About That Woman Singing on the Treadmill at the Gym

Jocelyn Pihlaja

Just as beads of sweat pop out on my forearms, I hear her.

Operatically, a spandex-clad woman and her very loud voice are dominating the cardio center. Even with my earbuds in, all I register is her wailing. Not only is my heart rate escalating, so is my blood pressure. She’s driving me nuts.

“Jesus, you are the shepherd. I am a lamb,” she warbles, gratingly off-key. Her voice hijacks the workouts of everyone around her. Her eyes are closed, yet we, her comrades in cardio, pepper her with glares, hoping she will sense our angry eyes and hush up.

It doesn’t work. Cranking her feet faster, swaying along with the music piping into her head, she raises her voice. “You hear me when I’m calling…”

Oh, I hear you all right, I snipe mentally, rolling my eyes. But then. Utterly transported, she raises both of her hands towards the ceiling.

At first, I am merely impressed that she doesn’t topple off the machine. A nanosecond later, a memory elbows its way in.

That joyful two-handed gesture to the sky is something one of my former students, Holly, used to do at the gym when she was running on the treadmill. It’s been twenty years since Holly took my freshman composition class – so long ago that it was a Walkman she listened to as she yodeled loudly about salvation – but I remember her vividly.

Two treadmills away, I’d marvel at Holly’s performance, thinking, “Thank that God of yours that you don’t sing in the classroom, sweetheart, or I’d have to fail you.”

Outside of her behaviors while running, though, I adored Holly, and remnant affection for her transforms my attitude.

I look again at the gospel-driven lady on the elliptical machine, still bellowing about The Promised Land, and I imagine Holly next to her, legs pumping, voice harmonizing – Holly, who, just before we met, had been deeply addicted to all the bad things. Finding religion and exercise with the aid of a rehab program had been instrumental in helping Holly finally shed her demons.

My heart catching, my forearms dripping, I exhale a concession: singing noisily – oblivious to others – about a good friend named Christ while sweating like a fiend is sometimes the only thing that keeps a needle out of an arm.

Chastened, I offer a mental apology to the Choir of One as she testifies ringingly to the weight machines, her hands floating towards the fluorescent lights.

I don’t actually know your story. Certainly, you might simply be annoying. But, also: you might be on a journey of your own that none of us glaring bystanders can comprehend.


Well. You go, girl. Blessings upon you.

Jocelyn has been teaching writing at the college level since 1991. She has a husband who cooks dinner every night, kids who hold up hands requesting “silence” when their reading is interrupted, and a blog, O Mighty Crisis. Her writing has appeared on Mamalode, BLUNTmoms, The Indie Chicks, The Good Men Project, Mamapedia, In the Powder Room, and elephant journal. She also is a regular contributor to a local public radio program, Women's Words, where she delights in wearing huge headphones--and not just because they remind her she actually remembered to wear earrings that day.