GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — I have wanted hunky shoulders and arms--really wanted a whole new body--longer than I want to admit.
That nagging desire started with a patch I had my mother sew on a shirt when I was in first grade. It was a large red "S" purchased at Dupree's five-and-dime.
I collected Superman trinkets and comic books avidly until I got that patch. It wasn't the beauty of muscles that attracted me to the Man of Steel, but the fact that he was strong and invulnerable to bullies. I had felt frail and, worse, had recently drawn the attention of a bully named Lawton.
Lawton didn't beat me up much, but he threatened to all the time, occasionally using his right center knuckle to raise a knot on my arm. He constantly stood too close to me, reminding me that he could invade my territory at will. If a very young person can feel adult impotence, I felt it then.
The feeling was especially strong the first day I wore my Superman "S." I ran to the small wooded area where Lawton and his friends held their secret meetings, hoping that they would accept me, knowing that belonging to the group would protect me.
Punched in the Stomach
But the boys were not impressed with my shirt. Lawton laughed first, and then he punched me once in the stomach, at the very bottom of the "S." I buried the shirt that day and gave my comics and trinkets to a much smaller kid.
After that, I decided muscles and strength were not as important as personality. I smiled a lot. By the third grade I was glib, friendly, very gregarious, and by the end of that year I was elected to my first office. Vice president of Mrs. Dasher's home room may not be very important to the outside world, but to me it was a heady, powerful position.
My body said very few negative things to me for several years, until puberty arrived on a dark horse, or more precisely in the person of Lawton again. He asked my first great love, Felicia, to attend the seventh-grade dance with him. When I had asked her, Felicia, perhaps unconsciously, glanced up and down my body and begged off. She also looked at Lawton's body, slowly, and said yes.
Looking back, I think that incident was pretty much an epiphany for me. I began several lifelong habits. I learned to dress to be comfortable with my arms and shoulders. Long-sleeved shirts rolled up just right gave an impression that muscles might be lurking under the folds. Short-sleeved shirts, when they had to be worn, couldn't have elasticized cuffs.
I avoided sports that required performing in front of others and became a water-skier, scuba diver and, occasionally, a sky diver--things that were a little exotic and conversationally interesting. But I could never put away my dream of shoulders and arms.
I tell you all of this because of an incident that happened today with Henry Charlton, the World Games posing champion, at my gym at the YMCA. Henry's shoulders and arms, as massive as my former belly, were built with free weights. My workout essentially involves free weights, too.
Free weights are like the pieces of an iron jigsaw puzzle. Our gym set has hundreds of them. At first, I didn't even try to remember the names of each piece or begin to understand the importance of the clipped phrases that make up gym dialect. I used instead a drawn-out, but logical-sounding, approach when I needed something.
"Pardon me, but could you hand me that short, crooked bar over there and two of those medium-size weights?" People looked at me as if I were from the moon. Henry, the champ, didn't look at me at all.
As I calmed down, the sentences shortened. And today, after five weeks, I even got up the nerve to drop some gym talk to the champ himself: "Hey, man, hand me that Z bar and some quarters, will ya?"
Henry didn't blink an eye as he reached for the Z bar. I was one of the boys getting ready to do some curls, accepted in a very private club, one much better than Lawton's.
Henry looked at my arms before handing me the 25-pound "quarters." He picked up some 35-pound weights instead.
"You look like you're ready to pump some heavy iron now," he said.
I have always dreamed of hunky shoulders and arms. Right then, probably for the first time in my life, I actually thought my dream could come true. After all, Henry knows a serious weight lifter when he sees one.
Why lift weights?
Aside from the change in your looks, a proper weight program can take away certain back pains, dramatically increase your strength, and, most importantly, help slow down the inevitable loss as we age of whatever muscle tissue we all have.
Weight lifting also places stress on the bones, which strengthens them. Strong bones don't break as easily.
Lifters fall into two categories: Body builders are primarily interested in the aesthetic changes in their bodies. Power (or Olympic) lifters are primarily interested in strength changes.