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Workin' It with Richard Simmons

By Stacey Kim on May 03, 2012 03:27 PM

Fashion isn't the only 1980s cultural iconography recently spotted on the Reed campus: on Wednesday, Richard Simmons made a Gray Fund-sponsored appearance to motivate and inspire the Reed community during reading week.

IMG_9385.jpgSimmons spent the first part of the day roaming around campus in his short-shorts and sequined top, dishing out hugs, kisses, and compliments to students, faculty, and staff. (Sadly, I hear that President Diver was out of the office when Richard dropped by.) By shortly before 3 p.m., Simmons was outside the sports center greeting people who were dresseed in their workout best and and ready to hit the gym for a straight-out-of-the-late-twentieth century aerobics routine.

Witty and self-effacing, Simmons worked the crowd a bit before heading up on stage to get the aerobicizing started. Simmons's love of people, life, and exercise shone through everything he said and did; he was euphoric in the presence of hundreds of participants and buoyed by the tunes blaring out of the sound system. He ribbed the folks who chose to watch rather than dance, worked in a centennial joke, and scoffed at those who couldn't touch their toes during the stretching exercises. Participants waved their arms, grapevined, kicked, and strutted. Simmons invited a wide-ranging selection of people up on stage to dance with him, encouraging men to doff their shirts and everyone to be proud of their participation. So strong was the positive vibe in the room that I don't think it was possible to walk through the door without cracking a smile and breaking out the jazz hands.

The workout concluded with the crowd singing "We Are Young," arms waving high above their heads. Simmons then invited everyone to gather 'round by the stage to listen to a heartfelt motivational message about his struggle to overcome obesity and a variety of eating disorders in his youth. He eventually realized his dream of opening an exercise studio in L.A., the same studio at which he's been teaching for 39 years. To tell a group of students that they can be anything they want to be and that all of their dreams can come true would have come off as an empty platitude from someone else, but Simmons delivered the message with a surprising amount genuine passion that commanded respect and belief.

I don't doubt that after standing in line for a souvenir photo, many people left the gym and went off in search of a pen and paper ("Not a computer!") to write down their four dreams, just as Simmons had implored them to do. Having done this in his youth, Simmons is on dream number 60 now. May we all be so so passionate, so convicted, and so dedicated to what we believe.

Special memo to the Gray Fund committee: this event could happen every semester and it would take a long, long time for it to get old.

See video from the event at admission's blog, Voices from Reed.