I’ve had this story in me to tell for quite some time now. I’ve got a lot of untold stories as to why I view certain things the way that I view them. This is one that, for some reason, I had the strongest compulsion to sit and write it out. Whether it’s an itch to finish what I’ve started in regards to searching for Mike, or someone SOMEWHERE needs to hear this and the universe is cosmically throwing out some sort of *wink wink nudge nudge* that I’m sitting down to respond too, I’ll never know (nor does it really matter as long as it gets done).
When I first started going to the gym, every single day was a battle.
Let me start over…
When I first started going to the gym, every single minute was a battle. I knew the change I wanted to make and I knew it wouldn’t come easy, but did it really have to be THIS hard? From the moment I woke up, I was faced with decision after decision that my “Fat Passenger” just decided for me! For breakfast, the decision as to what to eat usually was simple… nothing! Most of the time I was so full from the amount of food I ate the night before that I wouldn’t have an appetite for anything. When I started to make a change with my lifestyle however, I had to choose EVERY SINGLE MORNING. Do I eat nothing like I’m used to because it’s comfortable or do I step outside of my comfort zone and do what I know I SHOULD do if I want to achieve what I’m ultimately doing this for?
Keep in mind, that’s just waking up… Then I would have to decide what to wear to school! It’s a confusing place to be mentally when you’re feeling really proud of yourself for attempting to make a change, yet all that confidence drains out of you like a punctured IV pouch when you realize that your new found self esteem doesn’t match up with “reality” (the way you see it).
So then you have to decide “do I wear the daring shirt and show off my pride in myself for the changes I’m making or do I give in to the fact that as soon as I step out the door I’ll be uncomfortable with what I’m wearing the MOMENT I’m too far to turn back around and change thus making the rest of the day a nightmare full of feeling like all my imperfections and fat folds are on display like the meat section at Costco.”
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this… Every morning I’d be faced with a roller coaster of emotional and depleting decisions that in the long run feel too silly to share with anybody. That makes it DOUBLY exhausting that you feel embarrassed for dealing with these issues that you have absolutely CONVINCED yourself you’re the only one who feels this way.
Pause for the realization of how many people TRULY relate to just the TWO “decisions” I’ve put out there that you’re faced right off the bat with on a daily basis. I have it on good authority more of you relate to those two decisions than not. I also have it on good authority that most of you have started to open up the flood gates of all the OTHER decisions you’re faced with on a regular basis when you’re trying to seize your mind, body, and soul back.
Well one of those other tough decisions is going to the gym. I used to go to the gym at night, so imagine the exhaustion my circus brain had frothed up by then when it was time to set sail or bail… My noggin’ ALWAYS was set to “fail.” Many of you know what I’m talking about when I say it wasn’t an issue of talking myself OUT of going, it was a matter of talking myself IN to going.
“You’ve got to want it more than anything because anything can stop you” is something I’ve recently come to reminding people every corner I turn, but its essence ALWAYS rang in my head. When I had my moment of clarity that I wasn’t going to defeat myself anymore (the bleachers), I had a fire in me that made a Phoenix look like the embers of a dying match. With that fire came the will for change, but it never dulled the difficult nature of doing the things that are good for you to do. Even though I had to talk myself in to going to the gym EVERY time, I always went. Every time. I even got hit by a car once riding my bike to the gym on a rainy December night, and I STILL went and limped through my workout!
*Editors Note – I do not condone that decision. I totally wouldn’t do the same thing now… I don’t think? Anyways, don’t do it. Get hit by a car I mean. Don’t do that. And if you do, don’t go to the gym anyway. Get the proper medical attention. Do that, don’t do the other thing. End Editors Note*
I had about a year of these decisions under my belt… I had lost about 40 lbs just doing cardio and attempting to eat better. I knew it was time to step my game up and get into the weight lifting side of things. I had spent countless hours on the Reebok cycler, and it was time to expand my horizons. This is where Mike Bell comes into play.
Mike Bell worked in the Windsor School District as a basketball coach and yard supervisor for the middle school. In my eyes, he was always Mike from the gym. Mike happened to go to the gym the same time that I did, and I used to watch him lift inhumane amounts of weight from my Reebok machine like a fanboy. He was like a superhero to me. Being well over 6 feet tall, he was as muscular as he was height advantageous. Everybody knew Mike, and Mike subsequently seemed to know everybody. He always had a smile on his face (unless he was shoulder pressing 315 lbs on the smith rack… he usually paused to scowl then) and something fun to say. At the time, he was everything I wanted to be yet I embodied the polar opposite. I had always had a sense of humor about me that I crafted and honed as a defense mechanism for how much I truly hated myself, but other than that component of my current personality I was as introverted as it gets.
