I was 15 and felt unstoppable. Blazing across the blue line, I slipped the puck between the defender’s legs and sidestepped his shoulder. One look at the goalie was all it took for me to flip the puck effortlessly into the top right corner of the net. What followed was a slight “ping” of the post and a referee’s whistle to signal the goal. I slipped into a state of satori and became detached from my surroundings. All of a sudden an acne ridden behemoth flattened me into the ground with a cheap shot. Apparently he didn’t appreciate being deked around and couldn’t contain himself in his testosterone-fueled rage. I was concussed. All I remember hearing was something like “that’s what you get shrimp!” It took a week for my headaches to subside — I’m lucky it wasn’t worse. I’m 5’4″ now. My whole life was on the receiving end of both physical and verbal bullying. It never bothered me. I always knew that I would eventually get the better of them and their jibes and punches stemmed from insecurity. When I got blind-sided everything changed. Never had I felt so vulnerable. If one idiot could flatten me with a cheap shot there was no reason it wouldn’t happen again. That was the moment I decided to lift weights. My Dad has always been my biggest inspiration and the day he brought me to work out with him at the YMCA changed my life. I weighed 105 lbs. As I stood in the area with the small weights haphazardly doing biceps curls with 10 lb dumbbells I started to dream. “One day,” I thought, “I’ll be able to lift weights in the big boy area where the dumbbells start at 20 lbs.”

Gaston, Goggles, and Spike

I owe a lot to my first gym buddies, Travor and Brandon, who came with me to the gym after school every day, rain or shine. We failed together and we grew with each other. My fondest memory from those days was the nicknames we gave to the huge dudes at the gym. Gaston was a guy with a ponytail and 20 inch arms, Goggles was a guy with Coke bottle glasses who had such huge lats he walked sideways through doors, and Spike was a dude with a Mohawk and tree trunks for legs. These characters, which only exist as cartoons in my memory, gave me strength. Putting them down behind their backs seemed to make my puny biceps compare to theirs.

I Was Just About to Give Up…

It’s now one year later and I weight an overwhelming 108 lbs. I could do a chest press with the weights from the big boy area but was still curl and burning with the 12s. This was my lowest point. I’d busted my butt and didn’t think I had anything to show for it. I was still getting beaten up in hockey and gotten into a lot of trouble for violently retaliating. I received a 6-game suspension and the police became involved. I regret what I did to this day but the bully had pushed me over the edge. In school he would pester me daily and he was the type of hockey player that knew exactly which buttons to push. Everything went red and I lost control. I apologize and am fortunate everybody was OK. Lucky for me my first a-ha moment was right around the corner. At a time when nothing was going right and I was about to quit both the gym and hockey I threw a party at my house. To my surprise I found myself in my childhood bedroom with the girl who would become my first girlfriend. In an instance of unprecedented bravado I took off my shirt and you know what? She noticed! She complimented my physique and said “you must be working out.” That was it, and I was hooked.

Cottage Cheese

All I remember from University is a lot of partying, the campus gym, inane multiple-choice tests, and cottage cheese (I vaguely remember reading a Men’s Health article saying it had lots of protein). Every day for two years I ate a giant bowl of 2 percent cottage cheese with lunch. At the end of those two years I weighed 145 lbs. This was where my real education took place. I’d sit in the gym (by 2nd year I managed the weight room) with a biomechanics textbook and try to name all of the movements people were doing. I went so far as to try and visualize the heart beat, the muscles contract, and the lungs expand of everybody working out. I didn’t know much but I kept at it, day in and day out. I’d follow a workout from a magazine one month, a book the next, and decide to develop my own program the next. It wasn’t efficient but slowly I became a movement expert. Thirty hours of dedicated study in the gym and 25 hours of lecture outside of a week helped me build up my 10,000 hours early. Finally after four years of working out it clicked and I figured out the secret. I started to focus more on the movement, not on the weights. The mind-muscle connection became my number one priority. Suddenly I started getting huge gains. I dead lifted two plates for the first time and was able to bench press my weight. Most of all I went out of my way to get invited to pool parties.

Forever Changed

I owe the gym a lot. It’s changed my life. It provided me a sanctuary when I needed to get comfortable in my own skin and has been my second home for the past 12 years. I now fluctuate between 150-160 lbs and feel great. I even went back to train at the YMCA last year. While lifting weights in the big boy area I glanced over to see two young guys playing around with weights. Some gym goers would have probably thought these kids were idiots. I simply smiled and thought to myself “the cycle continues.” These days I don’t have any lofty goals. I like the way I look. I can bench press 200 lbs, squat 250, and deadlift 400. I don’t worry about digging deep every day and progressing with every workout. To me enjoyment and fulfillment of the journey is what matters. Perhaps my greatest pleasure in life comes from helping others achieve the same level of fulfillment through exercise that I did. Don’t get confused trying to find the next best workout, the magic diet, or the most effective cardio. They don’t exist. The Devil isn’t in the details. Just get out there and get moving. Find your Gaston and look forward to your a-ha moment. I promise you won’t look back.