Sally was not the first person who told me I was strong, but she was the first person who I believed.
I spent the first two decades of my life telling myself I didn't need to be an athlete, didn't need to be strong, didn't need to be fast. When you are young, you define yourself against others, don't you? Try to find your identity in what you are, but emphasizing what you are not.
Me? I was the goofy brainy kid. I was the sibling that was on the math team, the friend who could make you laugh, and the roommate who was better at jumping up and down in the stands than being out on the field.
Sally taught the first cycling class I ever took. She was a couple decades older than I am and wore her life experiences proudly, and she had had a few. Small, bubbly, and with a dash of wild, Sally never stopped grinning. She screamed her way through class, encouraging and pushing and yelling, all the while wearing a maniac grin. (Admittedly this was a bit annoying, sometimes you just want someone who says "This whole exercising thing is a pain in the butt. Wouldn't it better if we were eating a big ham sandwich right now?" And lead the class to the nearest sub shop.)
We bopped along to the Stones, sang along to Sweet Home Alabama, and sweated in a ubiquitous small dark cycling room.
Let your body surprise you, she said.
Sally gave me permission to be strong, be fit, and to get pumped up. And to be completely okay with my average but sufficient ability.
She taught me that when I was working out and I was thinking about other things (most likely what was for lunch), I wasn't working hard enough.
Girl, she said, you are stronger than you know.
And, almost as importantly, she also taught me it was okay for small white girls to say a sassy "girrrrl" now and again.
I learned the other day that Sally is not doing well, the revenge of a brain tumor. She has no clue about the fork in the road she brought me to. It made me think of the constant flow of characters in and out of our lives, sometimes people arrive as game changers, sometimes they are just good company for a little while. But I wish I had the chance to tell her how rad she is, or at least burn her a killer CD.
Sally, I sure hope your body is stronger than you know.