Before you get into the ramble below I’d just like to say thank you to all who have donated and shared my crowdfunding. Everyday it continues to grow and currently I’m at 54% of my target. I’ll be writing more in the coming days as I’m about to move out to Austria to begin training on snow finally. Without those donations it would have been very difficult for me to make that commitment. Now thanks to that support my pre season training costs are almost covered and one of the most crucial stages in this journey can begin. Thank you all sincerely. The next challenge is the remaining 46%. This will go towards competing in races where I will gain the FIS points I require to qualify for the Winter Olympics. So if you haven’t donated yet and would like to or if you want to badger your friends and colleagues there’s no time like the present 😉
It’s fair to say that I was never really a fan of “the gym”. Physical exercise was ok, just not a priority. As a child I was a keen cyclist, I played Centre in a local American Football team. As a teenager I excelled as a swimmer and in shot put and of course the obligatory football even managing to turn out twice for the rag tag bunch of rebels and ragamuffins that made up my school team. But submitting myself to a badly lit, featureless, soulless room to self flagellate, a kind of self imposed purgatory, was never something that appealed to me.
When I write these blogs I’m usually going about my daily business scribbling away on my phone as and when inspiration hits me. Right now I’m on the way to my gym. I just got of the tube at Queensway, it’s hot down here, I’ve just finished work and I’m faced with the choice of cramped and crowded lift or the 123 stairs out of this airless sweat hole. My previous incarnation would have chosen the lift most days but I’m on my way to the gym a place where I have paid for the privilege to enter and exert myself. If I can’t expend the ten calories it will take to climb these stairs then what good is paying twenty-six pounds a month for a dedicated training facility. The stairs it is then. I’ve been going to the gym four to six days a week for the past three months. In that time the stairs have become shorter and quickly I’m almost at the top. I am at the top! I’m a slightly short of breath… feels ok… not the red faced wheezing bag of meat and bones that previously hobbled out the station gasping for air.
As I exit the station a familiar physique appears from the lift. It’s Thigh Guy, a man with the kind of ultra fit, ultra ripped form that speed skaters covet. Very well developed quadriceps. He doesn’t seem to do much to maintain his powerful pistons but what he does do must be effective. Quietly impressive, unassuming, tastefully attired in black gym wear with a grey leather backpack and ever-present wireless headphones; known and respected amongst the upper echelons in the gym but not flashy or flamboyant. He’s one of the regular characters at my gym.
Another regular enters the gym just ahead of me: Hand Solo. I only ever see this dude on the rowing machine using it single handed, always his right hand. As I walk in behind him I try to see if his right arm is more developed than his left… maybe… difficult to say. He’s one of the gym enigmas; why just the one hand? Why only the rowing machine?
As I enter the locker room another familiar face is at the mirror. Mac I call him, like the character from the film Predator he’s defined by the moment I saw him shaving. Every day he shaves meticulously despite the fact he never seems to have any facial hair worth shaving off. Square set and stout he has an especially rhythmic way of pumping his shoulder presses and bicep curls. I’m convinced he’s a Prince fan.
By now I’m sat writing this in the locker room and so unavoidably the subject of nakedness has reared it’s head. Specifically the guy getting changed in my face. I’m envious of his unabashed willingness to expose the locker room to the the clothes he was born with, that he is clearly entirely comfortable with sharing his unhindered visage with any other in such a way. I’m not that comfortable with his visage. Not this close. My problem I guess. Time to shower.
Out in the gym an ever-present is there, the gym bum. He appears to spend his entire day at the gym. Whatever time I go there, morning, noon or night there he is. He’s not especially ripped, he’s not grimacing and gurning to lift unfathomably heavy weights. Nor does he set the tread mills on fire. He knows a few of the other regulars but never really socialises. He speaks to strangers now and then. He’s just always here. Everyday. Doing… not that much. Does he work? Does he have a family or job? Who knows.
Then there’s a woman who I think of as the Queen Mother of the gym. She comes everyday. She knows everyone who’s anyone and everyone knows her. She’s undoubtedly fit for he age yet she never really does anything that causes her to break a sweat. She’s often seen holding court with her subjects and ladies in waiting. I think she’s Greek. There’s sizeable local Greek community. The boys from Olympic Food are in, the news agent across the road where they have an unrivaled selection of protein powders. Their heavily developed triangular torsos make light work of even the heaviest loads on offer. They snake from station to station around the gym. One of them is clearly more ripped, more dedicated, more….. GRRRRRR than the others. He does an extra set as the others look on.
Today I’ve opted for a lighter session. I’m on a run of about fifteen days straight. Usually I have at least one day off a week but you see this gym thing has kind of become addictive. Even on my last couple of rest days I’ve popped in for a quick session on the bike and ball. And so today after two three hour sessions on consecutive days I decide to take it a little easier. I’m gonna start with a twenty minute interval session on the bike. I usually save this for later as apparently one should do endurance after strength but I enjoy the bike, it’s a nice way to settle down and see who’s around.
The Bro Squad are in, whooping and hollering they monopolise any section of the gym they happen to be in. Boisterously they encourage and cajole each other happy to draw attention to themselves. They are some of the heavier lifters here. As I rest in between sets on the sit-up bench I can see they’ve taken the both squat racks and are impressively and loudly going about their routine.
I go about my business pretty quietly. I put my headphones on and by and large focus on my own little part of the world. I’m not as ripped as the big guys, I don’t lift the high numbers, but I can’t be distracted or intimidated by them. I have my own goal, my own program and my own targets as do many others. I guess from the outside I’m the Ball Guy. The dude who precariously balances on a Swiss ball every day, taking up too much space in the mat area and who occasionally and worryingly falls off. There have been more than a few times now when an unceremonious demounting has drawn a concerned/horrified look from a near by stretcher as they see my not inconsiderable frame descending towards them. Thankfully I’ve never actually landed on anyone. Not yet.
At around about six thirty the class crowd come in, twenty maybe, mostly women, they’re here for the post work Pump class, or Box Fit, or Spinning, or step or Zumba they sweep through the gym and into the studio. They have a specific goal and the classes are their means. For others the gym is a place to hang out, maybe catch up with friends. For some it’s a lifestyle, an integral part of who they see themselves to be and indeed who they are. There are those who like me have a specific sporting target but I guess it also became a place escape the pressures of the world outside. A place where not only could I focus on my goal to compete but also take stock of my personal situation, reflect and contemplate. I never thought I’d really enjoy or appreciate it in that way but having that facility became almost as important as the physical training.
At some point this Olympic escapade will all be over and people have asked if I will continue with the eating and training regimes when that happens. I can tell you now that when that day comes I’ll be enjoying a few more Yorkshire puddings than I am currently but maybe, just maybe, I might just find myself stood at a squat rack thinking it all though before my next set and my next adventure.
The photo at the top was taken at recent session with Mike Fishlock and Thomas Jones who along with Maria Jones, Charlotta Emanuelsson and my girlfriend Anna Nordstrom convinced me to take the idea of skiing for Tonga seriously in the first place. If you haven’t already you can read about it here. Suffice to say if it all ends badly it’s their fault….