I have been a “gym rat” for over twenty years. It has become a compulsion, a drug. Even on business trips, my profile reads, “Book hotel which has a gym; non•smoking room can be sacrificed for a gym if necessary.”
What is it that makes me give up walking in the warm sunshine, a rarity in this country, and go into a windowless dungeon of creaking machines and dripping sweat, where hearts pump higher than normal and miniature TV monitors flash silently, while ear plugged gym rats strain and stain their skimpy garments with the effluence of past calories consumed? I must be mad.
And yet, when I stretch my creaky limbs to warm up (they creak much more now than in years past), a sense of well•being enters my heart. The smell of sweaty bodies becomes a necessary back drop, just like salt is necessary in the sea water to feel that one is in the ocean. As I get on the treadmill and start to pump up my heart to a steady beat, programmed to run at this pace for forty minutes – no sense in overdoing it – it is like tuning up an engine that I want to keep running for several years into the future. And boy, does she purr well, for now at least! At the thirty minute mark, the sweat is running freely, draining me of toxins and frustrations–both man•made and self self•induced – poisons, which if I don’t rid, will form the cancers of the future.
Heart pumped, I head for the weight machines and presses and work those by•now engorged and raging muscles, toning them for peak performance for the next 24•hours. And finally it’s down to the steam room to sit naked among my fellow man and let the warm vapour baptise and clean me all over again, and where in the process of that release personal stories are traded without reserve.
In perfect calm, and at a snail’s pace, I pull on my clothes at the locker. The banter floating in the air is reassuring; it says to me that despite the shit raging out in the world today, the people inside this change room are still the same. “Hey, John, you going to the ball game tonight?” “Nah, I’m on the night shift – fancy a game of golf on the weekend?” “The kids are coming over for a barbecue – come by the evening sometime.” “Hey, Harry, how’s it going?” “Great, Tom – good seeing you. You still plan on entering the marathon?” “Been training for it this last month…” And so the conversation goes on.
As I head to the parking lot in the lengthening shadows, I feel a twinge of guilt for another outdoor opportunity squandered. I look back towards the gym and shake my head, reasserting that I would never have given up my workout, anyway. We all have our prisons where we prefer to stay in sometimes. Mine is one of sweating bodies, well used machines and pumping hearts working out in the hope of extending life and health by even a more few years.