Deciding to go back to the gym wasn’t an easy decision for me. I’d damaged a tendon in my knee during the Philadelphia half-marathon, and the pain sent me to the couch (where I decided to stay for about three years).
To get back on track, I needed help. I loved my hardcore lady trainer, and we’d become friends over the years, but I grew up with a brother and have always thrived in competition with guys. I decided, this time around, I’d work with a man. I’d been through this with my friends: scouring Instagram to find beautiful male personal trainers who looked like they could crush me with their arms, but they weren’t for me. I didn’t want to be distracted by a good-looking personal trainer. I didn’t want to worry about sweating too much or feel embarrassed if I farted during my ab workout (it happens).
This was a gift I was giving to myself. I wanted to focus on me.
With all of these thoughts, I went to my local gym and picked the trainer with credentials that seemed perfect. We’ll call him Frank, a former football player who specialized in rehabilitating runners with knee injuries. He was significantly older than I and looked it. The front desk woman told me everyone loved his Southern hospitality, and a quick Google search uncovered that he was also an off-Broadway actor who’d been happily married for over 20 years.
He felt right, but I discovered I was wrong…
Almost every woman I know is subjected to some form of harassment daily. Whether she’s being cat-called on the street or stared down in the supermarket, we often have to ignore the unwelcome advances of men. As a result, the hairs on our neck are attuned to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) advances of strangers.
When Frank’s texts became one too many smiley-face emojis before our first session, I grew uneasy. When he complimented my body and told me I didn’t need to lose any weight, I tried to convince myself that he was just attempting to be encouraging. When he tried to help me lift the weights, I became irritated because that’s just not beneficial (and also because I was struggling to lift 30 pounds by myself). When he slid his hand a bit too low while helping me into a stretch, I became confused.
By our third session, which he closed with a hug, I was weirded out.
“My trainer is a bit too touchy,” I told a friend. “You know I don’t like to be touched.”
“You should say something,” she said in response.
“Nah, I’m probably tripping. You know how I just hate being touched.”
It wasn’t until the phone calls, and text messages started, that I understood what my gut already knew.
“I try to keep it professional,” he said in a text message, “but if I wasn’t married, I think we’d be together.”
I searched my mind: Was I too friendly? Did I send the wrong message? The truth is, I should be able to joke and laugh with my personal trainer. So, at that moment, while he was waiting for a response, I owned the fact that there was nothing I could’ve done to avoid the situation. If I’d worn sweats instead of leggings, if I’d smiled less and been a little colder, the result would’ve been the same. I’m also not stupid enough to think I am special. I’m sure he’s done something like this to all his female clients.
I waited a few days before responding:
“Hey, just wanna give you a heads up. I’m terminating our training.”
He apologized, and I informed him that I wouldn’t accept. Instead, I told him that during the five block walk that it takes to get from my apartment to the gym, I’m propositioned by men between almost daily. I informed him that while men will accost me everywhere, I won’t bite my tongue in the presence of someone in my employ.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked.
“We’re done here,” I texted back.
He had proven what I sensed from his first text: He was a creeper who exploits the trust of his clients.
Ultimately, it was enough for me to terminate my relationship with my trainer without coming for his job. Trust me; I thought about it several times. Maybe I’m a punk, but in the end, I felt that if I lodged a formal complaint, I’d have to switch gyms. I didn’t want that. I like my gym. Maybe this was an inherently selfish choice, but I felt like it was enough for me to remove myself from that situation. I felt like karma would do the rest of the work. And in the end, that proved to true. He was only in the gym for a few more weeks before he up and disappeared from it.
There’s no moral to this story. I’m not entirely sure I even did the best I could do in this situation, but I wanted to tell my story because I want anyone who has dealt with this to know that it’s not okay. Whatever course of action feels right for you, take it. And know this: If your trainer tries it, you don’t have to let it slide. Of all the quietly destructive things we do on a daily basis, getting your health together is such a positive step. You deserve to feel safe as you work toward inner and outer transformation.