Move it! The just-raked sand at Anse Chastanet Resort on St. Lucia is an obstacle course of beachcombers and coffee sippers. Wimps. I didn’t come to watch the first sun ray hit the cone-shaped Pitons. This is my week to man up, to re-athleticize myself, away from the desk and not fraught with fixing my daughters’ hair. So just after dawn I’m hustling to meet the resort’s personal trainer, Ty Ferrell, for a glute-whipping. And hey, unless that beach umbrella can be used in Ty’s “Jump Start Circuit Training,” it has no place in a story about health.
When I reach the gazebo where Ty leads these morning workouts, everything above my ankles tenses up, including my ears. This guy once trained boxers in the U.S. Navy. His arm hairs have muscles.
“Want some coconut water?” Ty asks. He must think I belong on a big lazy towel reading a pudgy book. “No thanks,” I say, wondering why he’s offering a tropical drink instead of a kick in the shorts.
Using a voice with the tone of a soft clarinet, Ty demonstrates the seven workout stations: squats, standing shoulder presses ... my mind races to the quantity of exercise I can produce. Ty mentions something about guests pushing too hard, not knowing the meaning of health, blah, blah, blah.
“We should get started, right?” I say, shifting on my feet. Ty calmly tells me to “go ahead when you’re ready.” He doesn’t even need exclamation points. At the third station of the circuit, I forget what to do. “Sorry about that,” I say all breathy, and dutifully throw myself to the ground in a push-up position.
“Sorry about what?” Ty says. Where are the arteries in his neck? Why hasn’t spittle landed on my face? I came to get run over by a freight train, and instead he has me on a tandem bike. It’s like this for the next 25 minutes. Ty gently saying things like “You got it” and “There you go,” and me silently questioning his attitude.
Ty tries to set me straight at breakfast. “I used to torture people and yell when I had a gym in Tampa, but when I got to St. Lucia four years ago, I realized that stuff is just noise. It doesn’t work.”
“Uh-huh,” I say. What’s this? My trainer’s eating bacon!
“It wasn’t until I calmed down that I reached my goal of a 400-pound deadlift,” he continues. “It’s focus. So with guests I’ve learned to talk slower to get … them … to … relax.”
“Interesting. What else you got this morning?”
“I do a mountain run at 10:30,” Ty says. “Sure you wanna go?”
Oh, he’s taunting me now. I stand up. My legs wobble from the circuit training, but just a little. “See you in an hour,” I say.
The running trail twists 1½ miles up Morne Chastanet. During a warm-up walk, Ty says it’s a good idea to stop three or four times on the way up. Challenged, I make sure we stop only twice. At the top of the steep trail, I bend over and reach for air. My thighs start to shake. And my head has this strange floating sensation. This must be a sign that I’m feeling … healthier.
An enormous buffet lunch is free-falling into my stomach. I’m still lightheaded from the circuit training and from the mountain run, but can only think “Now what?” The resorts on St. Lucia are known for their rare flavors of exercise. There’s tai chi and combat fitness at the BodyHoliday. Zumba and beach boot camp at the Jalousie Plantation. Nowhere is chaise lounging listed as an activity.
So I take a long walk from the buffet table to the trail head of Anse Chastanet’s jungle bike ride. My legs feel as heavy as sandbags. Oops, was that a gurgle? I ignore it and find the mountain-bike guide, Tyson St. Cyr, an enormous 25-year-old St. Lucian with pecs the size of offroad tires. “You can call me ‘Bike Tyson,’” he tells me. When he learns that I’ve already done the beach workout and mountain run today, he immediately suggests that we take “the beginner’s trail.”
I look at Bike Tyson. Actually, I’m looking at his nipples. They’re pushing through Tyson’s tight nylon shirt, calling me out. “We don’t have to go that easy,” I say.
Deep into the intermediate bike trail, I charge down a hill, snake around a tree and do a cartwheel over the handlebars. I don’t notice the skin missing from my arm because my digestive system has issued a severe thunderstorm warning.
“Maybe we should cut this short,” I admit to Tyson. Humbled, I slowly pedal back to the trail head, slink on foot along the beach and barely make it to my bed, groaning at the open-air view of the Pitons, the most iconic vista in the Caribbean. There, curled up like snail, I am a picture of healthlessness.
Two days later, after a local doctor counsels me about dehydration and following a steady diet of toast and ginger ale, I’m back on my feet. Slower. Lighter. Not sure I’m healthier, but maybe smarter. There will be no “fitness fusion training” or “body burn workout” today. But there is one agenda item that cannot be left undone: hike Gros Piton.
“I can go as hard as you want,” says my guide, Berny, a Rastafarian with a sleepy demeanor. He says this as soon as we meet, as if he knows my story. “But being in shape isn’t just about the body. It’s right here.” He points to his head, or rather to the knit tam holding an enormous quantity of his hair.
Halfway up the 3,100-foot spike, we stop for a short rest at an overlook. Other hikers march past us, stepping on my pride as they pass. Sitting there on a rock, Berny hands me a piece of the vegan bread he baked last night and starts to sing about children and praying and this island. It’s remarkably peaceful. At the end of his song, Berny asks, “Ready to go on to the top?”
“Not really.” Did I just say that? Wow, it felt really good. “Let’s head back, and take our time.” With those words I think I’ve finally found the path to health.
Anse Chastenet Resort