The Christmas Spirit

Fitness is part of it, but there’s more to the story


Late in the afternoon, the autumn sun sprays orange kisses and blue shadows all around the oceanic parking lot at Greensboro’s Jaycee Park. Along one asphalt shoreline, personal fitness trainer Jamie Christmas — yes, that’s his real name, and yes, his business really is called Body by XMAS — is ready to go.

The tools of his trade lie on the leaf-littered pavement beside his silvery SUV: yoga mats, dumbbells, jump rope and BOSU, a half-ball used for balance exercises.

“We’re gonna do single-leg RDLs on the BOSU,” he directs 51-year-old Laurie Preslan, a longtime client who has been doing squats while standing on the platform side of the half-ball.

Now, Christmas, who’s also 51, wants her to add some dumbbells, balance on one leg, extend the other leg back and pivot at the hips, not unlike a “drinking bird” toy.

Preslan, ponytailed for the workout, stares at him from underneath dark bangs.

“This leg ain’t comin’ up,” says the elementary school teacher, tapping a thigh.

“Then step off,” he says calmly.

She begins a set of one-legged Romanian deadlifts on the blacktop.

Before COVID, Christmas, a competitive bodybuilder and former tailback and sprinter at the University of Virginia, trained a few of his private clients outdoors, but he coached the bulk of his customers at Strive, a gym where he is employed. Then came the virus. Gyms shuttered, and Christmas’ most ardent gym-based clientele, along with his sweat-or-die freelance customers, followed him outside, where fresh air and social distance were plentiful.

He wasn’t alone. From Zumba leaders to yoga teachers, other trainers embraced the great outdoors. Some of them have rooted there, despite partial re-openings.

“Since COVID, I’ve come to train about 15 people that I’d never met,” Christmas says, confirming the marketing impact of push-ups done in public. His freelance business, which is more lucrative than the gym-based work, has bulked up considerably, thanks to passers-by.

As a parade of dog-walkers, cyclists, walkers and joggers stream past, Christmas calls out to acquaintances. Strangers rubberneck to study his breathless clients.

Fifty-four-year-old Anita McCoy, a former gym regular, used to be one of those curious onlookers. Now, she spends 30 minutes a week knocking out super sets with Christmas. “I’m moving better. I feel better,” says the computer systems expert.

Her plans for winter? “Put on a hat and keep rolling.”

The gains aren’t all physical. McCoy and Preslan talk about noticing deer and owls and changing seasons in the park. They talk about seeing other people in person — “Most of the people outside are happy,” notes Preslan.

“Sometimes, it’s like a therapy session,” says Christmas. “Not only do I uplift my clients; they uplift me, too. This has been a good time for people to talk.”  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry.

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