There’s a spacious park near my home that has a gravel trail in our community for walkers and joggers to enjoy. For years, I frequented this park with my close friend while our children were in school. We met each morning with our water bottles in hand and tackled five miles on the track in the blistering sun. Despite the heat and achy muscles, I enjoyed the 90 minutes of “girl time” I shared with my friend. We laughed and chatted about everything—from our family life, fun vacation spots, the stress of raising teens, concerns for our elderly parents, and the best recipes on the internet for banana bread. Occasionally, there were tears and supportive hugs on the trail as well, but I always left the park feeling uplifted by our sisterly bond. She was the only close mom friend I had at the time, which made our morning walks together even more special to me.

I worked from home, and it got pretty lonely sitting in front of a computer screen while my kids and husband were gone for the day. I had plenty of online friends, but few “real life” friends. My closet girlfriends lived across the country, and the only way we’d been able to stay connected was through phone calls or social media. That was fine, but there’s something to be said about a friend you can talk to from across the table at a coffee shop, or one you can hug when the world feels upside down.

After five years of walking together at the park, my girlfriend experienced some major changes at home and was forced to move several miles away. Her schedule also changed, and she could no longer meet me at the trail. We promised to keep in touch, and we did, at least for awhile. But the busyness of life got in the way, and the calls became few and far between. I stopped going to the park when I noticed how hot it was in the summer and how badly my feet hurt after a few miles on the trail. I made every possible excuse not to go, but the truth was, I didn’t want to walk alone.

I spent months hiding behind my computer and quickly gained ten pounds from the lack of exercise. When I wasn’t working on a project, I was binge-watching Netflix to avoid feeling lonely after my husband and kids went to bed. I was depressed, out of shape, and exhausted.

When a new exercise facility opened down the street from my house, I was intrigued by the fact that it was an all female gym. I hadn’t been to a gym in years, and my memories from it were of sweat and pick-up lines by the treadmills. A gym geared strictly for women sounded like the perfect solution to help me lose weight and make some new gal pals along the way.

The first class I attended at the gym was Zumba, an energetic, dance fitness program that promised a heart pumping, cardio workout. The class was a mix of ages—some of the women looked like they were fresh out of college, while others looked to be at retirement age or above.

Unsure of what to expect from the class, I chose a spot in the back row, far away from the mirrors. Several of the middle-aged women around me looked as intimidated as I felt, but once the music with its heavy Latin beat reverberated through the speakers, we lost our inhibitions and danced.

The energy in the room was contagious, and I realized that among the smiling faces of the women, there was also a sense of camaraderie. During that one hour in Zumba class, we were part of a support system, encouraging one another to let go of our insecurities and to channel our inner Beyonce without fear of being judged. I knew that in the morning I’d have achy muscles and a tough time getting out of bed, but the exhilaration I felt after the workout was worth it.

For the first time since leaving the park trail, I looked forward to exercising. It became more than just a workout ritual for me; it was a place to gather with the new female friends I’d made. Although our relationships started through our mutual love for Zumba, our friendships quickly progressed to a more personal level. We shared stories of love and loss, vented about our jobs, our husbands and kids, our wrinkles and growing age spots, politics, dieting, and everything in-between. We found an affinity with one another that I hadn’t felt with a group of women since my college sorority days. They brought out the best in me and loved me despite my flaws. I laughed a little harder, cried less, and smiled more when they were around. Their friendship provided an emotional, female connection and a sense of sisterhood that had been missing from my life for a long time.

When my mother passed away last year, other than my husband, it was the women from the gym who comforted me through my loss and made me feel less isolated in my grief. They celebrated work successes with me, helped me run errands around town when my car was in the shop, brought flowers over to cheer me up when I was depressed, and sang, “Happy Birthday” at the gym on my special day. These wonderful women have given me their loyalty, honesty, and trust—-a trifecta of love that has become a fundamental part of my life and an enduring gift that replenishes my soul in ways that nothing else can.

Although we still can’t dance like Beyonce in our Zumba class, we have each other. And that’s enough.

Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humor book, “Who Stole My Spandex? Life In The Hot Flash Lane” and the voice behind the popular blog, “Menopausal Mother.” Her work has been featured on numerous sites, including The Washington Post, Hello Giggles,The Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Ravishly, and Scary Mommy, among others.