A Shirt On the Gymnasium Floor
A better life through strength.
Why would you trust me to be your coach, your mentor, your guardian?
I will turn off the heat so you have no choice but to move to stay alive.
I will take your shoes so you have no choice but to come to grips with the situation.
I will give you nothing but iron, a mission and a choice.
The result is always the same, you toss your water bottle to the floor as you boil over.
I take everything from you and then you find the very thing you came to me looking for.
I won’t be able to convince you about my passion for fitness or coaching by writing an article about it. Instead, I will tell you a story, as I prefer you make your own opinion. This is a story about a young boy, a story many men that were once young boys have heard before. I share it once again because everyone must remember it. This is an origin story.
Never forget where we come from.
This story begins as many stories have begun, with a young boy raised to behave as such. Smart at school, playing sports, active, and happy to be carefree. That was what I perceived watching him. I can’t be sure what he was actually thinking all those years. As with any kid, life must have been such an experience of wonderful things! Until it wasn’t.
Negativity, toxicity, bullying, are all words I would not wish to be in a child’s vocabulary. I watched this boy grow tainted by his environment. Confused and lost is how I’d describe the boy I began to see. I was witnessing a young boy grow into someone, not of his own making, but what his reality encouraged him to be.
I watched as the boy became a victim of his environment. Grades at school fell, sports became a source of shame, alone in his downtime, the boy’s youthful energy was gone. From what I saw, conflict unsettled the boy’s mind. He had developed tendencies to lash out, only for no one to notice. Lonely begets loneliness, dark begets darker.
I could then describe his personality as biased towards introversion. Growing more conflicted as an early teen, independence became a necessary evil. Ever witness a closed-door hiding an emotionally confused kid? I have, it was like watching water boil, I knew something was going to happen once it got hot enough.
We’re so influenced by other people, shaped, designed and manipulated. The boy was not influenced but controlled by his environment as his early teenage years flew by. Having a single caregiver is never an easy situation. His peers’ perception of his independence added to his confusion. He was often alone on the school bus, yet associating with kids from every local school. Alone at home but staying at a friend’s house for safety. I watched as this boy’s maturity outpaced his peers, all the while being completely lost. Until what ended up being the final blow, becoming a teenager can be hell.
The bullying started as insignificant, but boy it was shocking how it grew. From being the classroom outcast to “it” on the bus. From the last place in sports to “fatty” on the streets, this kid took a beating week after week.
From this point to the story’s conclusion is a blur, it’s hard to recall the order of events, but boy there were events. I saw new skills, failing grades, strong independence and broken friendships. Days without much food and days with more than enough substances. Pain and distortion resembling an identity crisis.
The kid needed a channel, he had so much energy and nothing to do with it. I knew he was hurting until something intervened. A leader can come to us in many different forms and can come and go throughout our lives. This boy had one long enough to experience something. His pain became controlled by his own transformative effort. With malicious intent, his will pressed through the cracks of his shattered identity. Strength training became his mentor that taught growth, determination, work ethic and pride.
I would describe what happened next as transcendent. After a few months of experimenting, feeling and testing the boy began to grow. His tolerances eclipsed his peers’ understanding, he wasn’t manipulated by them anymore. His effort seemed possessed. Though he rarely shared it with anyone, there was a mission in progress. Challenges of his environment were an afterthought and his mission his only thought.
I remember a winter afternoon in January, it had to be minus thirty degrees celsius or colder. The young man was freezing to the bone yet driven to meet his mentor again. It took him almost an hour as he walked from his high school to a dive of a place, the basement of a strip mall. I recognised at this point that any doubts of desire or commitment were over. The pre-existing boy slipped into memory. In the middle of his teenage years, the journey to becoming a man arrived. The effect of his unbalanced environment became powerless. The only thing powerful enough to stimulate the young man that became a titan was training. A warm-blooded, engaged assault on the only thing tough enough to take it, the cold iron. This was now retribution.
People began to take notice too. The people he was too afraid to talk to seemed okay with his attention. His dreams of one day showing the world he was more than “fatty” had arrived. Everything had changed for the young man, yet his environment seemed to still torment him. He was not done proving it wrong.
His ambitions were on his mind one afternoon. It was mid-semester physical testing, a running assessment called The Beep Test. He knew it well as the test he couldn’t keep up to everyone on, a test that confirmed his insignificance. I know he tried to ignore his nervousness and questionable self-esteem. He was intimidated, I don’t know exactly what happened in his mind but something snapped. His newfound phalanx of pride, determination and belief took over. He knew most people tapped out at stage 10, and the fittest would get to stage 13. His strength training set the president loud and clear; put in the work.
If you’ve trained for long enough, put in the workday after day you know the mindset, you know the way. The things that stay with you are not the heavyweights, the high of pain through your body or the results of your work. It’s the peace of the early mornings. The sound of weights banging and clanging. The feeling of the immense force against immovable objects. You remember the pride of fulfilling your own destiny on any given day. Thoughts of reps, discomfort and winter cold tore through the young man’s mind early in the test. Arriving at level 9 he was not disrupted and showed no signs of stopping. He glanced over as his sports team’s friends, left the floor around level 10 and knew that the work didn’t stop there. Reality struck him, he became aware he was being watched now by 50 people or more his age. Everyone was watching him race with popular athletes. Length after length I watched the energy poured out of all these young people. The only delay was when the athletic kids tossed their sweaty shirts to the floor. No biggie when your confidence is high, it was a hit to the kid though. He was hot, drenched in sweat, his demons ran with him. Level 12.5 beeped over the sound system, the painful effort was visible, his mission sat in his grasp and he knew it. One last push and his demons would lose. He pulled his shirt from his body, threw it to the floor and fought until the final beep sounded. No celebration, the boy made his way off the floor trying to hide the pain from his peers. There was no way off the floor except through the group that was watching. He made his way through assertively yet delayed long enough to hear someone say “holy shit he’s jacked!”
Another victory hard-fought and the destiny of the day fulfilled.
I wrote this in an attempt to illustrate one of my earliest experiences about my health and fitness. I was too engaged in living it at the time to document any of the process. Though this story seems like a past life now, I know there are many stories uniquely unfolding right now.
I believe real everlasting passions often come from the darkest places or problems. The lighter side of things may not be challenging enough to level up our reality. That or I needed a dramatic example. Either way, I am grateful for this experience and many others that followed it.
My perspective of this part of my life has become the backbone of my practice as a health and fitness coach. The foundations of the world of strength training saved my life, and it was the only thing strong enough to do so.