One Monday morning, in the late summer of 2011, I found myself in a former auto body shop that had been repurposed as a gym. There were no rows of elliptical machines, treadmills, or Stairmasters, just a raw space filled with raw-looking gym equipment: some pull-up racks, stacks of weights lining the wall, rubber bands and jump ropes, and pairs of gymnastic rings and ropes hanging from the ceiling. No one was training at the hour when I arrived, but within seconds of walking in the door I was greeted with a booming “Hello there.” A dead ringer for Andre Agassi gave me a warm smile and extended his hand. “I am David Paradiso. You must be Sandy Hill.”
I’d been living in Venice Beach, California, for about a year and half and had become convinced I would never find a gym like the one in New York City where I’d trained for many physically demanding adventures. Then my neighbor, the stand-up comedian Eddie Ifft, recommended Paradiso CrossFit. I’d never heard of CrossFit, but Eddie was in great shape, and nothing else had seemed close to what I wanted.
Paradiso looked much like the place run by a former gymnastics coach from Romania named Radu Teodorescu, with whom I’d trained for a decade in New York. He’d been called “the toughest trainer in town,” and used only old-school apparatus in his gym, like the Olympic barbells, kettlebells, and pig-iron pull-up bars I saw before me now.
Then I spied these words written large across an otherwise empty wall in David’s gym:
For all the resonance (and genius) I recognized in those 100 words, it had been more than a few years since I had even tried to emulate such a practice myself. I once enjoyed a reputation for being super-strong and unusually fit. While in my 30s and 40s, I could (and did) do 20 push-ups when I arrived at each high camp on Mt. Everest (18,000’, 20,000’, 24,000’, and 26,000’ above sea level). And I used to do one-armed pull-ups while hanging from the frame moldings in my pre-war New York apartment. But an eight-year marriage to a man who wanted to live between a ranch in the middle of nowhere and a Caribbean island, a divorce from him which ravaged my personal savings, a move across the country to an unfamiliar city, and months of sitting at my computer while editing a book had softened me. I was no longer the athlete I’d once been—and wanted to be once more.
Have you ever lost certain skills or conditioning over time? Did you accept it as the inevitable effect of age or changing circumstances, or did you resolve to fight to get it back? Share your stories in the comments; I’ll share the second half of my story in the next post.