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You Win, You Lose, You Crawl

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Seldom do I drag myself to the gym unwillingly. It’s not often I stand before the barbells and dumbbells with drooping shoulders and hesitation. And though I don’t feel like Superman, never do I question why I’m about to fatigue myself and inflict hard work and pain upon my body for several hours. That’s all behind me and has been for a long, long time. Today, I roll out the ole Harley, run a cloth over the chrome, crack the pipes and let ‘er rip.

This all began years ago.

I remember when I was a kid; no problem, the weights were playthings. You push, pull, toss, lift and grunt. Great fun. Clank, rattle; where’s my wrench? As a teen lifting was like a sport you played; you win, you lose, the days came and went and skipping a workout was no big deal. Let’s see, should I lift weights or play stickball at the park?

One day -- who remembers when; it’s all a haze -- I noticed guilt had taken up residence in my ever-present shadow, a nagging, smirking wise guy -- a jerk, really -- that made me irritable when I missed a workout, miserable if I was delinquent a week. Training became important, a thing I had to do, and the fun was leaking away. Most anything became more desirable than the weights; studying Latin, changing the oil or cleaning the garage. Thank heaven there was no TV. I pressed on.

Then some raggedy habit took form and the walk to the weight room became regular, and labored and cheerless. It’s lonely on this bench, under this bar and counting sets and reps. How many do I have to do today? The number was a pain in my head and completing the prescribed task before me was a dull feat. 20 (ugh), 19 more (aay), 18 (oof), 17 (urp). “Will the workout ever end?” was my approach. The color around me was gray. This must be done, press on.

It wasn’t long before anticipation, the kind with a sour puss, started hanging around with guilt. Put these two thugs together and we have tension, nervous tension. Now it’s not only hard work and lonely under the bar, it’s tiresome and exhausting thinking about it, all day, at work, at lunch, on the road and in the sack. By the time I got to the gym, I’d been there, I’d done that. Not another rep! I’m beat. Push that iron.

Swell, but that’s not enough. Besides feeling guilty for missing a workout I haven’t missed and badgered by a workout I haven’t hit, I’m feeling disappointed with the progress I haven’t made. A mob is gathering in my shadow and I’m just a skinny kid. We have Guilty Gus, Big Al Anticipation and the notorious Duke of Disappointment conspiring in the dark. Step aside, mutts, I’m using that squat rack.

Duty calls when you’re still and listen to your soul. Taking the three pot-bellied bums down became my mission and I knew it -- the first sign of instinct, survival of the fittest, which plays no minor role in the muscle-builder’s life. Instinct rules.

In this life you win, you lose or you crawl. It’s not that I wanted to win, but I cannot lose and I will not crawl. Elementary, really, and I worked by elimination. I gathered from their focus on me that what I was focused on was very important and very good ‘cuz they’re so bad. Despite, or because of, the combined efforts of the gloomy threesome, I pressed on.

I discovered devotion and intensity.

Strangely, my shadow grew larger with my body and the three wise guys grew smaller. In time I replaced guilt with discipline, a stern but agreeable character. Negative anticipation submitted to positive preparation and psyching up, a pair of confident spirits with lofty goals. And disappointment, sour and ungrateful, left one fine day without a word. Like mistakes, the scoundrels taught tough lessons. Their departure was an unconscious relief, dirty snow and slippery ice slowly melting in the spring.

The walk to the gym became hurried, not soon enough, and excitement accompanied my footsteps. Miles were behind me and miles were ahead and somehow I knew the way. You never know the way unless you walk it and climb it, get lost, lose ground, grow cold, hungry and insist on walking again. Nobody can tell you, exactly, what, how and why; they can only offer their hopeful presence, wise suggestions and solid encouragement -- gold ore and uncut diamonds.

My word, what’s the big deal? It’s only lifting weights; it’s exercise and good food. It’s not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Think twice. The train is leaving the station; the bombers are taking to the air.

So now where am I -- where are we -- in my recollections? When did the pleasure of training settle in my bones? When I stepped back and realized its worth; when I resumed doing it for its adventure and immediate reward; when I trusted its permanence; when training was no longer an obligation, but a wise choice, a desirable means to eliminate barriers and overcome obstacles and to express myself without screaming for an hour or two, several times a week. And it’s no big ego trip to enjoy physical strength, endurance, reasonable confidence and a body that doesn’t resemble a pear balanced precariously on two tooth picks. No more ego than a long list of letters after one’s name on a letter head, a tattoo in the right place, a red Carrera in the driveway, a 1,000-dollar suit or a shaved head. It took some time pressed together with considerable doubt, curiosity, pain and sacrifice to make the discovery, but it’s worth it. To settle into your training with confidence is like sitting back in an easy chair, comfortable and relaxed. Just don’t fall asleep on me, bombers, we have work to do -- clearing the runway, fueling up, checking the landing gear and struts.

Of course, the choir agrees, and loves to be reminded. How about you, whose T-shirts are getting snug and triceps are forming horseshoes?

Those who are relatively new (though proudly invested) and struggle to maintain their training balance, focus and zeal can reduce the less-than-delightful learning and growing curve by accepting today the precepts put forth on the well-shared pages of IronOnline. A mouthful; read that again, out loud. Trust, press on toward your sensible goal and put in your time with renewed enthusiasm, because it’s happening and it happens no other way.

Consider how far you’ve come and imagine -- visualize with certainty -- where you want to go. The only thing that stands in your way is time and doubt. Time will pass, but doubt must be removed. What you need to correct or alter in menu or exercise arrangement, attitude or workout intensity, you will surely attend along the way. Today’s questions are tomorrow’s answers. Mistakes and injuries are the instructors.

Be strong, keep your sense of humor, stay alert, be positive and hopeful, drink your protein shakes, be nice to your neighbor, squat, of course, and don’t ruin your shoulders with heavy bench pressing. As far as it is possible, allow no unsightly gaps to develop in your eating scheme or your training thrust; they have a way of growing out of control and they are unbearable. Beware.

That we are aware of what we must do places us well above the rest. That we practice what we must puts us on top.

Let’s taxi down the runway, bombers, and take off one by one in fine form till we fill the skies with roaring and fill our hearts with inspiration.

Go. You first, I’ll follow... Draper

God’s strength

Post Script:

Two pallets stacked with “West Coast Bodybuilding Scene” have just arrived and rest outside our door. Laree, the cute kid with a big smile and a dance in her step, is preparing several hundred of her little darlings for shipment... today. Tomorrow we leave for The Ironman in Pasadena and rendezvous with Reg Lewis, Dick Tyler, Franco, John Balik, Gene Mozee, Leroy Colbert and Bill Pearl (and others, I suspect), no small pile of muscle and memory. This will be interesting and fun.

We have just enough time to send off the newsletter minus the trailing thoughts of the editor-in-chief. She’s ironing my socks.


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