Continued from The Beginning: Part 1
I remembered my first real workout at the college gym very clearly. Tall, hulking men with rippling muscles filled the gym, grunting in anger and slamming weights around like they wanted to destroy something. Their menacing glares gave me the impression that I would become lunch meat if I ever made the mistake to cross their path. I felt like a cub stepping onto grizzly territory. Yet, I made sure to avoid them while I tried every machine.
As I made a lame attempt at working out, my lanky limbs struggled with the small iron plates. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I tried every single machine that day. Before I knew it, three hours had passed. My legs quivered as I left the gym. That night, I discovered new sensations in muscles that I never existed. Sharp jabs of pain that shot throughout my whole body. I couldn't sleep. When sleep finally came, I woke up the next morning sore and stiff, each small movement bringing pure agony. However, I loved this new feeling. I knew that this soreness meant that my muscles were growing. Growing bigger was my biggest desire. I would have done almost anything to grow out of my skinny frame. Thus, I became addicted to lifting weights.
I began to live at the gym. Weight lifting became more than a routine; it was a religion. I memorized its scripture: reps, sets, super-sets, squats, presses, deadlifts. Whenever I wasn't in class, I was in the gym bench pressing, or squatting. I bought books and magazines on bodybuilding, and studied them more than the textbook for my classes. Instead of going out to bars or clubs, I spent my free time at the gym.
Of course, the gym provided some difficulties. One of the regulars, a bald jock-type, decided he didn't like me. His name was Chris, and he reminded me of one of those bullying football players from various nerd revenge movies. He always wanted to use whichever machine, bench, or squat rack I was using, and would snap at me to hurry up. I always gave him a polite answer, and scrambled out of his way to provide him with whatever he wanted, but he only responded by staring me down. Another time when I was squatting inside the squat rack, my legs cramped and gave way, causing me to fall and drop the weighted barbell. The safety bars caught the barbell, but it made a loud crash of metal on metal that caused everyone in the gym to jump and turn their heads toward me. Chris, who was working out nearby, shouted, "You better not break it, or you'll have to pay for it."
"Sorry," I said.
"You better be," he said. "That shit hurt my ears. Fuckin' idiot."
I felt a mixture of anger and shame. I wanted to say something back to him, but I froze in place. A black guy, seeing our exchange, came over and offered to spot me. The sympathy on his face told me that he felt sorry for me and wanted to help, but I already felt foolish.
It was days like this that caused my motivation to wane. Because of Chris, I wanted to avoid the gym sometimes. Moreover, I was still skinny. Sometimes I would ask myself, "What's the point in spending all of this time training when I could be doing something else?" The other students around me went out to clubs, went on dates, or participated in a random social activity. I, on the other hand, became a gym rat, skulking about the gym when everyone else seemed to have fun. I felt like quitting.
I stopped going to the gym for two weeks. During this time, people began complimenting me for once.
"Damn, son. What've you been eatin' lately?"
"Are you on steroids now? You didn't have those lumps before."
"You've put on some muscle!"
Unaccustomed to compliments, I felt elated. My ambition for sculpting my body soared, and I returned to hit the weights with as much enthusiasm as ever. I took my memories of ridicule and rejection and used them to fuel my motivation, rather than shame. Whenever I saw Chris, I shifted all of my anger toward him to lifting weights instead.
Within a year, I added twenty pounds of muscle to my lean frame and almost doubled my strength. My energy level surged. From morning until night, I felt as if I could run around non-stop. I signed up for tennis and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on campus, both of which were near the gym. My video game systems and books began to collect dust, because I moved around too much to sit still anymore. My posture changed. I no longer slouched, but stood upright with my chest out. And perhaps it was my imagination, but I thought that even a few girls looked at me a little longer than usual. I began to feel like a whole new person.
----To be continued...