I had two best friends, Billy and Wally, and spent my days making “decisions” and researching the gym meticulously. I kept to myself a lot (something I do a lot now even, which probably surprises a number of you). I figured if I’m going to be putting this much effort in I might as well be doing it at maximum potential. Something I couldn’t quite get my mind grasped around however was the weight lifting component.
One day, after having given “the weights” a try for a few months now, I approached Mike and asked him about the back of his triceps. They were HUGE, and I noticed they were significantly more developed than most of the other “muscular” guys at the gym. I had always admired that aspect about his arms from afar, and I wanted it! So, after months of working up the courage to ask him, he DIDN’T backhand slap me the way I had envisioned! Quite the contrary! He thanked me for the kind words I stumbled out about his triceps and brought me over to a cable machine right away, showing me one of his “secret” triceps exercises.
That night, I went home elated. On cloud nine. Couldn’t be touched. It wasn’t because I had gotten some useful information that would me on my way to what I wanted to achieve physically (although I pride myself on my triceps to this day… Take THAT Body Dysmorphic Disorder!), but because this individual who I had quietly revered for almost a year and a half helped ME! I was at a really fragile place in my life then (as I typed that out I literally laughed out loud and said to myself “THEN?”) and something I want whoever is reading this to understand is that in my rattled adolescent brain and at that stage in my journey, that was the sun, moon, and STARS to me. I had felt so alone, and it was the first time in a long time I felt like someone gave a shit.
Also, please understand that that was how I FELT. I KNOW that I could have opened up about the problems I was really having and a lot of people in my life would have been there for me (side note… KEEP THAT IN MIND FOR YOURSELF!!!) but it was the journey that I needed to go through. What felt true at the time I know is NOT true now, but it was important that I figured it out the hard way, or I wouldn’t be here typing this out today.
This first interaction with Mike gave me the confidence to approach him more often. I started to say hey, and he’d say hey back! He’d ask me how I was doing! I started to ask him about more ways to lift the Hulkish weights he lifted, and he gave me more tips than I could keep with! Over the next year or so, he had started to invite me in to some of his workouts from time to time! Out of all the people in the gym… all the people that know him, that he could work out with who would be MUCH better workout partners than me… it felt like he chose ME. Like I mattered. Like I wasn’t wrong for deciding that fateful day two years prior that I was worth fighting for even if others don’t agree, because others DO agree!
To Mike, it may not be anything but a blip on his memory radar. He might not even remember my name, which I’m totally ok with. The thing is though, Mike brought me through a crucial point in my life that inevitably brought me here. Writing this to MORE people I’ve found actually give a shit. When I would get made fun of quietly at the gym by the same group of three kids (because kids are REALLY good at teasing under the radar) Mike was like a silent protector. They made fun of me less when I was talking with him. He also made me feel like “well if HE likes me, then fuck them.”
*Editor’s Note – I sat for a good 5 straight minutes trying to think of something more suitable to write than “fuck them” but there is NOTHING that sums up how I felt/feel more than those two words so… I’d rather apologize than compromise. Sorry. End Editor’s Note*
I’ll never forget the day Mike told me I reminded him of himself. He told me he saw my struggle, and that no matter what I ALWAYS showed up. He told me you always have to fight, and he could see I learned that at a young age like he did.
It had all come full circle… This behemoth of a man who I had admired from afar, who had taken me under his wing (even if I was just that kid he gave a workout tip to here and there and occasionally let jump in on a workout) and acted as my silent protector… he’s telling me I remind him of HIM. It meant the world to me and has always stuck with me. Shortly after, I never really saw Mike again. His son, Kahlil, was a rising football star who had an opportunity to play for a more distinguished school and get his name out there. It worked… Kahlil went on to play for UCLA and eventually found his way to the NFL. He actually holds the modern NFL record for longest first carry of a career with a 72 yard run against the Eagles in 2009. He’s currently on the Jets.
Like I said, shortly after that day he told me I reminded him a lot of him Mike moved away. It was ok though, his impact was made and it was time to move on. I’ve since tried to find ways to contact him, but naturally he seems to be one of 5 people not on Facebook. I’ve tried a number of different methods to see if I can find information to at least E-MAIL him, and I’ve fallen short every time. I’m hoping maybe this finds its way to him somehow, since the Universe works in mysterious ways like that. It’s important to me he knows what he did for me.
Thanks Mike, I’ll always appreciate what you did for me.
Josh, I love reading your stories. I’m looking forward to meeting up with you when I get back from China. This rice and vegetable diet has caused me to lose muscle mass and I need a good workout routine again. Again, great posts, I love reading them.