Do you know about “third places?” There’s home and work, which count as your first and second places, but where do you spend a lot of time besides those? For me, the only third place was Seryak Strength and Conditioning, the best damn gym in the world. I’m incredibly sad, because my friend, the owner, has decided to close up shop.
I started there in 2009, but only after vigorous protestation. Nat had started going a few months before me, and and raved about the place. While it was all well and good that he was going, I knew that there was no way I’d ever set foot there, because I hated gyms! (The story of my dorky, chubby childhood and flat out inappropriate harassment by my elementary gym class teacher is for another day. You can imagine how it goes.) But, Nat just kept raving about the gym, and the head coach, Tom.
Tom held an open house one Saturday, and I decided that fine, I would go. (But I wouldn’t like it!. Hmmpf!) I was all bravado and trash talk until we got to the parking lot, where….I sat in the car and cried. It seems that all the pre-teen torture had done a number on my self-esteem (big surprise, eh?) and I was seriously wigged out about actually exposing myself to more humiliation as a grown-ass woman who had choices in the matter. Nat talked me down from the ledge, I dried my tears, and we went in.
I did not die that day. In fact, I had such a good experience that I decided to join up, too. I learned quickly that I was not in very good shape, not not very strong at all. Tom fixed all that. I started lifting heavy and doing smart cardio. I learned how to squat, deadlift, and bench, and I started Olympic lifting. I went down 6 dress sizes, but maintained the same weight thanks to all the muscle I was packing on.
I loved my time at the gym, because it was such a unique culture. Tom was excellent with women, and knew how to push without belittling or demeaning. The women were treated like athletes, and encouraged to get really strong. Tom didn’t care what you looked like, he just wanted you to improve. Heck, he didn’t even demand constant improvement, just for you to honestly be trying.
I almost hate to list the benefits I got there, because they sound so trite to put to paper, but it’s true: by improving myself physically, it made every part of the rest of my life better. I gained confidence and poise, got in touch with my body in a way I had shut off as a teen, and found peace with food. I really, really liked being strong. And being strong liked me back. I was amazed at how much easier the rest of my life became, all because of more muscle.
Unfortunately, our bad habits tend to pop up everywhere we go, and my perfectionist tendencies got the best of me. I was working extra, totally stressed out, and simply not sleeping. So, I concluded that the best thing to do would be….keep going in to the gym and pushing myself really hard. One day, after a night of only 2 hours sleep, my body said enough. I picked up a heavy deadlift, badly, and felt “something.” I looked at Tom and said “Oh, crap.”
While I kept going in during my lengthy rehab time, I was starting to realise that I wanted to make some changes in my life. The gym was well worth it for the education I got, but very, very expensive. I also hated the 30 mile round trip in rush hour traffic, and getting up at 5:30 4 days a week. Once I conceived of the RV plan, I knew I had to quit, just for the money factor.
I quit the gym in August of 2012, but still went in about once a month for an open gym, and to enjoy the company. It was comforting to get back to that environment, with loud, angry metal playing, and trash talk flying around the room. I certainly preferred it over Good Morning America on the TV at the community gym I go to now, where everyone there looks half dead. It seemed that the dose of one Tom gym per month was perfect.
I knew that he might close up, but it was still a shock when he called me up last week and told me it was happening. I cried. Although I had left months ago, it was comforting to know that it was there. I just can’t believe that such a special place is gone. In a world full of lousy gyms, Tom’s was unique: he expected you to bring your own motivation. He was just there to coach you. This is in direct opposition to most gyms, where members pay for their coaches to be their changing agent. Tom took a much harder route, and his business suffered for it–most people really aren’t willing to do hard work, he learned.
I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to experience that magic while it existed. I can only hope to find a community half as good in the future.