I was midway into cooking an improvised version of a ratatouille when I received a whatsapp message from an old friend announcing the sudden death of our ex-gym instructor and owner of the cherished New Club ’87 Gym we used to go to.
It was kind of startling.
Max wasn’t old. Perhaps in his early 50’s. He and his gym cocooned a period in my life where I needed some focus and escape.
I would be a hypocrite to call Max a friend of mine and an exaggeration would be to define him a mentor as such. He was a friend in the Facebook meaning of the term but I know very little about him and we never really kept in touch once I left my hometown and his gym.
He was my fitness instructor and followed closely my progress, assigning a monthly workout sheet for me to follow. We joked and laughed often during my sessions, in between the sets of exercises.He was a good guy.
I might have visited him in his gym a couple of times after leaving my hometown, just to let him know how different I found gyms in London. How impersonal they all were, how nobody took hygiene seriously in them, how no gym owner was to be seen and no instructor would correct my form during my exercises and how, regardless of how much nicer, and brighter and better equipped they were, they’d always going to be inferior to his gym, in my eyes.
For his gym wasn’t just the location, the space, the equipment. It wasn’t just a business. It was the whole package of having a passionate bodybuilder offering his knowledge, encouragement and personal touch to each of his customers during their voyage in the world of fitness. And all the gym-goers would end up knowing each others and became some sort of a big family, and as any family, even if not every member would necessarily bear each others’ company, they’d all eventually agree to go out for the Christmas pizza night out. It was nice what he had created.
I stumbled across the New Club ’87 gym in the quest of finding a past time I could cultivate and enjoy for more than a few weeks.
I was in my teens and although at the time I wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly what was wrong, I knew I was pretty unsatisfied with everything around me and attending school was the only thing to keep me anchored in my hometown. Otherwise I would have left in a heartbeat. Anywhere.
Thanks to Max and the contagious passion and dedication he displayed for fitness, I discovered a new interest. Attending his gym made those years bearable and softened those growing teenage pains.
Max was cheerful, he had a deep voice and a charismatic laugh. Somehow I remember him being wider than he was tall due to all the mass of muscles he carried around with his slow, confident and powerful stride.
He was a professional bodybuilder and his gym a cave (literally: it was indeed in a basement!) for many fellow bodybuilders. My flaccid teenage body must have looked a bit odd in such amalgamation of testosterone and shiny muscles. That’s probably why I found it inspiring at the age of sixteen seeing all those men ever so passionate about bodybuilding, made me adopt a similar, somewhat watered down, version of their dedication and focus.
Only now, in hindsight, I can see how the religious attendance to the gym became quite pivotal in my life: seeing results in my body and in my self confidence became boosters to persevere, and the banter with all those Big Jims was always a cheery cherry on top!
I haven’t popped in to see him in a while now. No regrets, just how life is. But one thing I might regret is not having had the chance to let him know what a positive impact he had on me in those critical years.
A few months ago I had an email from one of ours past Airbnb customers. She and her partner found out they were pregnant during their stay in our cabin. They met traveling a couple of years before and kept a long distance/Skype relationship ever since and this trip to South America was for them their first actually being together. And then they found out they were pregnant. Needless to say she was rather nervous and shocked and happy but overwhelmed with the logistics of carrying on their pregnancy during their travels and decide in which continent – and then city and then hospital- to have their baby.
We had dinner with them and discussed in detail my birth experience and motherhood thus far. I shared my feelings with her and answered all of the practical, metaphysical puzzling doubts she had.
Then they left. And 10 months later I receive an email saying that they gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, in Belgium and she was thanking me for inspiring her to have a drug-free home birth. She was so grateful to have gone down that route and she took the time to write me an email to say ‘thank you’. It was very touching.
It’s so easy to just keep these grateful thoughts to ourselves and the people who inspired us would never know. But it’s so powerful to share them as they are unsung achievements one genuinely accomplishes without trying. They are the purest of success: how one’s simple way of being can spark positiveness in someone else’s life.
But often, sadly, only one’s sudden sickness or passing away is necessary to make you stop and think of how they have influenced your life.
This is how I feel about Max. Boom! A heart attack took him away and he’ll never know how inspiring he had been for me.