The Gym

In a small town there was a gym. It had a reputation for producing amazing athletes. Bodybuilders and fitness competitors. Track and field and football. Powerlifters and strongmen. People travelled from afar to train here. Some were denied access at the door. The place was run by a guy everyone simply called Coach. Simply may not be the best way to describe the title, but more on that later. One day a young athlete decided he was going to see if he had what it took to train at The Gym. This was not his first attempt. He had pulled into the parking lot one other time. As he mustered the courage to approach the door an athlete of remarkable conditioning was waking back to their car with the most dejected look on their face.

“Good luck” the athlete told the young man as he got in his car and drove away.

The young man committed the ultimate sin in that moment. The demon of self doubt won that day. “If that athlete couldn’t make the cut surely I have no chance” was the cop out.

Today that demon would be silenced. He accepted the possibility of rejection and opened the doors of opportunity himself. The doors of opportunity are a funny thing. Opportunity does indeed come knocking on occasion, but the doors are always there for anyone willing. The demons of fear, hesitation, and self doubt always stand guard, but are harmless when ignored.

Today he strode right past the demons and into the gym he had admired for so long. He had read every book and article. Coach hand picked the athletes that trained under him. Rumor is that if selected you train for a year under Coach’s watchful eye and if you are still standing at the end then you team up with a group and the pursuit of excellence begins with your new team.

“Good morning, my name is…” and suddenly speaking was no longer an option. The coach stood up, holding up a hand the size of a stop sign while standing from a chair that could not be seen but only heard as it cried out in relief. The coach looked as if he was made of rock. Bald with a snow white mustache and beard. The office smelled of coffee and leather. Coach walked towards him slowly, eyes rolling up and down with apprehension and curiosity. Waving the stop sign hand in a “follow me” motion Coach approached in Olympic lifting platform. He pulled a barbell from a rack like he was picking up a broom handle and adjusted the height of the pins to the perfect level for the new prospect.

“Squat” rumbled from Coach with authority.

He racked the barbell to his shoulders, stepped back, did a squat in what he was sure was perfect form and returned the empty barbell to the rack. As his eyes turned to Coach he was met with a gaze icy enough to freeze polar bear’s heart. He immediately shot his head back under the bar and was squatting again in a blink.

Coach circled him in quiet study. Rep after rep. Every angle was assessed as the squats continued. His legs were the first to feel the fire. Followed shortly by the hips and lower back. Rep after rep and the upper shoulders joined the party. Only a barbell on the shoulders but the lungs were soon engulfed. First a couple breaths in between reps. “Don’t you dare stop” he repeated in his head. A head filled with demons crying out to stop. He had lost count dozens of reps ago. “One” was the only number heard through the pain. Again and again. “One, one, one”. The clang of the barbell returning to the rack was as welcomed as it was surprising. Coach had pushed the bar back into the rack and the young athlete and his dreams crashed to the platform.

Coach looked down and smiled. Offering a hand to help him up he gladly accepted. On his feet wobbling like a baby giraffe the Coach walked back to his office again waving the stop sign hand to follow.

As he found merciful rest in the office chair Coach tossed him a bottle of water.

“What do you want?”

“To train here” he said pausing as he drained the contents of the entire water bottle.

“Why?” Coach asked sounding like tires on gravel.

“I want to be the best”

“At what?”

The young man paused, half for breath, half to think. “At being me. I don’t really know at what. I just know I’m not living up to my potential and it bothers me. I think I could be really great.”

Was it a scowl or a grin? Agreement or suppressed laughter at a disillusioned youth? Whatever it was cut through the air in the room like a throwing star.

“Be here tomorrow at 4. 3:45 if you are serious about training here. Bring a notebook and something to write with.”

“Absolutely, thank you so much…” he knew he paused too long. He knew it got awkward. Coach’s eyes were already deep into books and papers piled high on his desk. He saw the gaze raise along with bright white eyebrows textured with impatience.

“See you tomorrow” the young lad shouted as he hobbled out the door. The old coach smiled with a soft laugh and shake of the head.

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