Glenn's nicely shaved face and nervous ticks while being filmed runs a tear down my eye as I write this blog that has already shown itself as one of the hardest blogs to write to date. Max Aita performing a no belt, no wraps and no hands 250kg back squat, then afterward joking around about our little pyramid scheme, inside joke we created after always getting approached constantly at Costco, made my home sick feeling grow to the point of pain. Donny Shankle telling his famous war stories on a hot summer day while we all sat around drinking our energy drinks as if the platform was a camp fire, and the resting chairs were our tent. Mullet jokes with Enderton, while Spencer danced on top of the jerk blocks. Kevin Cornell and his wise philosophy made every one's hard training day become a little bit better, while Rob's loud skipping laugh echoed throughout the gyms walls for all to hear.
At this point of the journey I have found myself resting on an old white pick up truck that Max must have forgotten to drive away with before the new school Cal Strength came through. It is no longer white and alive, now dead and brown from the constant slashing of the wind and dirt that never seems to let up. Sunny skies and rolling hills have turned into forgotten paths and cow pastures full of bones. A deserted world that once bloomed colors and energy, now quiet and calm it sleeps. I mustered up the strength to drag my legs down the Cal Strength channel even deeper, on the hunt for what started everything.....the very first video.
The gravel road turned a few sharp corners as it led me down its windy hill. The yellow sky is brighter than earlier, as black clouds splattered throughout like spilled paint. The dirt world is a desert waste land, but off in the distance there stands life, tall and proud, green and alive, beautiful and fulfilling. A tree, a single tree that my eyes followed while my feet stepped blindly. My hands out to the side to better balance myself from my feet stepping in all the wrong places. The wind seemed to die down, as true silence rang throughout the waste land. A broken wall that laid half in ruins tried desperately to stand in front of the tree. It looked as if the wall had been defeated, as the tree stood in victory. Was this wall once a part of the old Cal Strength? I mumbled to myself as my hand brushed the sad wall. Sad it truly was, I felt like at any minute the wall was going to ask me if it could be tall and sturdy like the tree in front of it. My heart rang out, smothering my home sick stomach, with now a stinging pain in my heart. My other hand grabbed the bark from the tree while my eyes stared down on the small path that ran between my legs, now finding myself resting and relying on both objects after a long and emotional journey. I then knew where I was. Lightning went off and the grey clouds darkened the yellow sky. Both my hands became free as my back hit the wall and my body slid down into the dirt that grew so familiar. My eyes closed with a fallen tear, as my fingers dug deep into the dirt creating a sharp pain from my finger nails being pushed back. The tree might as well have smiled at me and told me it has been too long. The wall had my back like it always had, and the little path that ran between both the tree and wall was the same, it was just without water running down and green grass surrounding it. My hands beneath the dirt felt a long piece of medal. My head turned to the hand that captured this treasure, and then my arm began to pick up speed moving back and forth trying to wrestle the dry dirt away to view what my hand was holding. A stubborn thing this piece of medal was, so stubborn I found myself standing up heaving with all my might. Soon after about 10 minutes of battle, the object uplifted from the graveyard of dirt, and showed itself. It was a medal chair. Bent and broken, used and then forgotten, lonely and left behind. I new I had to continue on my path down to the bottom of the deepest Cal Strength video. I must leave this memory behind me always keeping it deep down inside of me never to be forgotten. I must walk away from the once beautiful and magical place Donny and I once called our smoke break behind the gym.
I soon found myself down deep, deep where the landscape became blurry and out of focus from the small little camera Glenn used to film with. Before the beard, before the exposure, before the medals, before everything. Broken bars and broken straps that were once shinning stars of this time period. Old shoes with no laces, and echos from past lifts as screams and yells whistled with the wind. Dirt hitting empty coffee cups that made sounds of chatter about possibly putting a blog together, and the excited talk about coaching and clients, gold medal goals, and maybe one day the chance to be able to represent the Country. Dreams that were boiling like water on the stove. Videos that were mostly clips of single lifts that bloomed into multiple clips that soon became training videos. Retired YouTube views begged for more hits on the side of the gravel road like homeless bum's begging for drug money. A single number 1, was telling stories and bragging about how he was the first viewer ever, the first YouTube hit ever. He sat up high on a broken platform as he took credit for the start of the thousands and thousands hits to come. For he was the original hit, the first hit ever that created a wave of something that no one at the time ever thought possible. I broke a smile and waved at number one as I passed by, raising my head to show my respect and appreciation. I stumbled upon a blackberry that the dirt had not fully swallowed. Not the fruit, but the phone. I picked it up and then blew the dirt off the screen to get a better look. I knew right away that this was the phone of Dave Spitz. Keys completely worn out from the fast typing of exciting numbers his athletes just hit. Fast texting from the work he constantly put in to grow the life of his baby. The owner of Cal Strength, the boss man, the godfather, the leader, the man that made it all possible. The man that gave me a chance when I was a young troubled kid. The man that breathed air into my lungs and gave me a purpose. Memories of him yelling at me while front squatting, "There is no crying in weightlifting, Jon!" I wonder what he would yell at me now if he saw my face. Because right now I am not weightlifting. Maybe I will travel high up to the very top of the channel where a world of unknown and new faces live and return his phone. Maybe he dropped it while moving forward away from the old school waste land. I put it in my pocket, and traveled down deeper to where the videos became even more blurry, shaky, and innocent. I walked deeper down to the place where I was born.
