By Annette Hinkle
There are people who love the social aspects of going to a gym — working out side-by-side with neighbors in the weight room or making new friends in group exercise classes.
Then there are those who don’t — and Sag Harbor’s Emma Walton Hamilton is one of them.
For years, Hamilton took the traditional gym route for her fitness routine, but inevitably she found it just never clicked.
“Living in a small town, I kept running into someone I knew while going to the gym,” says Hamilton. “I wasn’t crazy about people seeing me in a sweatshirt and t-shirt. And when I’m at the gym, I really don’t want to talk to anyone.”
“I did the group classes, had several gym memberships in the city, tried a trainer in a gym, and worked out on my own — but I never stuck with it,” adds Hamilton. “For a long time I was into the yoga scene and when I stopped, it was for all the same reasons. It was very competitive — ‘Whose lotus is better than whose?’ and whoever got there first got the best spot in the room.”
“It was a scene.”
Then an injury introduced Hamilton to personal training. This time, it clicked and for the last five years, Hamilton has been a loyal client of Personal Best, owned by trainers Lester Ware and Helen Samuels. At the studio, which recently moved from Sag Harbor to Butter Lane in Bridgehampton, Hamilton works out twice a week with Samuels.
“If someone had told me this was an option — you could go to a gym that was quiet and private, with all this equipment and a personal trainer waiting for you with a specific time, I would’ve done it a long time ago,” says Hamilton. “Now I’ll never go back.”
It’s not just the privacy aspect of one-on-one training that appeals to Hamilton, but also the discipline inherent in making the commitment.
“For me, I need the accountability, knowing that I’ll show up at a specific time,” says Hamilton. “I just won’t go if there’s any possible way I can make an excuse.”
Hamilton sought out Samuels after recovering from a series of nagging injuries — a pinched nerve in her neck, a tear in her left shoulder — likely compounded by the fact that she’s a writer who spends a lot of time at her computer.
“It sent me to the doctor and I ended up in physical therapy,” recalls Hamilton. “It had gotten to the point where I could no longer lift my left arm as high as my right. It was that weak.”
Once she had healed, Hamilton was advised to engage in strength training to rebuild the muscles, so she went to Samuels who created an exercise routine for her that was challenging, but took her injuries into account. Over time, Hamilton got the results she was looking for.
“Mainly it’s been about restored strength and health,” says Hamilton. “On the first day I went in and had my evaluation, my leg press was at 40 or 60 pounds and I was winded. Now I’m at 224 and it’s nothing.”
“I’ve seen that kind of increase in strength on every machine,” she adds. “I have to be strong. I have a seven year old with special needs and I have to have that core strength. She’s almost 60 pounds and I can pick her up and carry her up the stairs. That’s my number one motivation.”
Hamilton also notes that over the course of the last five years, Samuels has become more than her personal trainer — she’s become her friend.
“I’m so fond of Helen. I enjoy being with her,” says Hamilton. “We’ve got a good rapport. We’ve hung out, swapped stories.”
“There’s also a psychological piece,” she adds. “When I think I can’t go further, Helen says ‘Just three more.’ So then you do it. She’s also constantly working on my alignment. In a group situation, I don’t know if a teacher would notice that. I know I have her undivided attention for 60 minutes.”
Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and arts educator, and the Director of the Stony Brook Southampton’s annual Children’s Literature Conference.