GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — I have spent my life avoiding exercise (perhaps you've done the same) because I never seemed to have the time or necessary equipment. During my recent trip to Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, however, I met a man who has taken those excuses away from me for good.
Senor Jose del Carmen Yanez Ramon, owner of Gimnasio Yanez, is 52, square-jawed and slightly wrinkled from the sun. An orphan, he lived with various parents of friends on this island until he was 15.
Yanez then apprenticed himself to a diesel mechanic who knew engines as well as you know the alphabet, but who also lifted weights--of sorts. One day Jose Yanez took a partial clutch assembly--it weighed 80 pounds--and picked it up, like his boss said.
Then and there he decided to become a weight lifter.
There was no gym, and no money for a membership had there been one, so Yanez starting building his own equipment late at night after work--from leftover diesel-engine parts. He built a leg press using valve tops and springs from engines. He built a hack-squat machine using heavy reduction gears. At 19, he became a mechanic himself and worked on a shrimp boat. At sea for 30 days at a time, he would work 18 hours and then climb to the front of the boat and exercise into the night with barbells made from clutch assemblies and dumbbells made from massive iron pulleys.
Yanez married at 22, and for eight years, the back yard of his small wooden house was his gym. By 30, he had become a shrimp boat captain, and the lean-to gym displayed over a dozen pieces of equipment. The new triceps machine was made with 10-inch roller bearings in their casings. As his gym grew, his house grew. After each fishing trip, Yanez stopped by a supply shop and bought cement and blocks. "I wanted my children to have a real house," he said, "and I bought things every time I came from the sea."
He bought books too. He spent money on things that meant something to his family. "I suffered a lot as a child," he said quietly with no sense of self-pity, "and I wanted my children to have a profession." The children learned to love books, but they loved their father's weights too.
As did the neighbors. They helped build more equipment, and continue to do so 25 years later.
Work on the house has continued for that long too. The house is cream-colored, split-level and has five bedrooms. Next door is a sports clothing shop opened by the family in 1972. An adjoining health food shop, opened in 1984, is now the gym entrance. Membership is about $3 a month, a day's minimum wage in Mexico.
Senora Yanez is manager of gym operations and of the shops. Her daughter, Elsa, 21, studied in the United States and now works at the gym, when she is not studying to be a travel agent. Roberto, 24, is an engineering student in Merida. Arturo, 14, attends school in Ciudad del Carmen. Jose, 27, is a doctor. Juan Luis, 26, is an engineer.
Yanez is very proud of his life and his family. After several days of working out together and talking, he finally told me that he now is a partner in the Malinche syndicate--89 men who own 20 large shrimp boats.
As I type this, I, like you, am surrounded by things that can help me exercise. My dictionary weighs nearly 10 pounds. Simply flexing my biceps with it in my hand until fatigue sets in will build strength. My chair is a perfect place to do leg lifts. Lifting the legs off the floor, as if someone is vacuuming under them, will help tighten the stomach and strengthen leg muscles.
And steps are as good a place for aerobic work as any fancy treadmill machine.
Excuses. If they had weight to them, we'd all be in great shape, wouldn't we? Isn't it nice that Senor Yanez didn't know the meaning of the word?
Beginning 26th Week Waist: 43 inches 35 inches Right biceps: 12 3/4 inches 12 3/8 inches Flexed: 13 inches 13 1/2 inches Weight: 201 pounds 177 pounds Height: 6' 1" Blood Pressure: 128/68 120/64 Pulse: 64 64 Bench press: 55 130 Hunk factor: .00 .34