Muscle Driver and the Attitude Nation seemed a million miles away. I started to miss my present life, but was too driven by the good old days to stop now. Martin Pashov told stories of how he wanted to be a soccer player in Bulgaria, but was never allowed to because they forced him to become a weightlifter. This always broke my heart. Anthony Grule was just a baby experiencing high school, and Caleb Ward was still a 105 plus. Coach Glenn only wore these gladiator sandals, or what we called, Jesus slippers. I picked them up from the curve of an empty tire, and put them in my bag to give to him once our paths ran into each other again. I was close to the bottom, I could feel it in the change of the air. The temperature started to drop dramatically, and the sky was now pitch black. The dirt scurried past my feet as every step I took crunched the gravel of moving rocks below me. I was far away from Donny's and my smoke break tree, and at this point it would be nice to have one with him from the nervous wreck I was under.
My feet met water, as a distant light house cast its light far in the distance. The wind was heavy, but the water was glass. My feet became bare as my hands became smooth. The dark only showed its face for the last hour, and now the sun was rising making the nighttime light house fade. The sun crept up my body warming my cold heart while the dirt turned into green grass. A boat was heading my way, but I couldn't make out who it was. It looked like two big people from one side of the boat almost completely tipped one way. How the boat didn't fall over was nothing but a miracle. I was startled from the out of no where comment by Pete standing beside me. I was startled, but more baffled on how he got there. Pete's Asian eyes lit up as he waved the boat down as if he was the kid in school begging to be called on. I looked over at Pete with an excited look on my face and asked him "Who is that Pete?" He replied with a look of confusion because of the fact I didn't know. "That's your new coach Glenn Pendlay and his athlete Caleb Ward!" He went on to tell me they made a long journey from Texas to get here, and how excited they were to be a part of the team. At this point I was waving with Pete, even jumping up and down. I looked over to Pete while half laughing - half yelling "Over here!" then asking "What team?" Pete looked back at me as his face became blank and more Asian than ever. "Team Cal Strength" Pete looked away while still keeping one eye on me as if he was unsure I was not losing my mind. I then realized I was home, back to the start, the very bottom of Cal Strength's YouTube channel. I made it, my journey was a success. I drew many tears, laughed many memories, and walked many lonely paths, but I made it. I looked back with a smile ear to ear at Donny sitting on the brand new chair behind the tall proud gym wall and yelled to him with everything I had, "Donny......Coach is here"!! Donny took a drag from his smoke while looking up into the bright green tree and then back at me, "Good brother, now tell em to hurry it's almost time to train brother". I waved my head back and forth while shooing him away with my hand as if to say that could wait 'til later, Donny. He chuckled while wiping some moss away from his white tank top. "Max! Come fast, coach is here!" To my surprise Max was already right next to me, beard and glasses in full affect, and responded with just a look beyond out to the boat. My chest became warm from my wife Jessica leaning up against me as my arms wrapped around her body, as if we were watching the sunset, but instead we were waiting upon two heavy set men that were almost drowning the boat. Caleb with a barbell, and coach with a small silver camera. Dave Spitz welcomed them both. I then startled in excitement to show both coach and Dave that I found their belongings on my journey to now. I held out the blackberry phone in one hand, and the Gladiator sandals in another, awaiting their good praises. But instead, getting funny looks in return as I soon noticed they already had these objects with them. I almost forgot that this interaction was only a memory, and that the only place to go from here is forward, back through the rolling grassy hills of San Ramon, tall tree of smoke breaks behind the gym, back past Max's bright white Chevy truck, brand new barbells and new shoes, and upgraded cameras to capture all of the memories and success that happened throughout the beginning of the Cal Strength days. All soon to one day turn back into the waste land of forgotten times and rustic memories. At this point view number one was not bragging on top of the broken platform, because view number one was not alive yet.
Coach Pendlay and Dave looked at the new and improved team with Donny off in the distance wrapping his knees with his famous knee wraps, and they both said at the same time......."Well....shall we train...?".
The rest is history.
A forgotten video from the old and original waste land
Cal Strength 2016