Next year marks the 20th anniversary of my friendship with Fred. My “Fred-ship.” He still wears the oversized T-shirts and baggy sweatpants he did when I first spied him in Pilates class. Bearded and baseball-capped, leg circling in the air, sneaker laces dangling. Side by side, we went through the movements and motions, still strangers.

Fred does side sit-ups in 2009 on the Pilates apparatus called the reformer. Photo courtesy of Lynne Benoit-Vachon

I would learn later that Fred was in the process of a transformation, from 24-ounce prime ribs and diabetes complications to daily walks and weight lifting. Fred, on his mat, surrounded by slim soccer moms, had already lost 80 pounds. He embraced any and all fitness classes to stay motivated. This was his new normal.

We officially met a few weeks later. Fred tells it this way: He came to my step aerobics class, tripped and fell over the step, and I laughed. I remember the tripping, but not the laughing, and I have learned over the years that Fred’s recipe for a good story includes liberal splashes of embellishment. Fish tales without the fish. Stories that make me laugh – with him, not at him.

“I don’t need money, I need friends,” he replied when I offered to pay him for doing electrical work at my house. We became friends in fitness, meeting most mornings before sunrise. Walks, runs, circuit training, weight room. These exercise appointments have kept our aging bodies healthy and strong. I would have skipped many a 5 a.m. January workout had Fred not been there, waiting for me to show up.

We are an unlikely pair. Fred grew up in a triple decker in Lowell, Massachusetts, during the Eisenhower administration; me, in Reagan-era rural Maine. He went to a rough trade school; I went to Mt. Blue. His family vacationed on Peaks Island; mine, in the mountains and lakes of Rangeley. He’s a great baseball player; I couldn’t (in Fred’s words) “hit a bull’s butt with a banjo.”

In 20 years, I don’t think we’ve spent more than two hours at a time together. Yet it is these two hours per day that have always set a positive course for the remaining 22. We all need to say to our friends, and to hear them say to us, “C’mon, let’s go. You can do this.” In exercise, and in life.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: