by Sasha Reddy
Amy Heyden never played team sports in school. Athleticism and fitness were never a significant part of her childhood. She’d tried to build exercise habits a few times as an adult, but all of her previous attempts fizzed out soon after they began. Yet, with little to no experience in the gym, on August 10th, 2022, Amy set a goal to work out an average of five days per week for a year.
“I did start out really slow, to be honest,” she says. “The first activity I did was a 20-minute walk on the treadmill – that was it. Didn’t even clock a mile.”
Many of Amy’s first trips to HAC went like this. She’d check in at the Front Desk, swerve right toward the stretching area, and find a tucked-away treadmill where she could walk out of view of other members. Her gym anxiety was real, and the treadmill felt much more approachable than the weight rack, so she focused solely on building cardiovascular endurance to start.
As she grew more comfortable, Amy’s routine began to evolve. “I started walking longer, and then with weights in my hands, and then elliptical, and then a little bit longer… ”The progression was slow but consistent.
By January, Amy had finally moved from that secluded treadmill in the stretching area out onto the main fitness floor. Though, it wasn’t strictly by choice. As part of a series of significant upgrades and renovations at the club, all of the cardio equipment was moved to a more central location on the main floor around the start of the new year. “That was a pretty good push,” Amy jokes.
The change turned out to be a blessing in disguise. With more visibility came more relationships with other members at HAC. “I did start getting head nods and nods of recognition from other people,” Amy recalls, especially when she added strength training to her mix. “I wanted them to see me, and I wanted to see them because then they would notice me and see that I hadn’t given up, too.” Seeing the same faces during every trip to the gym and silently acknowledging each other became deeply encouraging for Amy. She internalized those unspoken relationships, convincing herself that even the perfect strangers she saw at the club were counting on her to keep showing up.
One by one, many of those “perfect strangers” grew familiar. She became fast friends with personal trainers Dom Tomlinson and Damon Marable, who she fondly refers to as her two biggest cheerleaders. “I felt adopted by them.” By June, Amy had even begun taking Dom’s Small Group Personal Training class on Tuesday nights. “I trusted him right away. For some reason, I felt extremely comfortable jumping into that class.”
“There are other people who have really adopted me and kept me going in the smallest of ways,” Amy continues. “I have this one buddy who, if he sees me on the elliptical really sweating it out, he’ll just come over and silently hand me a wad of paper towels without even saying a word. And to me, it’s like the most loving gesture.”
Amy’s trips to the gym even helped her rekindle an old friendship. While walking out HAC’s doors one day, she stopped to pick up a magazine. “I recognized the name more than the face first,” Amy remembers. It took a moment to make the connection – she and Dana Arnold, another new HAC member and cover story of the July 2023 issue of Enhance, had met during their time at Widener.
“I am brand new to Hockessin,” Amy emphasizes. “I did not know a soul here. So, for me to see a familiar face on a magazine of a place I frequent pretty often was awesome.” The two got to talking after Amy reached out over Facebook, breaking the ice with a photo of herself holding the magazine and a playful greeting: “Hey, it’s you!”
“We decided to meet up for dinner and drinks. And that worked out just as great as coming to do something active together – which is also on the books, too.”
By August 10th of this year – her inaugural “gym birthday”, as she calls it – Amy had hit her goal: over 250 workouts in 365 days. She feels there’s something really prophetic about birthdays; like the start of a new year, birthdays often propel us to make big changes in our lives and routines. “You can totally start over on your birthday if you were not having your right year,” she says. There have been minor stumbling blocks since setting out on her goal in 2022. If she’d only made it to the gym for three or four workouts one week, she would try for six the next, sometimes coming in twice in one day if that’s what it took to stay on track.
Amy celebrated her first “gym birthday” in the best way a committed gym convert can. “My gift to myself for making it a year was telling myself I was ready to take kettlebells with Damon,” she says. A kettlebell class is not something she would have even considered a year ago, but along with her commitment to health has come new-found confidence. “He modified for me and just kind of had a way of figuring out where I was comfortable.”
Physical health and regular workouts have become a fundamental part of Amy’s identity in the past year. But she often reflects on the many years when fitness didn’t feel so important. “I’m a girl who used to cut gym class,” she says. “I truly, truly am. I used to find ways to not exercise as much as possible because when I was in high school in the early 2000s, it was just not cool to be seen sweating or be seen showing an effort. You just had to look too cool to care.”
Her goal for the next year pays homage to her high school self. Though she knows it’s a bit of an odd objective, she wants to complete the Presidential Fitness Test regularly and track her progress during the next 365 days. “So many people have commiserated with me that ‘I could never do the pull-up. I couldn’t do even one.’… And I decided that not only do I want to be able to do one pull-up, but I want to complete the test maybe monthly or bi-monthly, take and record all data, see where I fall in one year – how much better do I get.”
A Blast from the Past
The Presidential Fitness Test was administered in school gym classes to score students’ physical abilities and was replaced during the Obama administration in 2013. The most recent version of the test consisted of five parts:
- Shuttle run
- Sit and reach
- One-mile endurance run
Her motivation, in part, is to further prove that no matter your starting point or athletic background, you can make fitness a priority in your life at any time. Intention and commitment make all the difference. “When I stepped in here, I had to completely figure out every machine and every exercise by watching other people, using the internet, asking questions.” Amy’s success has come from fully embracing the journey and opening herself up to learning from others at every opportunity. A year later, she’s much better for it, both physically and socially.
“It’s been a life changer in terms of mental health and physical health,” she concludes. She’s always enjoyed things like going out for walks with her daughter, Libby, and her transformation over the past year has only helped her enjoy those activities to the fullest extent. “Have I lost weight? Absolutely. But that’s not what I was trying to focus on. My goal was to build a habit, change my life, change my lifestyle, and just make a place for myself.” HAC has become like a second home for Amy, and though she couldn’t have imagined that fate for herself not long ago, she can’t picture her life without it now.
In honor of Amy’s first gym birthday, a 365-themed workout was planned for her.