Walking into the Ramsey Center at 5:45 a.m. might be considered a nightmare for some—well, I suppose walking into anywhere at 5:45 a.m. would be a nightmare for some. But add to the timing the absurdity of my outfit, which consisted of an elf hat, "Oh snap" gingerbread man T-shirt, red athletic pants, holiday socks, and, of course, green shoes.
As I walk by the front desk, I wave to the sheepishly smiling students whispering amongst themselves, wondering what in the world is going on. Why, might you ask, am I at Ramsey at 5:45 a.m. in this outfit? There's a logical answer, of course: To lead some of my favorite people in the "Elf Conditioning Boot Camp" workout.
Is this not a normal thing to do?
The favorite people I'm speaking of are not college students, though. They are members of the Department of Kinesiology's Center for Physical Activity and Health. For one year, I had the privilege of spending my mornings with this amazing, spirited, age 50-and-older crew.
I hustle to get down to the Center so I can have the workout written on the dry-erase board before members arrive—because clearly I need to be standing in all this holiday-spirit glory when members walk in. By the time the first member arrives, I have holiday music blaring, the workout written on the board, and I'm strategically leaned up against a wall looking as elf-like as I can—which is a bit challenging since I am 6'1".
The members roll in with various levels of enthusiasm, ranging from squeals of excitement to slight smirks for all my efforts. As they venture to the whiteboard, the questions begin: How long did you spend working on this? That's exactly what I wanted to hear…Victory! (It's not important, that I spent quite a bit of time on it. It's completely worth it.)
After we exchange pleasantries, which mostly consists of them laughing at me (pretty sure, it is indeed at and not with), and everyone has arrived, we begin our epic—yes, epic—workout. Just a typical day in the Center for Physical Activity and Health, with our reindeer squats, candy cane calf raises, frosty flies, Santa side bends, eggnog extensions, and trim-the-tree twists to name a few. As we're doing our exercises listening to our festive music, I look around at all the smiling and think how blessed I am to be able to spend my mornings with my Center family.
The hour goes by too quickly, and before I know it, I am high-fiving the members as they head out to continue their days. I, too, head up to my office and get ready to take on the day that will be filled with research, teaching, and—of course—hustling (all current and former graduate students immediately do a subconscious verbal head nod in agreement with that last word).
But I have an advantage on others just now arriving to Ramsey. I have been energized by my interactions with some of the greatest people I've met while working on my doctorate, the wonderful "A.M. crew." The people who remind me of why I'm pursuing this degree, so that I will get the privilege to continue to work with individuals like themselves.
As I now reflect back on my time with these special people, I have a greater understanding of how they influenced me much more than I influenced them. While I may have led the group exercise classes, they taught me about living life to the fullest, daring to embrace your uniqueness, and the power of being connected to a group. As I said when I defended my dissertation, when I look back at my time at UGA, what I will be most proud about is the relationships that were formed.
When I started the program, I had no idea these relationships would include an 87-year-old man who would steal my heart with his energy for life. I had no idea that these relationships would consist of my "A.M. ladies," who would influence me so deeply and make want to be just like them when I "grow up." And you know what? When I defended my dissertation, my "A.M. crew" was there. That's what UGA was and now is to me: relationships. Relationships with some of the greatest people I've ever known.
Elizabeth Hathaway is an assistant professor of exercise science at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's department of health and human performance.