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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

entry arrow9:42 PM | The Sound of Feet Running in Place

This is a post about gym, but let me start by saying that things sometimes begin because of heartbreak.

In 2008, at the tail-end of living another life, I was weighing close to 185 pounds, the heaviest I have ever been. I was, for lack of a better term, fat. The bulges were generous and spread out everywhere in my body like sly interlopers—they became stubborn residents; my belly was a balloon; my face was a rotund ball without angles; my breathing caught at the mere sight of staircases. I lost my cheekbones.

I used to be a skinny college kid, prey of the common wind, which could topple my thin frame over with a single blow. I had always been thin, and then just like that, I was fat. The slow road to obesity does not contain signposts. No warnings. The destination just happens. One day you try to tie your shoelaces and that simplest act becomes—to your utter surprise—a rigorous Olympic event.

But you get used to the heaviness over time. Its companion—an abundance of delicious food devoured indiscriminately, like one would feast on love—is a darling comforter. And sometimes food is there not just to sate physical hunger but something more. An unacknowledged craving for what one can’t have, perhaps, or a panacea for a hungry hurt. Sometimes food can take place of communication: you and your old lover, you have nothing anymore to talk about, and to fill in the gnawing silence, you go to a 24-hour diner and feast in shared delight over a sinful after-midnight meal. When that happens three or four nights every week, there is nothing else to expect except the growing blubber on your sides they have knowingly named after the handling of love. There are still incriminating photos and videos of me online that speak of that time—a strange figure who sounds exactly like me, but looks…different. Looking at an old Dumaguete episode of QTV’s Ang Pinaka…, for example, I see a guy bearing my name and my voice, but he’s darker, rounder. And sometimes my current heart aches for that guy—I know what he was living through. What I remember about that time is a kind of “comfortable” darkness. The weight I found myself in existed as a kind of symptom to what was going inside. I was, still am, a comfort binger. My weight is twin to sadness.

Before 2008 was over, a necessary breakup. (Even that comes saddled with pain.) In the haze of those December days that followed, I crawled the streets like a lost caterpillar. I was in Don Atilano one day, enjoying a cup of coffee, and an old friend dropped by. One beso beso later, I was told: “I met [named withheld]! Are you both okay now? I met the new boyfriend!” A new boyfriend? I thought. Less than a week after we broke up? My heart sank. But this is my point after this long introduction: I remember picking up my bag; I remember going home fast, following a compulsion and energy new to me; I remember changing clothes; and then I remember heading straight to gym. Under the white-lights of Cellutrim, confronting the reflection in the wall of mirrors, I swore never to be fat again.

What was gym for me? A refuge. It was my sanctuary that afforded me a time and a place to let go, for two hours each day, the painful cares of the world. It “gave” me permission to focus on myself for once. Gym took me in, blubber and all—and I was promised that, with due concentration and sweaty hard work, there would be transformation. I took that as cue to healing. Shedding the pounds was shedding the pain bit by bit. I could tell you I went to the gym for health reasons, but that would be a lie. Being fit was just a wonderful side-effect to nursing a broken heart.

This is why I like gym, and why I still go to the gym, even when sometimes life happens and there are intermissions when focus becomes lost and some pounds come raging back. But I return to it time and again, knowing full well that this how physically I can claim some form of steadfastness to a life that has a tendency for tattering.

Cellutrim, ran by the Sy family, was a good place to begin, and perhaps it still is. At that time, it was the best fitness center in town, and helped me find a good program that identified the body’s muscular regions to develop. “I don’t want muscles,” I told the instructor, “I just want to lose weight.” Cellutrim taught me the basics, although not much the proper form (the instructor, I soon found, was just too busy to tell me what was proper or not). It was a small gym, but it felt like family—and it was there that I got into what is now a familiar rhythm in gym culture: the fraught traffic for the cardio machines; the rudeness of certain foreigners who come in the early morning; the parade of carefully made-up matronas who come not really to work out but to chatter, the machines becoming their own version of the water cooler; the heavy grunts of metal fetishists; the leaner gym bunnies infatuated with mirrors; the endless skirmishes with various kinds of body odor; the constant talk about supplements and protein shakes and the like; the love-hate relationship with the weighing scale; the constant presence of body ache, which you learn to long for.

Less than a year later, I transferred to Fit for Life, ran by the Arzaga family, located at the top floor of Bandera Building. It was in a bigger space, after all; no jostling here. The machines were plentiful; no traffic here, either. And there was the exquisite view of Dumaguete from the top of the world. Have you ever pounded on the treadmill with a view of sky changing colors as day turns to dusk? It adds poetry to your craving for sweat. I met Pete here, my instructor, who told me the way to go for a better fit is a knowledge of form. That one can lift a particular load forever but without doing it right in the correct form, the effort was practically useless. Once I had been doing some lifting for a chest exercise, and found the 70-pound load effortless. “You’re doing it wrong,” he said. “Do it this way.” He demonstrated the correct form for me. And when I did it myself, there was the sudden rush of exquisite pain, totally unfamiliar, something that had the feel of chili and tamarind. “Halang ba?” he grinned. I grinned back.

All in all, I lost 34 pounds.

I go to World Fitness now, on the third floor of Portal West, where Pete has relocated. The gym is owned by two Swiss men—Hans Jorge Schallenberg and Christian Gafner—and for more than a month now, they have opened the gym’s doors for free to anyone wishing to use its premises, pending the final issuance of a permit—but also, in a sense, giving the casual gym bunny a chance to sample the place. What better advertising is there? (And being law-abiding Swiss people, they won’t let anyone pay the fee unless there is an official go-signal to start the business. It has been two months now. And I ask: is this how business can get strangled by the slowness of our bureaucracy?)

I have transferred because the gym is nearer where I live and where I work, and it is also newer, slicker, and wider than the last gym I attended. Sometimes those things do matter.

Almost every day, as much as my schedule can accommodate, I find myself there, waiting to take my turn at running the treadmill. Around me, there are the familiar sounds of people grunting, of metal plates making contact, of dumbbells being dropped on the cushioned floor… When I finally get to run, as the sweat trails across my face and everywhere else, I remember why I’ve been running the treadmill in the first place. Among other sacred places in life, gym was where you go to find yourself. For fitness, or for forgetting what pains you, this is where one kind of transformation can happen. And sometimes that is enough.

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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich