The feeling hits you before you enter the building. It’s the “clink” of metal plates slamming together. Yeah, that’s the sound that tunes me in to the social scene. Add in a mix of the most guttural noises that you can think of—not the pornographic type, but more like your favorite gore film. The next sense to connect is smell. A concoction of sweat and bleach wafts over you. There’s something glorious about this scent. If you aren’t used to it, it’s probably one of the more repugnant smells. But, for me, it takes me to a great place…to those early mornings and late nights when I used to drag my tired ass into the wrestling room as a teenager. The odor of the bleach that we used to clean the mats always lingered in the air. As I would open the door to descend the stairs to the practice room, that stinging smell would enter my sinuses about halfway down; becoming stronger as I marched closer to the entrance. It was my body’s wakeup call signaling that it was time to go to work. Throw in the sweat from the grueling workout—not just one workout, but the workouts of about 20 sweat drenched wrestlers in a small room—and there it is. That unmistakable aroma. It reminds me of learning self-discipline, pushing my body beyond my fathomed limits, excruciating pain, physical conquest, comradery, and the euphoria of success.
Approach a gym—any gym—and these sensations are the same. They cause all of these emotions of my past to rush through my memory in a sheer instant as I approach the gym floor. All of the pains, sacrifices, failures, and achievements of the last 32 years. No matter where the location, the sensorial connections between my body and the gym floor are always the same. This is what is great about gym culture. My research takes me to a variety of countries. It requires me to spend significant time in countless communities that are foreign to me. Add to this the fact that the structure of my research requires me to travel and work alone. Many times, I find myself feeling lonely or simply awkward. The feeling of being alone while eating at a restaurant, going to the movies, or grabbing a few beers at a bar is something that I have learned to deal with, but with which I am never fully comfortable. The gym, however, is a sanctuary. A place where I know that I can fit in. A good workout has no language barrier…it has no true home. The only language that matters is the language of movement. For me, it is easy. Step in. Go to work. Let my body talk. My movements—inflected upon my body through years of experience—will open the doors to the gym community and earn the respect of those people inside. This is what I think about as I approach the entrance of a new gym. I hear it. The slamming of metal plates. The grunts of pain and exhaustions. The steam radiates from the cracks between the doors. It’s at this point that I know that I am in a familiar place.