The Weight is Over – Week 38: Some People Really Hate Birthdays …

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training.

Matthew R. Lister of Align Private Training. Photo by Brad Garrison.

Sunday, Aug. 29, was Matthew R. Lister’s birthday. Many of us at Align have known about his impending birthday for a while. We squirreled away that information for later.

We were also aware of his aversion to having a big deal made about his birthday. In fact, his mother shared how, when Matthew was a child, he was the only one of her kids who expressed no interest in helping plan his party, nor did he show excitement about his birthday.

She said that basically, Matthew would be just as happy skipping his birthday and avoiding being the center of attention. Apparently, the whole birthday spotlight pushed him outside his comfort zone.

So good to know, and what delicious information to have. Oh, how happy we Aligners were to be privy to Matthew’s birthday sensitivity; so we could behave accordingly.

We’d found our leader’s weakness, and our mission was clear: Do our level best to focus like a laser beam on his birthday, and embarrass him to the best of our abilities.

This was our chance to turn the tables on Matthew, our personal trainer/coach/counselor whose specialty is pushing us beyond our comfort zones to the max.

This is the man who goes by so many names, given to him by people like me, who love what he inspires us to do, but often loathe what it takes for us to receive the results we do. It’s your basic love/dread relationship.

There is “Two-More Matthew” — who routinely urges us to do two more of any rep further than we thought we had to go, even though it varies from the number he told us in the first place. There is “Twisted Lister” — the guy who has a way of making his idea feel as if it was your idea, and for coming up with such wild work-out assignments that we have all wondered if he loses sleep thinking of new ways to get us fit and keep things wacky and unpredictable.

I confess that I recently coined “Damn-You Matthew” as I neared exhaustion doing something that started out sounding manageable, and ended up feeling impossible. It was a classic Matthew Lister move.

doni ropes

Matthew: Go ahead and do 100 ropes.
Doni: OK.
Matthew: … Ten times.
Doni: OK… hey, wait … that’s 1,000 ropes!
Matthew (Laughing): Hey, you’re right! (More laughter.)

Stuff like that. Yes, Matthew’s birthday was our perfect opportunity return the favor of all that special attention. Nobody was more deserving.

We started with a surprise theme, which was a no-brainer: Pink princess, to match the tiara brought to Align by Diane B. Hill (whose success inspired me to join Align).

Diane B. Hill wears her tiara that inspired Tiara Tuesday.

Diane B. Hill – down 90 pounds, btw – wears her princess tiara that inspired Tiara Tuesday.

Matthew keeps that little plastic jeweled tiara at Align on top of the ski machine for what he calls Tiara Tuesday. Matthew bestows the tiara upon anyone he deems an excessive whiner that day. It’s all in good fun, of course. But even so, if Matthew gives someone the tiara, they have to wear it.

Even big, strong guys, like Erin.

erin in a tiara

He’s not upside down. He’s doing a hamstring stretch with his legs against the wall, which he hates.

And even super-fit, cutie-pie women, like Laura.

Laura with a tiara

For the record, nobody’s seen Matthew wear the tiara. So the princess theme was perfect.

Andrea Charroin, an Align assistant, and also my frequent Align work-out buddy, has keys to the gym. That’s how, on Sunday, Andrea and I had our way with the decorations that ended up looking like a cross between a 3-year-old girl’s party and a bridal shower. We festooned the place with pink tissue-paper puffs, and pink Happy Birthday banners.

He’d probably thought we weren’t doing anything for his birthday, because it fell on a Sunday. So imagine his surprise when Matthew came to work Monday and had to dodge bobbing pink princess balloons and walk through a curtain of pink-and white streamers. matthew with princess balloonsHe endured googly eye sightings all day that appeared in the least-likely locations, like Matthew’s cup.

matthews googly mug

…and anywhere else that eyes would make sense.

align bathroom eyes

But the most fun of all came that night, when a group of Align folks gathered at a restaurant patio to throw a party for Matthew. His mother was there, and his sweetie, and their adorable little girl, who helped blow out candles on Matthew’s very tiny birthday cake. Surely, for a guy who shuns birthdays, this group event had to be torture. So far, no signs of cracking. He was holding up like a champ.

Matthew blows candles on his birthday cake

The cake was tiny for a reason: Matthew and his family were the only ones who could have cake. Nearly everyone else at the party was on some kind of carb restriction, so the rest of us had fruit kabobs, which were still a treat.

The absence of birthday cake aside, it was great to be in the same space as so many people from Align, many of whom work out at different times, which meant some of us have never met each other.

