Blake Snow

content advisor, recognized journalist, bodacious writer-for-hire

As seen on CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, Wired, Yahoo!, BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal
It looks like you're new. Click here to learn more.

To the stranger who reminded me that the human body can do hard things

Photo: Lindsey Snow

Photo: Lindsey Snow

The young man was hiding something. Perhaps unknowingly, but he was still hiding something.

He had spiked hair with an Archie look to it, albeit dishwater blonde instead of bright. A little under six feet tall, he wore an oversized t-shirt and basketball shorts like something out of the ’90s—two sizes too big.

He was pigeon toed, around 175 pounds, and with a case of mild acne. I’m guessing he was 20, give or take a few years.

Why was I so concerned with this guy’s looks, especially as a heterosexual man in a public gym?

I’ll tell you why. I watched him complete more than a dozen repetitions of 10 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 10 squats in rapid succession. That’s over 120 pull-ups, 120 push-ups, and 120 squats in less than five minutes. And not those pansy, stinted motions people often take. I’m talking full motion, legs straight, no short-cuts. The guy didn’t stop for a single second between intervals. I was panting just watching him from a distance.

What was he hiding under his baggy clothes? I can only imagine a totally shredded physique. But I wasn’t so impressed with that as I was with his exceptional mental resolve.

You see, since breaking my back again, I’ve faithfully frequented the gym three times a week for four months. In that time, I’ve witnessed a lot of phoned-in exercise (myself included) and very few impressive workouts.

At the gym, a lot of groupthink and “going through the motions” take place—not as much sweating as you would expect. The work is better than nothing, I relent. But the human body is rarely challenged or tested there.

This man, on the other hand, was inspiring. Not only was he attempting exhausting work, he was actually doing it. As if he were exercising in a vacuum, paying no mind to the light work taking place around him. Playing by his own incredibly demanding rules and succeeding.

I was impressed. I’ve never seen a performance like it. That he was awkward-looking only made a better story.

This man doesn’t know it, but his extradinary example affected me. He reminded me that the human body can do hard things. He motivated me to introduce pull-ups into my workout.

As of this week, I can do four, maybe five pull-ups—if I cheat and pump my knees to build upward momentum.

Only 115 more to go. Well, 355 if you count the other drills.