The Gift That Keeps On Giving…
When I was 13 years old, the book Pumping Iron was given to me by my mother. The book’s impact was immediate, and steered me in a direction in which I had no control; a lifetime of bodybuilding. Bodybuilding morphed into fitness, which ultimately led to a career. The book that Charles Gaines and George Butler assembled in 1974 was the foundation for my passionate life of exercise. In a more subtle way, and over a long period of time, Pumping Iron also gave me the foundations for a couple other passions. More on those later.
Though I opened that book daily and was obsessed by its pictures, I would not actually read Pumping Iron for nearly 5 years after it was given to me. Since I struggled with reading, I selected only brief passages, and only on occasion. Who needed words, when George Butler’s black and white photos told a story I was so hungry to see…?
I would spend the next few years of my life putting all my eggs in one basket, and clutching that basket. Lifting weights was the first discipline I would wholly commit to. If nothing else, from Pumping Iron, which led to pumping iron, I learned that I had discipline. In time it became clear that I was not so genetically gifted nor so determined, that competitive bodybuilding would be my dominion.
My Future’s So Dark…
Elsewhere in my life, I was less disciplined. By the time I was in my late teens I was a high school dropout with a bodybuilding habit, no skills, and no apparent future. The US military would be my only hope. To be considered for the military, I would have to take my GED. Being dyslexic, I was fearful that my struggles with reading would inhibit this process. To this point, I had never read a book of any kind from cover to cover.
So with a workout-like discipline, I chose to read an hour per day – no matter what, hoping my reading would improve. I selected Pumping Iron to read first because I had an interest in its content. If any book could help pry me from the pictures and place me into the words, this was going to be it. A funny thing happened on the way to The End…
Reading Pumping Iron was a chore. I kept at it, because I believed my future depended on becoming a better reader. Despite my struggles, there were occasional passages which kept me coming back for more – like a good golf shot on an otherwise fruitless outing. Charles Gaines crafted phrases that suited my imagination. Writing of the bodybuilder Pierre Van den Steen, Gaines wrote,
“The little Belgian whose chest looks carved from ice.”
Of Arnold Schwarzenegger performing incline bench presses, Gaines wrote,
“His biceps looked like two grapefruit sliding on greased tracks.”
Reading was a challenge, but images like those provided a sufficient reward. I completed the book, and felt that my reading actually had improved along the way. I would read more books prior to taking my GED, but none painted pictures the way that the words of Charles Gaines did.
It was some lucky combination of intuitive guessing and my improved reading ability which got me through my GED. I would go on to serve in the US Coast Guard. It was during my time in the Coast Guard when I began to write creatively. With Charles Gaines’ descriptive phrase still bubbling under my psyche, I felt like I had something to say, and was somewhat confident in my ability. This would be a short lived discipline though, as my writing time was a lesser priority than my exercise time. I would not write again creatively for another decade.
Workouts And Words…
My pre-dawn workouts, originally inspired by Pumping Iron, were once the most important part of my day. Those workouts now take place later in the day or in the evening, and though they are still important, writing is what does it for me now. Eventually writing took priority over lifting. For nearly 15 years now, I have been writing for one hour every morning, almost without exception, with workout-like discipline.
I like it when the words of others paint pictures in my head. I also enjoy using words to paint pictures of my own. Words, in that sense, are the most malleable medium we can use as form of creative expression. As I sip coffee in bed, with my mammal at my hip, and my 17” window to the world on my lap, I attempt to craft sentences like Charles Gaines did in Pumping Iron, knowing all the while that I am to Charles Gaines’ writing as I also am to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique – much less than, but I still have fun.
Walks And Wonder…
Oh, and there’s been one other influence Pumping Iron has had on me, which I have only now come to realize and appreciate…
Each morning, after I’m done with my writing session I walk through town with my dog. As Stroodle takes in the smells of the day, I have come to appreciate how well this town sets up in black & white. George Butler shot all the pictures for Pumping Iron with a Leicaflex SL2, and those photographs were nothing less than artistic.
I’m just a chimp with smartphone, and do nothing which I would consider artistic, but I have fun with it, as I have fun with writing and lifting, and that my friends explains all the picture above which have almost nothing to do with this story. Be well… rc
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