I used to be a member of a budget fitness franchise sandwiched between a dollar store and an auto body repair shop in suburban New Jersey. It was the sort of place frequented by retirees who exchanged potato salad recipes while languidly gliding on creaky elliptical machines. Three times a week, a friend and I were among the 12 members who attended strength and cardio classes run by a trainer who I will refer to as Georgia.
Georgia was a drill sergeant on a mission to defend the integrity of the one-legged burpee. Under her command, we crawled across the floor like bears after prey. We jumped with our knees at our ears like cats landing on a hot deck in July. The words “I can’t” fell to the wayside, replaced by the shallow breaths fueling our bestial movements. All the while, Georgia barely broke a sweat, mirroring us in time at the front of the room and urging us on with two monosyllabic words: “Let’s. Go.”
That word, “let’s” — let us — was key. Camaraderie overpowered competition, as evidenced by the laps we ran around the room in an unbroken ring. If one domino is pushed too hard, its force is felt by the others in the sequence. If one person decides to take a knee, everyone risks collapsing.
It was this, Georgia’s unique ability to empower individual motivations behind the pursuit of physical fitness and pack them into the goal of a collective, that elevated her above the ranks of “just a coach.” She was a leader, a therapist and a hypnotist who disabled the brain’s ability to self-destruct under doubt. She was also a spirit of empathy who joked about the unbalanced zen of the impatient yogis who tried to storm the door before our class was over. Georgia was a healer who remedied our spirits as we found physical strength in our bodies.
One Saturday before class, we sat stretching in silence when another instructor entered the room. She cued up a playlist of nasal eighties pop covers and muttered something about jumping jacks. The army of B+ soldiers that was usually reflected in the mirror suddenly resembled a nest of flappy baby birds wondering when mom would return. She never did.
Georgia didn’t say goodbye, or hint at where we could take classes with her elsewhere. Selfishly, it felt a bit like a betrayal. We had come so far, only to reach a dead end.
About a month after Georgia left the gym, I did too. It wasn’t a move of protest — a new job meant a new city and, subsequently, a new place to work out with new instructors with their own teaching styles and motivational tactics. Still, if I needed an internal boost of encouragement during class, I found myself asking WWGD (what would Georgia do). The response was always: “Let’s. Go.”