Nfld. & Labrador

Downsizing: Staring myself down in the gym mirror

The gym used to look like a sick torture chamber, writes Dave Sullivan, who admits he now walks to his workout like a boss.

Dave Sullivan learns how to stop worrying and love the workout

Dave Sullivan took this photo of himself at the gym, a place he once found alienating and terrifying. (Dave Sullivan)

To me, the thought of going to a gym was terrifying.

Walking through gauntlets of people grunting and flexing, all hooked up to cables and machines, like participants in some sort of sick torture chamber.

I pictured dudes in spandex flexing their muscles in front of mirrors. And then there would be me — the fat guy floundering on the elliptical.

So when Caitlin suggested we go to the gym, something strange happened.

I said "yes." Immediately.

Not, "Oh well, y’know, I’ll think about it." She barely had the sentence out of her mouth and I was all over it.

Who is this man? And what has he done with Dave?

I had only one demand regarding this whole gym experience. I wanted to have fun.

Because, I figured, the more fun I’m having, the more likely I am to keep doing it.

Hurts so good

We settled on a trainer and signed up for 20 hours of personal training.

The trainer was young, in her early 20s, and she was hilarious. She had this way of singing words, which cracked me and Caitlin up.

I used to think that people were staring at me when I entered a gym. Judging me. It’s misguided, I know. And not at all accurate

She would talk to herself. "What time is it? Oh, six already. Siiick." Her personality couldn’t have been more different than mine.

But behind that joyous banter she was serious. Perhaps even a touch sadistic. She’d say things like, "You’re going to feel this for a few days, maybe more. So dig in!"

Man, she put me through my paces.

She started me off on basic circuit training, which meant we’d race from exercise to exercise like mad people, kettlebells swinging up over my head one minute, then tackling a rowing machine like I was in the championship race of the Royal St. John's Regatta."

I barely got through our first workout. Hell, at that time, I could barely stand from a seated position. I mean, it was a struggle.

But you know what? I earned every drop of sweat, every ache, every pain. I even gritted out a smile at how far I’d come since the first walks around Rabbittown, the St. John's neighbourhood where I live.

Looking in the mirror, and past the clutter

During our second session, something happened. It was as if another person took the wheel. I could see it in my own eyes.

I was lying on the floor at the time, in a plank position dedicated to strengthening my core.

I stared ahead, into the mirror, with a look of intense concentration. And do I mean intense. I was looking past the clutter that had been in my way — the shame, the guilt, the grief, the sadness — the works of it.

And in that moment, I began to feel something I hadn’t felt before.

The faintest sense of hope.

It’s not all about me

You know, I used to think that people were staring at me when I entered a gym. Judging me. It’s misguided, I know. And not at all accurate.

These days, I march in there like a boss. I do what I’m there to do and I walk out invigorated. Sure, there's plenty of musclebound dudes pumping and grunting, and they can totally do that. I’m not there to judge them, as they’re not there to judge me.

The gym is now a place of comfort, a place where I lift, pull and lunge my worries away. A place with a small glimmer of light.

As the weeks and months pass, that small glimmer has turned into a flame.

After years of fumbling around in the darkness, finally there’s a beacon that lies not in the distance, but inside of me.

Guiding, driving. Burning for the whole world to see.

About the Author

Dave Sullivan is a writer and ad creative proudly living and working in St. John's.


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