Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday, August 20 (Interlude, Part II)

It's the fall of 2007. I am in reasonably good shape, as I am playing in a men's basketball league, though I can't say I play much more than the requisite once a week. The night before a game, I decide to take advantage of the free personal training session offered at my local gym. As happens to all of us, I've become a bit bored of my stale workout routine, and I go to the session particularly interested in learning a few new abdominal exercises. With the game the next night, I plan on a short bit of conferring with the trainer, maybe a few practice exercises, and I'll be on my way.
This is not the case. What follows is one of the toughest workouts I've ever experienced. The trainer, an amiable Aussie, tells me that I am his first personal training client, and it is apparent to me that he aims to earn a reputation for thoroughly exhausting and emasculating workouts.
Not only he does he show me four or five ab exercises, stopping for a few minutes to have me do complete sets of each, he does it all with a broad smile. This throws me off--should I already be sweating and shaking, or is this just the warmup? As we continue through the session, I sweat through my shirt and feel as if my arms have the strength of a baby's.
As the workout winds down, I get a second wind that is rebuffed by the trainer's suggestion/demand that I do three different types of pushups--with the different arm positions targeting the chest, triceps, and shoulders.
Let me also note that this sadistic Aussie is demonstrating each of the exercises, not content to be merely a bystander. But (and maybe I'm saying this to cushion the blow to my sensitive ego ), I must say that he has done probably a quarter of the reps that I have as I do my pushups. As I near the end of the third set of pushups, my arms are absolutely dead, and I compensate by moving my legs up in an accomodating yoga-esque pose. In other words, I am cheating. I am of the belief that I will not be able to finish these pushups without a bit of cheating.
As I falter, the trainer encourages me, as he is wont to do, with words that approximate, "You can do it, just four more!"
With fewer than ten pushups to go, I feel that the whole of my body, with its particular alchemy, has but six pushups left in its shell. I am of the opinion that it is physically impossible for me to do another six pushups. This thought coincides with one in the trainer's head that impels him to grab my torso with his hands and guide me into each pushup as the ultimate spotter. I will look back later and laugh at how ridiculous we must have looked to anybody unlucky enough to look into the personal training room and see one grown man lifting another grown man into a pushup.
One can never lie to oneself, and this seemingly innocous workout sticks with me to this day because of the knowledge that I was spent, that my body or my mind (or both) had hit the end point. The spoken bravado of later revisionism cannot overcome the deep knowledge that for that time span (some twenty to fifty seconds), my body gave up. I gave up. Complete surrender.
The last image that sticks with me is this: as the trainer encourages me to finish, I tell him what was completely a true statement in my world for that one moment--"I can't! I can't!"

It is the fall of 1995, and I am a skinny and athletic starter at power forward for the freshmen basketball team. We end the season at around 20-10, but at this time, we have gotten off to a 3-5 start, and we have just been embarrassed by our local rival in a primetime Friday night game, with them continually scoring layups and putbacks on our lax defense. Our coach does not suffer fools, especially fools who choose not to use their God-given athleticism on playing defense. The popular saying that "Defense wins championships" becomes "Defense makes men" in this particular coach's lexicon.
To drive home his point about the utter necessity of defensive effort, our coach informs us at the beginning of practice that we will not need basketballs, as we will be running for the entirety of practice. This running mostly takes the form of Coach's patented and dreaded "Fivers," in which we run the length of the floor once, return to the initial baseline, and count that as one rep.
Can it be that we did run for the entire practice? Is that humanly possible? Did we run almost continuously for 100 minutes? The faults of memory do not allow for certainty, and perhaps this is what lends itself to exaggeration, this is what soothes old men's muscles and leads to the "fish stories" of lore.
Whether or not we do run for the full 100 minutes, one thing I am sure of is that while I catch my breath after one of the innumerable sprints, my gaze catches a teammate's, and I see from him and in him a capitulation, a surrender, that I will not allow myself to experience. His wretched condition is, to me, an absolute anathema. In the same way that a person unconsciously moves away from a sneezing person, so too do I lengthen the space between myself and the contagion. As the team runs yet another sprint, this poor boy throws up and wheezes in an outside garbage can, complaining of a heretofore undiagnosed asthma condition, and I speed up, if just for an instant.

1 comment:

  1. Hey I think this blog is great. The funny thing is that i'm trying the same thing. After turning 37 this May I started a new workout program for increasing my quickness and vertical leap. I had just gotten back into playing hoops after several years away (due to paternity related issues) and i guess i was feeling my age and wanted to fight back. I'll be interested to read more about your quest!