People kept complimenting each other on how nice everyone looked, and I realized that part of the reason was when we see each other at Align, we’re sweaty, red-faced and wearing gym clothes. Most of us don’t look our best while working out. So it was fascinating to see people, as we kept saying, “with real clothes on”.

Eating was interesting, too. I pitied the hard-working waitress who took the orders of dozens of us Align adults, not one of whom ordered alcohol, which meant our checks weren’t as high as they would have been had we ordered beer or wine.

Water, iced tea and diet sodas, all around, and keep those refills coming. Whoo hoo! Partay! 

The actual meal was a trip, too, since the dinner was at Kahunas Mongolian BBQ. If you’ve not been there, the idea is you heap your big, white empty bowl with all kinds of meats and veggies you’ve selected with tongs from a long salad-bar looking station. Then you move to another station where you choose seasonings and various oils and flavorings. Finally, you take your bowl of uncooked ingredients to some guys who’ll stir-fry your food over a large, hot, round metal grill.

While making our way down the buffet line to fill our bowls, to those outside Align Private Training, our conversations must have sounded bizarre.

Ooh. Look. Those are little potatoes. Can you have potatoes, because I still can’t.

How many carbs are in tofu?

I’m getting all the shrimp I can. I’m so sick of chicken.

Don’t look, but I’m trying those sweet potato noodles.

I’m skipping the rice, aren’t you?

Go ahead and order the rice. I’ll give it to my chickens.  

Are you guys putting oil on yours?

How much sugar do you think is in teriyaki sauce?

You’re not allowed to use another bowl to mash everything down, but watch this; I can use my fist. 

It just made me love those people all the more, because they were my peeps, eating exactly the way I do, and wondering the same things I have wondered for eight months now on this health and fitness journey about what I should and shouldn’t eat.

We stole glances as each other’s bowls – wow, she’s having noodles?!  But overall, we ate high-protein foods and healthy vegetables and drank zero-calorie beverages. We toasted Matthew and serenaded him with the happy birthday song. We gave him cards and our group gift: certificates for a romantic night out for two.

The funny thing was, Matthew didn’t seem to mind the birthday at all. In fact, he looked like he was having a ball. Grinning ear to ear. He laughed and talked and went from person to person, thanking everyone for coming.

This was not the look of a man in agony. He didn’t look the least bit uncomfortable. What’s more, come to think of it, he looked completely at peace, and totally in his element.

Wait just one minute. Maybe, what we thought was our idea for a party, was really his idea.

That’s it. Next year, we’re bringing the tiara. And he’ll wear it.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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12 Responses

  1. Ah – what a great story to wake up to. So nice to celebrate someone who has given so much — and how wonderful to get to share the joy with your people.


    • Thanks. It was nice to share the joy and celebrate Matthew.

      You know, at some point, my time at Align has begun to feel like I’m working out with a support group. We are at our most vulnerable when we’re there, sweating and pushing ourselves, and it’s a bonding experience.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    How great that all of you Aligners love your torture-bearer, Matthew.  There’s a man who sleeps well at night not only because he is in great shape but also because he loves his profession and his followers.

  3. Deb Deb says:

    Hahaha I love this story!!!  Especially the bit at the end where you wonder if you may have been bamboozled 😀

    It’s lovely that you all got together to celebrate someone who has done so much for each of you, personally, with such a great impact on your lives.  It’s a special person indeed who inspires friendship/caring/joy while beating you all up on a weekly basis with the hard work and “two more”.

    Birthday cheers to Matthew!


  4. AJ AJ says:

    My only question is, what time do we do this next week?

    Truly a rewarding evening. Socialising somewhere outside the workout space where our sentences are gasped out between reps….and expressing appreciation to someone who has SO positively affected so many lives.

    Let’s do it again with or without a birthday!!

    • Great idea! 🙂

      (You’re right about trying to talk. A couple of weeks ago I was working out when Shauna came in, said hi and asked how I was doing. My answer: 30. Can’t count and talk at the same time.)

  5. Andrea Andrea says:

    A bi-monthly Align gathering should happen!!! I’ll add it to my “to do” list!

    What a lovely bunch we are!!  Thank you everyone who shared their evening to celebrate Matthew!

  6. Avatar Matthew R says:

    Hahahaha. Absolutely love the article Doni! So entertaining to see it from your perpspective. And to be completely honest, it was the best birthday I have ever had. Surrounded by those I care for so deeply. Actually, to be honest again, it wasn’t that uncomfortable at all. I think it’s the idea of birthdays I dislike. Not the actual execution apparently. Who knew?!?!? ?? Thank you thank you thank you!

    • Well, we’re sincerely happy you liked it, and are so glad you enjoyed yourself. I hope you can tell how much we care for you.

      Now, we’ll have to think of something else for next year … 😉