Holland, Michigan is a medium-sized Midwestern town, a few hours north of Chicago, along the Michigan coast. It’s home for me. There’s a lot that I love about this place already. But today I am really feeling pride of place.
Today our local hospital brought Richard Simmons to town. Hundreds of locals filled a high school’s large gymnasium, and sweated with Richard to oldies.
Now, I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go see Simmons. He’s always been a little over the top for me; I’m not drawn to celebrity in general; he’s such a crazed critic of low-carb dieting; and I am just not sure I like to mix sequins with sweat.
But I have used his tapes, his food mover, his website during the course of my learning and weight loss, and find all of his tools and products useful, fun, and easy to use even when I was very much overweight. I have always believed that he genuinely wants to help people… No one would really work as hard as he does if they didn’t have that kind of single-minded mission.
So, hundreds of us drove through the snow to fill the gym and wait for the man. He climbed in and over and on top of people, through the bleachers, down onto the stage, and called a dozen audience members to join him onstage where he launched quickly into a low-impact aerobics class, flirted with women and men of all ages and sizes, got us all moving and sweating, and then sat us down to talk about diet and exercise.
He was sweet, basic in his introduction to healthier living, concerned, funny. He has a real appeal, is even sexy, in his ambiguously sensual way, and far less shrill in person than he appears to be on T.V. It was obvious that he’s done this class hundreds of times. But though he looked exhausted, and this is rote for him, he still seemed, somehow, sincere. He spent very little time selling his own products but was focused on pitching our local hospital’s amazing community fitness event, Project LIFT (Lifestyle Improvement For our Town).
Richard claims ours is the only hospital he knows of that conducts a program like Project LIFT. Holland Hospital spokespeople tell me that now that the program is in its 4th year, many other hospitals have contacted them who want to offer similar programs in their areas. (If your local hospital is interested, they should write firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
Project LIFT is a 10-week introduction to healthier living. Area fitness clubs, restaurants and retailers participate, offering participants freebies and discounts to their services and products. Participants can choose from dozens of classes each day and evening. The total charge for the 10-week program, including the class with Richard, is $35. That’s 10 weeks of Pilates, Yogilates, Water Aerobics, Spinning, Weight Training, Nutrition, Motivation, Emotional Wellness, Cooking, Latin Dance, Swimming, and Tai Chi classes, health and nutrition and behavioral modification classes, physical assessments, discounts at area restaurants, oh it just goes on and on. If you didn’t have an annoying job to go to, it would amount to 10 weeks of spa living for about 50 cents a day. It’s a great deal in a town that likes a great deal, is wrapped up in winter greyness, and stir crazy from economic recession and the tension of world politics. Many hundreds will participate in Project Lift, and as overextended as I am, darn it, I’m going to join them.
Richard came to Holland between selling his line of dolls on QVC and teaching his classes at Slimmons, his Beverly Hills gym where significantly overweight people are made to feel welcome and comfortable, and everyone sweats alike. A successful businessman and evangelist, his books, videos, and weight loss tools and supplements are all available through his website, a spot that encourages a kind of voyeuristic behavior in his fans, allowing them to follow his every movement as he travels 300 days out of the year.
I’m glad I went. I’m glad he wore his purple lycra, sequined tank and bicycle shorts in that cold gym. That I sweated with him live. That I could see he’s smart and beleaguered, driven to help people get fit, and exhausted from doing it. It made him seem actually heroic. No kidding.
Here’s to sweat and sequins,