens, in this case literally.

This year, embrace what scares you. Be open to change and welcome those challenges. You’ll get so much more than you expect.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, fitness instructor, marathoner and Feetures! ambassador. You can follow her running and fitness adventures at www.kiminthegym.com