Tales of a Gym-Goer
School started last week and with it began Free Week — the time when the gyms I work for, Cooper and Glimmerglass Fitness Centers, offer free admission to all students, staff and faculty. Anyone can test out the classes and equipment, get their body measurements taken and speak with a personal trainer free of charge.
Sounds fabulous, right? Not if you’re a regular gym-goer. Just like most regulars hate going to the gym during January because of all the people with New Year’s resolutions, the employees and gym regulars at Cooper/Glimmerglass dread Free Week. Hundreds of people filing in and out throughout the day, body odor filling the air and so much sweat on machines it’s scary to even think about.
A co-worker of mine, Antonio Troina, decided to study those who only go to the gym during Free Week. Below are the details of his epic journey, the experiences he lived through and the emotions that ripped through him.
The vast amount of unspeakable atrocities that I have witnessed may haunt my memories for years to come. These so-called “students” that flock into the facility are the most barbaric and ruthless batch that I have ever seen. No one is safe, not even women and children, from these migrating sloths, or as the natives call them, the free-weekers. Luckily, I have found a safe haven behind this makeshift fortress — a common desk — in Glimmerglass.
Sometimes I feel like these free-weekers have no idea that I am studying them in an attempt to comprehend their abnormal behaviors. Maybe one day I will understand what it is to attend a gym for only one week and truly feel accomplished. Until then I must keep watching, knowing that only vigorous research may uncover the mystery that shadows this land.
This is an important expedition that the world needs to know about. I will not let you down.
As the third day of my expedition unfolds, I find myself questioning the events that took place in the Glimmerglass jungle last night. After getting somewhat accustomed to the strange behaviors of the free-weekers, I decided to take my chances and see if I could cohabitate. I disguised myself in the common free-weeker garb — a cutoff shirt and worn basketball shorts – and stood nervously in the middle of the free weight floor, which happens to be the most dangerous area of Glimmerglass during this dreaded week. At first, it seemed as though I was accepted as one of these free-weekers, but disaster struck soon after.
A larger individual, commonly known as a Grunter, grabbed some free weights and began slamming the weights on the floor. I tried to communicate with the Grunter, asking him not to drop the weights for the safety of others, and instantly my cover was blown. The Grunter’s face went from dumb confusion to a deep scowl.
I quickly looked around and realized that I had managed to grab the attention of the other free-weekers during this debacle. The silent agreement swept the room and the community isolated me as “The Employee.” I needed to make an escape, and quickly. Luckily for me, I found a vacant Expresso bike and peddled my way to safety.
I might not be so fortunate next time, but I will count my blessings each day.
Truthfully speaking, the catastrophic events of day three derailed me from my overall objective. Day four was filled with quiet terror that clouded my research, keeping me away from the gym as much as possible. But day five was a new day and I couldn’t let my supporters down, so I mustered up enough courage to grab a dry pair of sneakers, trek through the mountains of snow outside and find a spot among the swarms of people.
I needed to take another approach into learning the mindsets of these free-weekers because field work clearly was not the answer. I decided to study the female free-weekers to see where this route would take me. The best way to accomplish this? Observing their frequent celebration rituals which consist of sporadic stomping and jumping. The male free-weekers, I noticed, kept their distance from the mob of participants, muttering the word “Zumba” while shaking their heads in disapproval. Zumba? Maybe this would give me the answers I have been searching for.
Stationed at a vacant desk near the ceremonial dance floor, I anxiously waited for the festivities to start. The sounds of foreign instruments began to echo through the gym and a choreographed dance occurred. The more experienced individuals were closer to the front of the floor, dancing with as much style and grace as I imagine the art of Zumba can get. The individuals dancing in the back of the room, however, looked lost and somewhat scared. Oddly enough, they seemed to be enjoying themselves despite fumbling through each song.
The strangest discovery, however, revealed itself at the end of each song: the participants briefly huddled together to tell each other about how happy they all were to be there. It happened more than 10 times in an hour! Baffling…Maybe this quick exchange of emotion is part of the ritual needed to appease the Zumba gods? My research is expanding, although I’m not sure what answers I will find.
The brutal weather and sleepless nights during this anomaly known as Free Week have finally paid off. Though I only did my field work at this facility, I believe that this data has shed light on the common lifestyle of gym members and mapped out a portion of the psychology behind the minds of the free-weekers. Simply put, free-weekers like to roam around aimlessly, participating in foreign rituals and taking up people’s private spaces so that they can say they fit in their fitness quota for the year. One of the few questions that rises now is, where will these nomads go? Is it possible that these free-weekers can find other gyms and pollute them with their improper gym etiquette without memberships? Unfortunately, there isn’t much that I can do other than equip others with my newfound knowledge. This has been a very dangerous task for me, one that I wouldn’t have survived without proper training. For that, I must thank Brian Wallace, the fitness centers manager. Without his extensive experiences in many fitness centers, I would not have lasted one day in this jungle.
As I sign off, I hope that my efforts will help someone in times of fear or desperation. If you ever find yourself in any sort of situation, take a deep breath, look left and right, then grab a stationary bike. No one ever uses those anyway.
-Journal entries written by Antonio Troina and edited by Samantha Shelton. All photos by Samantha Shelton.