As I dragged myself out of bed on a recent Saturday morning, I mused over the class title – Just A Ball. Was there a sarcastic edge signaling that the class was anything but a ball? Was it said in such a way as to forestall my complaining? Having been friends with Chantel Hobbs, the instructor/trainer, for over twenty years, I had no doubt that the answer was probably more than a little of both.
When we met, Chantel was an incredibly gifted singer, an intensely loyal and engaging friend, beautiful in the blonde way that makes other women want to gag and over 325 pounds. Having had a front-row seat for her physical, emotional, spiritual and occupational transformation, I watched as she lost over 200 pounds, wrote tons of best-selling books, and raised her family. Inspiring? Of course- but then again there was an Original Pancake House I would have to pass on the way to the park. What made it claim to be the original? I think seriously about the need to stop and do some investigative research. Did you know that they actually put syrup AND whipped cream on pancakes? It makes my blood sugar and appetite rise just typing the words.
I drive around the parking lot for a few minutes before I catch sight of what I assume is the group, sprawled in the shade, as Chantel’s voice rises over the lyrics of a worship song emanating from a boom box in the grass. Each of them is attempting to subdue a six or eight pound exercise ball as they lunge, squat and thrust the ball over their heads.
“Help me out here! We’re doing three sets of sixteen repetitions. When everyone gets it right, then we’ll start counting.”
The students’ towels are as diverse as they are – with 20 somethings on stripes gasping out words of encouragement to a middle-aged couple sharing a solid ground cover – while the more fit serve as a motivation to those just starting the journey.
“I want to tell you that I care but I don’t.”
Chantel’s voice rings out again in response to a muttered complaint that she had counted eleven twice. Everyone chuckles to themselves. Despite her tough words, each of the students recognizes that she is here because she cares deeply for them and she can’t wait to help them achieve their personal and health goals.
“It must be nice for you to decide that what you want to do is to lift the ball up on the side when what I asked for is straight out.”
The offender chuckles and quickly adjusts her technique.
Even as I lurk behind a tree, in hopes that Chantel won’t catch sight of me, I’m still struck by the sense of camaraderie. Students yell when a classmate who had to miss because of a family emergency comes into sight. No one wonders why if she couldn’t come, she still came. They have all experienced the special relationship that the class seems to encourage. Later, when I remark on the amazing connections among virtual strangers, someone mentions a couple named Robert and Laura and proceeds to tell how the couple, along with their children, spent part of their 25th wedding anniversary in class. Everyone was so happy to be a part of their joy that they didn’t even complain when they had to do twenty-five repetitions of everything instead of the standard sixteen.
As the class members start to move into the cool-down portion, Chantel invites Claire to share her recent success. Once they catch their breath, others start to call out prayer requests. From multiple faith backgrounds, it seems totally natural for them to share their hearts and concerns after enduring the punishment that the class brings. Chantel prays and the students reluctantly start to gather their belongings to leave, but not before agreeing that they will all be back for the next class.
Everyone who attends knows that Chantel’s direction and discipline comes from a place of love. Chantel explains that, “”Here there are no mirrors; no locker room anxiety. I remember what it felt like to walk into a gym. Here there are just people interested in being a part of a community.”
People of all shapes and sizes come out to experience what Just A Ball is all about, and continue to attend because they are showered with support, direction and a loving attitude from someone who genuinely cares about their health and their future.
As I turn to leave, I decide that next time I’ll be a more active participant in the class. Why not? It’s Just A Ball.