Rich Wilhelm

Archive for 2019|Yearly archive page

When Your Workout Buddy Starts to See Another Gym

In Friendship on April 11, 2019 at 4:51 pm

This is a true story. It is also a fresh story, so please forgive me if my emotions go unchecked.

My workout buddy has started to visit another gym.  He let me know last week, via a text message, that he has moved from Planet Fitness, where we’d been working out in the early mornings, back to the YMCA, which is where we’d first met. A text message! The nerve! The unmitigated gall!

OK, fine. I am still trying to process this. Let me give you some history, as I attempt to pull myself together.

Having —  and being — a workout buddy might not seem like a big deal for some people, but for me, it felt like a vaguely unattainable goal. Going back to my first junior high school P.E. experience, when I walked into the gym with my shorts on backwards, most of my public exercise moments have been awkward at best. I was not fond of the deep end of swimming pools, I inevitably rotated in the wrong direction while playing volleyball, and the thought of wrestling another guy filled me with existential dread.

Despite all this, about 20 years ago I joined the Phoenixville YMCA and became one of the regular early morning Y people. For years, I saw the same faces and did eventually get to know some names, but these acquaintances fell short of “workout buddy” status. We might exchange a good morning nod in the locker room, or out by the treadmills. We might or might not have known each other’s names.

If I encountered one of the early morning Y guys outside the Y, say at Giant or Acme, there might be a glimmer of barely perceptible recognition, or maybe a slight variation of the good morning nod. But that was it. It was an odd way to know someone, especially if you showered in their general proximity four or five times a week. But I was just as responsible for this social awkwardness, as I didn’t go out of my way to introduce myself to them any more than they did to me.

I did occasionally try to have workout buddies. In fact, I even went out on a Friday night with one of  the early morning Y guys and we played a few games of the greatest sport ever invented – bowling.  And while that was fun – because when is bowling not fun?? —  there also wasn’t any particular spark between us that could lead to a more permanent workout buddy status.

I also can’t forget the time my wife’s British friend Jim came to stay with us for a week. Jim tagged along with me to the Y on the mornings he was in town and, to my chagrin, Jim instantly made friends with the early morning Y guys I’d been seeing for years. I suppose the guys were beguiled by Jim’s accent. I just stood there, jealously wondering what Jim’s secret was.

So, I’ve never felt like a good candidate to be a workout buddy. This made me sad, but I  got on with my life, which, outside the gym, is actually pretty cool. I am, after all, a cemetery tour guide!

However, this situation changed about two years ago when I met my current workout buddy.  He and I probably saw each other for several weeks around the gym before we decided to break through the wall of gym anonymity and introduce ourselves. Soon after, we unofficially became workout buddies. I say “unofficially” because, as far as I know, there is not a specific ceremony in which the title of workout buddy is bestowed.

I should note that, while we have quite a bit in common, my workout buddy and I are in different stages of life. He is younger than me, to the point where another Planet Fitness patron mistook us for father-and-son. We are both dads, but my sons are 21 and 16 years old, while my buddy’s adorable kids are just three and one.

As workout buddies, we’ve had loosely-defined roles. We don’t spot each other while lifting weights or anything like that. We’ve mostly just been in the gym at the same time, doing generally the same things. But having him around last year was enough to inspire me to keep coming to the gym on a regular enough basis that last October, I completed my first 5K, Laurel Hill Cemetery’s “Rest in Peace” run. This is the only public athletic event I’ve ever done — other than once being in a bowling league, of course – and I probably would not have done that if not for my workout buddy.

Most importantly, from almost the moment we introduced ourselves, we began an ongoing post-workout conversation in the gym parking lot before moving on to start our work days. Just your basic talk – kids, jobs, houses, music, movies, with the occasional foray into religion or philosophy or politics – but the kind of conversation that gets the day off to a good start. The kind of conversation that, over time, turns workout buddies into friends.

Now, though, my workout buddy has renewed his family membership at the Y so his children can take advantage of the swimming pools and classes there. But I have been there and done that when I was a younger dad. With a grown and a nearly-grown kid, it doesn’t make sense for me to go back to the Y, at least not at the moment. So last week, in the short run, I lost my workout buddy, and I’ll miss our morning routine. But in the two years that I’ve known my workout buddy, I’ve gained a good friend in the long run. That sounds like a huge net gain for me.

Maybe we’ll go bowling sometime.

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Patrick F. O'Donnell

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