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What the dumbells teach me

I have often said that lifting weights has been one of my most influential therapists and most patient teachers. The classroom itself has changed many times, but the teacher, the dumbells, and the barbells remain constant. I found my way into this classroom at the age of 16 as I was clawing my way out of depression. At that time, I would do almost any form of exercise; I just needed to move. But the weights were different; what I gleaned from each workout with weight lasted; it was a wrestling match. I was wrestling with myself, my fear, my doubt. I was relentless in my pursuit to fight gravity. The harder I fought, the stronger I felt.


My first classroom was the YMCA in my hometown, Nyack, New York. I would get changed each day after school and walk down the street to the small basement gym. The first order of business was a run on the treadmill, pop on my Busta Rhymes cd, and prepare for war. I didn't know much of anything, to begin with, so I got a personal trainer to show me the ropes. I quickly became obsessed. Lifting felt amazing; I was less afraid of both the gym and the world around me. I had an insatiable hunger to learn as much as I could. I bought every muscle magazine I could find (back when magazines were a thing) muscular development, Muscle and Fitness, Muscle and Fitness Hers, and Oxygen; I had subscriptions to all of them. Not only did I love the feeling of lifting, but I also loved how muscular bodies looked, and I wanted one. I was excited to explore every facet of this new hobby.


I found peace and joy in the weight room, which was my motivation for a long time. Until anger grabbed me by the throat. I had oceans of pain in my soul surrounding a bad relationship with my mother. I went through a furious time, but by then, I was already immersed in the iron classroom; I brought the anger with me to my wrestling match. I felt relief; I was healing more in the YMCA than I was in therapy. Fighting gravity was helping me discover my strength, my true strength. What I was made of. What I was capable of.


I became so fascinated by what I was experiencing that I wanted to explore the psychological benefits of what I was doing. What was happening? Why was this relief coming from the dumbells? I believed the healing I was experiencing was real. I was transforming from my practice and wanted to help others do the same. I decided to become a recreation therapist. A recreation therapist is someone who facilitates healing across five domains of a person spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and mental. I wanted to do all of it. I wanted to be a trainer and help educate people on the practice of lifting; I wanted to be a bodybuilder. Above all, I wanted to facilitate healing. This thing happening to me could really change people, or at least I believed it could.


I immersed myself in both my practice and my career as a therapist, trainer, and coach. Over the years, my practice took many turns; different goals drove the bus, physique change, fighting depression, processing anger, fighting fear, and discovering strength. All of them were equally important. All of them helped me evolve and flourish. The benefits I gleaned from weight training


Weight training is a discipline, like yoga, that directs and guides the student. I was talking to a friend yesterday and explaining that if we approach weightlifting from the standpoint of skill development and mastery, we will likely reap glorious physical benefits. When approached from solely a physical standpoint we may get the benefit but our lives won't likely be transformed.


I have been enrolled in the iron classroom for 32 years so far. What started in a basement gym in Nyack has taken me into a career; I have built a company, competed on many stages, and been blessed to lead many on their journeys. Today I consider myself a student in the iron classroom and a professor at the intersection of health.


My best advice to anyone beginning their practice, whether in the weight room or any discipline, would be to approach this world from the standpoint of skill development and mastery. There are countless benefits and blessings just waiting to be discovered.


"To become a master at any skill it takes total effort of your: heart, mind, and soul working together in tandem." -Maurice Young




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