Thankful: seatbelts and saddles.

On Wednesday, my alarm went off at 5:23 a.m., as it always does. I fought with myself for seven minutes until 5:30 a.m., as I always do. (Well, sometimes longer.)

Finally, I groaned and rolled myself out of bed, wriggled into a pair of pants and winced as the floorboards creaked under my feet. I took one last, longing look at my pillow and the boyfriend who would be asleep for at least another three hours, tiptoeing out with my heavy cycling shoes in hand.

My shoes make the most terrible noise, crunching and grinding against the pavement, during the half-block walk to the gym. If it were any farther away, I'd wear different shoes — but let's be honest: If it were any farther away, there's a pretty good chance I wouldn't even make it to class.

Around 5:55 a.m., the gym suddenly becomes a sunnier place. Brady Braden, my favorite Spinning instructor, glides in the front doors of the Lincoln Square Athletic Club, greets the employees like they're his favorite people in all the world, and begins preparing the studio for class.

He flips on the warm-up music, dims the lights, checks everyone's bikes, then does his best Mister Rogers, changing out of his baggy shorts and hooded sweatshirt into his jersey, shorts and cycling shoes. He wraps a bandana around his head and hops on the bike — class begins.

But not this past Wednesday. Brady was in a car accident earlier in the week, and if he hadn't been wearing his seatbelt, had his airbags not deployed, something much, much worse could have happened to him. He walked away after waving goodbye to his totaled SUV.

But he was sore enough that he didn't get up on the bike that day. Instead, he walked around, horrifying us with stories of average Thanksgiving calorie intakes, rattling off facts about cellulose powder in packaged foods, and just glowing with all the sadistic energy of a man who loves to see his students sweat and groan.

Brady, like my dear friend Doug who I miss very much, is a story repeater. My favorites are his anecdotes about owning his own bakery, BTrue: "Yeah, I'm a Spinning instructor who's also a pastry chef. I like to be complicated." He's said it so many times that I even know the inflections in his voice.

And I love it.

Sometimes I think he's making some of his factoids up on the spot. Sometimes I wonder how he can keep up his banter while the rest of us are panting and sweating on our bikes. Sometimes I wonder how one man can come up with such excruciatingly delightful workouts.

And I always wonder how he manages not only to get me up at 5:30 a.m. every week when I work from home and have no other reasons to be awake that early, but also to get me excited for a second class a day later. (And how he singlehandedly convinced me to sign up and train for a 200-mile charity bike ride in the middle of a Chicago summer.)

Never in my life have I counted down the hours and minutes to a workout class. Until now: I've been clockwatching since I got on the train after a particularly sinful lunch (it was for a meeting!), and I'm now 20 minutes out, racing to finish this post so I can suit up and head out.


So today, I am thankful for the seatbelt that kept my all-time favorite fitness instructor out of the hospital and the saddle I call mine: bike No. 9, right in the very front.