It’s 9 a.m. Wednesday, four days before Mother’s Day, and Andrea Hecker is headed for her basement gym. She plugs her laptop into the old TV, logs into Zoom, and off she goes.
Fourteen minutes later, the sweat is rolling, and those 46-year-old muscles are limbering up like a vintage sports car on a country road. Today it’s lower body — squats and lunges and dumb bells. Upper body is Thursday and Monday.
She hears a noise upstairs. It must be her husband, Achim. She knows it’s not the kids, Laura, 19, and Hannes, 17.
“They’re still asleep then,” Hecker said. “They’re not crazy about 9 a.m. anything.”
Relax, kids. Today is Mother’s Day. Sunday. Even Andrea Hecker takes off one day a week.
“I might do some weights,” she said.
And so it goes in the Hecker household.
Led by Andrea, this West Chester family – like many in the area – celebrates Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, and every other day by embracing health and fitness. But make no mistake. Andrea is the gym rat in this nest.
By now, both Laura and Hannes are used to their mother’s daily workouts, online fitness chats, and constant conversation about exercise and nutrition.
Laura puts it this way: “She inspires us to live healthy. She is positive and energized. She does it all the time.”
Hannes lowers his voice and says, “She’s addicted.”
Hecker does not deny that and said Achim, a workout guy himself, tends to agree with the kids that she’s “motivated.” She indeed has official workouts for every day except Sunday, adheres to a food chart that helps her make every meal healthy, and plasters Facebook with photos and messages from other exercise fanatics.
She joined Legion Transformation Center, a serious workout place in West Chester, four years ago when she got tired of being tired and now offers testimonials to potential members and just last week enlisted three neighbors to join her in a weight-control challenge program.
It’s personal with her.
“Just look at my ‘before’ picture,” Hecker said. “My clothes didn’t fit right. I didn’t feel good. It’s a mindset, and I have found that I’m a mess without a schedule. If I don’t have something to do I end up slouching around all day. I get lazy and eat. I’m a couch potato.”
She can’t argue with the results. Hecker said she lost 30 pounds of fat over the four years and gained five pounds of muscle mass. But, as “addicted” to exercise as she is, Hecker said the connectedness that gym life offers has become just as satisfying.
“We inspire each other so much,” Hecker said. “It’s a special place.”
And that’s the rub now.
Legion and other local gyms are closed during the lockdown that began March 16, so Hecker and hundreds of other workout women have been forced online for that connection. Legion provides daily Zoom workouts and Facebook Live chats, and the instructors make sure to mention each participant’s name to keep things as personal as possible.
But there is no more flexing in sweaty group selfies, slaps on the back after grueling achievements and lingering yakfests in the parking lot. Other than the instructors on Zoom, there is no one in Hecker’s basement to cheer her on or chew her out. She is on mute, and it’s lonely.
“Not having those face-to-face conversations every day about their workouts, their lives, makes it more challenging," said Dianna Guerra, an instructor at Legion and the mother of 10-year-old Julian, whom she sometimes uses as the weight on her back during home workout squats. "It’s those personal relationships that make it special.”
“I used to go to my workout a half hour early to stretch," Hecker said. "But I also went to talk to people. No more of that.”
So the women spend afternoons and evenings texting and chatting with other club members about workouts and goals, struggles and failures. And solutions.
For example, the Heckers are blessed (or cursed) in that all their birthdays fall in one week in late April. That means lots of celebrating and lots of cake and big meals.
So Hecker logged in for support that week. Her friends noted that summer is coming, and those shorts had better fit. They sent her not-so-subtle reminders. Don’t eat that! Don’t make me come over there! Did you get outside today? Where are your kids now?
The women are their own safety net when they can’t meet up to sweat.
As for those kids, Hecker said she’s pretty happy with how they have handled her, um, addiction, especially since they are forced to deal with it 24/7 these days.
“I think they like what they see,” she said. “They see I challenge myself with my workouts, and I think they appreciate the structure, like I do.”
It’s not a total buy-in yet. The kids are busy. Laura is a freshman at Shippensburg University, so she’s been hunkering down with online classes. Hannes is a junior at Henderson High School, so he’s been studying online as well as working part time in the evening at a pizza place.
But they’re open to it. They used to go to Legion with Andrea sometimes and said they may join her in the basement workouts if things don’t change soon. Everybody, especially the workout moms with no place to meet, are eager for change.
Would the kids join their mom for a special Mother’s Day workout?