A Reporter’s Guide to Staying Fit in a Pandemic


“Oooh, you’re such a manly man.”

That’s my wife Barbara. 

She’s watching me — a bald, bearded, 68-year-old — grunt through push-ups in our Olympia living room, my hands, toes and nose buried in plush carpet. As I near the end of my last 30-repetition set I expect my sagging body to ooze into the crawl space below the floor and end up face down next to the guzzling sump pump.

(It’s been raining frogs and salamanders the past few weeks; the pump, alas, has been working overtime. Bless it for that.)

Barb, with whom I will soon celebrate 41 years of marriage, has always enjoyed observing me conquer pain. It’s a pre-dinner death watch of sorts — a happy time for her as she whiles away an hour or so as I brazonly flip off the Grim Reaper.

In the same vein, Barb likewise praises those rare times when I use power tools — such as an electric drill — or revert to gizmos as simple as a manual screwdriver.

“I just love it when you use your mantoys,” she usually says, offering me a kiss on the cheek as incentive to persevere.

Oddly enough, pushups and screwdrivers have taken on special meaning for me since COVID-19 destroyed my normal health (and beauty?) routines. In mid-March, the west Olympia health club to which I’d become a seven-day-a-week slave for the past five years temporarily closed on Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders.

The club’s two-week hiatus quickly turned into two months, then four months, and so on until I discovered the club’s parent company had declared bankruptcy and could only keep open some of its nationwide facilities.  

Mine wasn’t among the survivors. The building in which I’d spent so many hours revving up my endorphins is now an empty, dark shell — a heart-wrenching testament to COVID-19’s economic slaughter.

The club’s demise, however, didn’t dampen my physical fitness addiction. I imagined — with past experiences as my guide — that without exercise I would become an anxious, stressed wreck, a furtive Alfred Hitchcock shower stabber in demure sweater and slacks.

So, not wanting to metamorphose into the neighborhood’s Norman Bates, I devised a routine that would somewhat approximate my health club routine.

The first part involves walking … ugh. 

Over the five years Barb and I have lived in our west Olympia home, we routinely walk up to 3 miles a day along several different routes circumnavigating our neighborhood. We have maintained this routine since my gym closed, and I suspect in the intervening 10 months — 300 days or so — we’ve probably walked about 290 times.

To be honest, though, I don’t especially enjoy walking. Spending time with my lovely Cajun wife is a joy, but walking, itself, bores me — especially when it’s raining, or blowing, or getting dark and cold, or occasionally scorching in the summer.    

Whine, whine, whine ... 

And besides — for this is my thinly disguised defense — I’ve become a gym rat over the past 20 years or so and have never really looked back. For what it’s worth, I find strength training and cardiovascular huffing and puffing at these facilities greatly satisfying. It’s like exercising in a giant, protective, climate-controlled hamster ball surrounded by other pasty-faced oldies. 

Which brings me to the second part of my COVID-induced exercise routine.

It involves my tool chest — a black, metal box about as big as, say, a trumpet case, and weighing maybe 30 pounds.

After Barb and I finish our walk, I get out a folding chair, a small square pillow, and the tool box — which has a sturdy handle (I hope) — and perform three upper-body exercises, usually with XM Radio’s classical music station in the background infusing the room with Mozart and Beethoven and Bach and other majestic powdered wigs. 

Upper back lifts are first.

I place one bent knee on the chair, stand on the other leg and brace myself with one hand on the chair seat. I bend down, grasp the tool box handle (hoping it won’t suddenly come off into my hand), and pull the box up a few inches higher than my knee. I do 50 of these if I’m energetic, 40 if I’m not. I repeat the procedure with my other arm — usually doing three or four sets with each arm by the time my patience expires.  

Curls are next. 

I sit on the folding chair atop the extra pillow, grasp the tool box from underneath with both arms and lift it to within a few inches of my chest. I do at least 100 repetitions (which sounds like a lot, but really isn’t given the weight of the tool box) and carefully replace the box on my lap.

Next are shoulder lifts.

These require more balance and agility. I place my hands beneath the box at either end, slowly lift it to about my chin, and as soon as I’m convinced the darn thing is balanced, heave it upward toward the ceiling and then down again to my chin. I repeat this about 50 times and very carefully replace it on my lap.

My nightmare is that I’m destined at some point to tilt the box too far forward in the air so that it falls, lands with a crushing thud on my lap and then busts open onto the floor — with, of course, all of my screwdrivers, and hammers, and other fix-it gadgets catapulting onto the carpet in all directions. And me on my hands and now-bruised knees scrambling to retrieve the stuff before Barb offers to help me.  

Manly men, after all, don’t need no stinkin’ help: We can be ridiculous all by ourselves.   


Writer’s note: A new health club recently opened in west Olympia, but I haven’t joined; I’m too apprehensive about contracting the virus there — despite the gym’s online reassurances about antiseptic cleaning, social distancing and so on. I hope my trepidation eases soon, but for now neighborhood walking and a tool box will have to suffice.


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