Weight Lifting and Loss: Finding Literal, Physical Strength Through Death

Liz and Bobby
Liz and Bobby

–By Liz Wayne

I have this love hate relationship with lifting. I love it because I hate running. I hate it because I love not exercising. But alas, my body is not the type that stays looking great without exercising. Losing weight had more than aesthetic value, I have a family history of high blood pressure and diabetes and I knew that if I didn’t control my weight it would become an issue later in life. I had tried numerous diets and I had started and stopped going to the gym multiple times.

In the end, my biggest weightlifting inspiration for lifting was Bobby. He was 6’4’’ and 370lbs when I met him. He valued his strength but he was serious about dieting or training. He was a gentle giant.

Something changed in him. One summer he did a Velocity diet. He lost 50lbs in one summer by eating only one solid meal a day and protein shakes for breakfast and lunch. He was noticeably different ever since then. He became obsessive about training himself, making himself into a stronger person. I was his training partner. And his test dummy. For some reason, Bobby was really excited to be able to workout with me and it was infectious.

We developed a routine. Waking up at 6:30am. Breakfast of veggie omelet, bacon, blueberries, and tea. In the gym by 8:00am. It was a routine that guided my life, gave me extra purpose in waking up so early. I still hated the gym. I never quite “loved” the pain of lifting but I could tell it was doing wonders for my health. And I loved doing this with Bobby.

Bobby was a demanding trainer. I remember one of my first “sessions” with him. On my last set, I took the bar and loaded it with 45lb pounds on each side. I attempted to pick it up but before I could he stopped me and added 25 more pounds to each end. I looked at the now 185lbs with the fear that I might break my back but I pick it up nonetheless. I checked my posture in the mirror, looking for the neutral spine that I need to do this back squat properly—I jokingly get distracted by my own ass in the air, hoping it would lighten Bobby’s mood. He smiled but told me to hurry up. Taking a deep breath, I slowly crank out 8 reps. He says “good” and points at the next exercise. As I predicted, I didn’t walk straight for a week. Turtles and newly-walking babies were faster than me. When napkins or pens fell to the ground I left them there. Sometimes he would look at me and say I was overreacting, that I couldn’t possibly be that sore. I just rolled my eyes, picked my battles. The third day was the worst because of the delayed onset muscle soreness. But I was surprised to find that going into the gym again did help relieve my soreness. Bobby had this way of pushing your performance beyond what you thought was physically possible. He knew it and it made him really smug, but I loved him for it.

Over time, I didn’t need him to watch over me lifting and he also began to train other people or become too engrossed in his own challenging routine. I decided not to let him be my trainer because having my boyfriend be hyper-critical of my diet and exercise 24-hours a day wasn’t wearing well for me. I wanted to like him at the end of our sessions. It worked out nicely though because he taught me everything I needed to know and he was beginning to train those around him. News of his training successes were spreading and people were more willing to try his diet and exercise tactics ben cause they knew it would have results. Soon he was training an army of women as well as a few secret clients who didn’t want people to know they had caught the spirit. Bobby was a firm believer that everyone should do weightlifting and that weightlifting was the cure for all medical and mental evils in the world. His aims weren’t completely altruistic however, Bobby had hopes of making money off training one day and he knew women were more likely to hire a trainer than men were. He was building experience and clientele. Every morning at 8 he had a group of 2-5 women following him, learning how to do squats and deadlifts. Despite his new pursuits, I always knew he was watching me. I would catch him smiling at me, shaking his head at me when I start squatting unnecessarily in his direction.

When bobby died, I tried but I couldn’t force myself back into the gym.
I had always assumed—no prayed—that his memory would make me want to be in the gym and make me feel motivation. It did just the opposite. There were too many memories. So much of my lifting experiences was associated with him. I found myself looking to the side envisioning him smirking at me. I half expected him to walk over all-business to correct my form and walk away without another word which was his thing. Sometimes the memories were so overwhelming that I couldn’t concentrate on the lift. I began to feel negatively about myself because I couldn’t reach my own goals. My whole routine was gone. The gym made me tear up. People kept telling me how happy they were to see me back and it made me feel even more hollow. I was back but I hadn’t accomplished anything. Protein shakes made me gag. The motivation I had for getting up so early was gone. I watched my body lose all the muscle I’d spent the last few years building.

The gym became one of those places that was just too painful to visit and I couldn’t afford to feel that way. In some ways, getting back into a gym routine was really like starting a new life. I had to learn independence in the gym. To make the experience about me and not about “what he would have wanted”, a line I’d heard too many times. To use the knowledge that he gave me but to separate him from. Bobby taught me well. He gave me a great foundation.
I switched gyms. I made my goals small. I would need to build up to the strength I had before and there was no use trying to pretend like nothing happened. I rewarded myself for making it to the gym at all because I needed the positive encouragement. I am very much still on the journey, but I know I’ve come so much farther than I was two years ago.

I met Liz Wayne at a media event and we got into a discussion about women being afraid to lift weights. She then told me this touching story and agreed to write it.