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The Best Gym Membership I’ll Ever Have

by Aaron Dorksen

It started with a set of sand-filled weights, a small bar, and a bench bought from Sears in the 1970s. Now, more than thirty years later, it’s the stuff of legend – at least in our family and among our hometown friends. I’m talking about the weight room in my dad’s basement.  At 5-foot-11, he didn’t like when his weight climbed to a “soft” 210 pounds, so he bought those Sears weights, which had Ted Williams’ signature stamped on them.

I made my first contribution to the weight room at about age 10, when my doctor said it would be okay for me to lift light dumbbells and do push-ups and sit-ups – but that I should put off heavier lifting until I started puberty. The pair of eight-pound Wilson dumbbells I eagerly picked out are still down there. They were the first step on the path to me getting big.

From then on, more and more stuff appeared in dad’s weight room and he became the owner, manager, and most consistent customer of what he named “Old Iron Gym.”

Dad used to squat with some impressive weight and he soon saw his poundage shrink into a solid 180-pound frame. The tattoo on his arm popped out when he did curls.  He taught us and our friends the basics of working out and took a lot of pride in seeing us grow.

The personality and character of the basement is unmatched for me. It saw a peak for use in the 1980s and early 1990s when my brother, sister, and I were in high school and college. My brother and I lifted by ourselves, with our dad and each other, and with friends. A lot of friends.

(My mom and sister worked out down there, too, but they chose times when the place wasn’t infested with “smelly boys.”)

My dad told me recently one of his best memories ever is coming home from work in the city at night and hearing the weights clanking away and music blaring in the basement. Neat.

We soon passed him in the poundage we were pressing and lifting as we blossomed into successful varsity athletes, but he kept working hard at his own pace.

Today there are lots of different kinds of apparatus, ranging from an Olympic weight set and bench to dumbbells, kettlebells, and Indian clubs. There’s a hip sled, squat rack (of course), an exercise bike, and there’s a collection of weights from dozens of different manufacturers hanging as decorations on the walls.

On the other side of the staircase there’s boxing equipment – a heavy bag and a speed bag. A small corner on that side actually looks like other people’s basements, with boxes of stuff like Christmas decorations and unused kitchen-ware.

Now that my brother and I live out of town, we still make it a point to get in as many reps as we can down there if we have time on visits home. Sometimes we get so nostalgic being down there again that we get sidetracked telling old stories, but no one seems to care.

Today, as he approaches the 70s, our dad still works out regularly in the old basement. He might go weeks or months without using certain equipment, but he’s always consistent in his training. A big lesson he taught me is that changing things up is the key to staying fresh – and avoiding injuries.

I work out in a club gym nowadays and have trained in many other impressive high-tech locations. But there’s absolutely no place in the world I’d rather work out than in the Old Iron Gym and I know my brother, sister, and mom feel the same way. Thanks dad, for the best gym membership I’ll ever have.

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