I arrived at Gold’s Gym that morning for my daily workout. It was Monday, November 3, 2008, the day before the Presidential Election. Barack Obama was in Jacksonville that day for a final campaign rally. I could not attend because of other obligations. However, I did wear my bright yellow and white “Barack Obama for President” T-shirt to the gym that morning in a proud show of support. As I approached my gym, I noticed a flurry of activity. Helicopters overhead, several police cars and uniformed officers standing nearby. My first thought was that one of the two nearby banks had been robbed! I continued walking towards my gym, surprised that I wasn’t stopped or redirected. I saw a police officer talking with a tall man in a suit. They were directly in front of my gym. Being the naturally inquisitive New Yorker that I am, I walked up to them and asked what was going on. The uniformed officer ignored me, but the tall man in the suit smiled and pleasantly asked, “Where are you headed?”
“Into the gym,” I replied. He then said he would escort me inside. Puzzled, I followed him into the building. Why was I being given an escort?
Once inside, the tall man asked the young woman behind the counter if I was a member. She stated that I was and she scanned my membership card. Once the “beep” confirmed my membership, the tall man looked down at me and smiled and told me to have a good workout and turned to leave. “Wait please! What’s going?” I asked him. He walked back over to me and bent down just a bit and said “I can tell you this, you’re wearing his T-shirt” and with a sly wink and a mischievous smile, he turned and left. I finally realized what was happening! I asked the young woman if Barack Obama was in the gym. She nodded. My heart began to race with excitement. For the first time, I noticed that there were about a half dozen men strategically standing in the area, all wearing suits and ties. Oh my god! Was this for real? They were all secret service. I also noticed something else that I hadn’t before. There were no other gym members in sight!
Gathering my wits, I turned back to the young woman. “Where is he?” I asked. She pointed in the direction of the stair case leading up to the cardio level. There was Senator Barack Obama vigorously sprinting up the stairs. So, what did I do? What any good Obama supporter would do, I sprinted up right behind him! There were two other secret service men at the top of the stairs and the cleaning lady on the other side of the floor. There were no other gym members in sight. Barack Obama stood at a weight machine diligently working on his biceps. I acknowledged the two secret service agents and boldly walked in the direction of the senator.
“Good Morning Senator, how are you today?” Senator Obama cheerfully responded, “Good Morning!” I extended my hand and he did as well. He then said, “I like your T-shirt.” I smiled and said, “Thank you, so do I! I’m Ava and it’s nice to meet you.” He responded with a casual and friendly, “I’m Barack” (not Senator, but just Barack). “Yes, Senator,” I said, ” I know who you are! You’re also the next President of the United States.” He smiled broadly and thanked me for my support. He was cordial and warm, not at all aloof or unapproachable.
We chatted for just a minute. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I could not believe that thousands of people were gathering at the arena for a rally for Senator Obama, and I had him all to myself in the gym. I told him that I was confident that he would win the election the next day. I told him that I was truly honored to meet him and wished him and his family God’s blessings and protection in the white house and in his new job as our President. He thanked me sincerely. Out of respect for his time and space, I moved on toward the treadmill in an attempt to workout. Looking back now, there were lots of things that I could have said to him. However, I was lucky to have even remembered my own name. Less is better anyway, because I probably would have started tripping over my words or rambling on and looking like an idiot. Instead, I floated away with my dignity intact.
People have often asked me why I didn’t take a picture with him. I didn’t have my cell phone with me, only my MP3 player, which didn’t have a camera on it. I never bring my cell phone into the gym with me, that’s my time. Although that day I wish I had! And I’m almost positive that the secret service agents would not have allowed me to leave and go to my car to get my phone and come back. I have a feeling the Senator and his entourage wouldn’t have waited around just for me. Besides, I was feeling so privileged just to be allowed inside to begin with!
I really tried to concentrate on my workout. I put on my headphones and tried to get into the music, but it was useless. I kept looking over my shoulder in disbelief. I had just really talked with Senator Obama, the Democratic Candidate for the U.S. Presidency, our next President! ( Oh yes, I was just that certain he’d win!) He and his entourage left the gym about 10 minutes later. Needless to say I did not burn one single calorie that day on the treadmill. I do not know why I was chosen to be in the right place at that particular time, but I do know in my heart that it was all orchestrated by God. I do not believe in coincidence. I will never forget that wonderful experience. The next day, Senator Barack Obama became President Elect Barack Obama, the first Black President of the United States. I will cherish that meeting with him for a life time. What a blessing!
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