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From the Publisher: Shape-Shifting


Published January 19, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

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I survived COVID-19 — or some version of it, anyway. It came on like a cold, which I blamed on a chilly locker room at the gym. For a few days, I was congested at night and sneezing and clearing my throat during the day, but I had no real cough or fever, no muscle or head aches. When a negative test gave way to a positive one, I quarantined for five days, as now recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I stayed inside. Made shopping lists for my partner. Kept working. To be honest, the time passed pretty quickly. On the fifth day, I tested negative.

It was ... over. During my convalescence, my partner made no effort to avoid me and still hasn't gotten sick.

Of course, there's no telling how much worse it might have been if both of us hadn't been vaccinated and boosted. Thanks to science, I'm lucky enough to be able to marvel: So that's the thing we've all been avoiding like the plague — no, wait, it is the plague — for the last two years? Frankly, it's a relief to be able to stop worrying about catching the bug. If my experience is typical and the current infection rate continues, the pandemic can't last too much longer.

The first thing I did when isolation ended? Masked up and went to the pool to swim laps.

Before the first big shutdown, I worked out almost daily, a ritual established during my adolescence, when I was training to be a ballet dancer. Post-pirouettes, I switched to running, biking and swimming — in that order — in search of health, energy and endorphins. I arranged everything else around it, including friends and travel. If I couldn't exercise for more than a day or two, I felt miserable, physically and mentally.

Needless to say, the simultaneous shutdown of every Vermont fitness center prompted a recalibration. For the first three months of the pandemic, all I could do was walk — outside, usually at night. When the pools reopened in advance of that first summer, I got up every other morning at 6 a.m. to sign up for a lane. I drove to Williston, South Burlington or Essex at all hours to be able to plunge into healing waters, to rest my mind for the 53 minutes it takes me to swim a mile. In the winter of 2021, I skied cross-country when conditions allowed. In April 2021, I went on a hiking vacation.

But life hasn't returned to normal enough to refashion and maintain my old routine, and I have stopped obsessing over it. I've always kinda wondered how long it would take to go from being a fit, middle-aged woman to a saggy, panting one.

Answer: 22 months.

Shockingly, I'm not all that devastated by the transformation. Following the advice of published mental health experts, I'm giving myself a break: lowering previous expectations, grieving losses, embracing pleasure where I can find it — food! Friends! — and doing what I can within reason and the confines of the pandemic to stay in shape. Nightly physical therapy exercises have replaced my old cardio regimen.

This coronavirus marathon has reinforced a few truisms. One is that wellness is about much more than working out.

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