The door still sticks. The remnants of an old office building gutted and glued together with cheap carpet squares. I admire their contorting patterns, the knicks and stray fibers curling about like homeless hairs caught in an adolescent brush, or their scaled arrangements diving under another tile—an alligator committed to a death roll. Every day, at 4 o'clock, I fumble feebly with keys, desperately trying to unlock the door before my fingers give way to finite bits of food I've managed to hold.

I am the first one in and the last to leave. A dull current forged forth through elderly overheads, sputtering on as the switch is flipped, like the barely contained coughs of an old beggar. There is a dusty aroma within the walls. The smell of passed time and reconstruction of wood reassembled and repurposed is not so much different than I. The cracks in the drywall, running in different directions across the cutaway, split into multiple mirrored breaches, create ravines my eyes follow and trace. I often find myself wondering just how long I have left. How much time is still needed before I'm gone? Just which one, between the two of us, believed we could turn simple words whispered in excitement into vast trenches of triumph. In less than a year, we went from absolutely nothing to absolutely everything.


They stumble in one by one, the dedicated few, some from work, others from class, all here for the same reason. They find peace in this act in some form or another, and I as well, cringing at the sounds my bones and ligaments now make. I used to think this was it, that I needed above all else to be the absolute best one day, a dominating presence in a hobby sport no one knows about. Quite de-glorifying when you say it out loud. I roll those harsh truths over and over again in my mouth like a wad of gum void of any flavor. First comes the bands, the half-assed stretching, and tiresome rotations; external, internal, external, twist, push, pull, lie on all fours like a dying dog giving its last howl of bereavement.

Then comes the assortment of creams, oil-infused masquerades, aimed to banish whatever ails me at the particular given moment. The thick roll-on, the smears and globs of balm, the uncomfortable singe of cayenne, and along with it the anxiety of getting it in one’s eyes. Finally, this infinite time loop of motions ends with me gravitating towards whatever bar will cause the least amount of upset to nagging injuries, or just pure lack of mobility. I act like it's going to be surprised at what I choose, but it never is. It's always something with a curve, always something that doesn’t give my bad shoulder hell. All of this, and for what?

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But somewhere, behind the TV, moved from the last meet we held here, is a framed photo of a young boy who just won his first national championship. They told him he might never walk again and that his speech would get better. With time, he would maybe even play sports again one day…maybe.

And near the photo is a large oil painting, a birthday gift, all the way from Nigeria. It's of me with a burly beard standing proud in an old dust-covered barn. A place I made for all of us, and a man I barely knew two years ago, handing it to me that night, watching his eyes light up as I held it in my hands.

And in the far room, my first meet banner as state chairman is still screwed to the wall by its multiple metal grommets. It's here after the last deadlift, a crowd of members, registered lifters, and USPA officials watched me cry into a microphone, unable to repay the gratitude and overwhelming support I had felt.

There's a singlet on the wall, and tacked to it is my National championship medal. And somewhere, there's a photo of Dave Tate sitting a row behind me in Ohio (2019), smiling as my wife watched me roll back and forth desperately trying to pull on a deadlift sock. I had strained a glute a week out, and Equi-Block was the aid of choice. Finally standing erect, I walked past him, tub in hand, and he calmly chuckled, "Don't get that on your dick." It was honestly really good advice.

These sensations always fill me when the door swings open and no light has been altered, and blackness consumes the inside framing of the animal festooned windows. There is no beginning and end, no start or finish, just a boundless chasm of opportunity in this instance. I stare into it, a pack of wild boys still subconsciously nipping at my heels awaiting the night's lift, almost barreling me over at the entrance. I would turn and be aggressive, cut deep, sharp looks of impatience, but I never did. Their enthusiasm excites me with a brief flash into the past of my younger days, so eager and new to discover what simple metal objects could do. It seems like a lifetime ago.

Yet, somewhere littered amongst the vinyls adorning the walls are signatures of the first few that saw me give way to late nights, money I didn't have but kept promises I should have never been able to afford to keep. Sometimes my fingers trace their names in the dark before the final flickering of the florescent expenditures.

It's been one year since I opened this gym, and the door still sticks.

Travis Rogers currently resides on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he owns and operates a USPA training facility, The Bear Cave. He also works as a graphic designer, 10th and 12th grade ELA teacher, and is active in the community with his 501(c)3 charity organization for underprivileged children. He is the USPA Maryland and Deleware state chairman, a national level referee, and a meet director for the surrounding area. Travis has been in the top-10 198 rankings for the last three years in both sleeves and wrapped divisions.