The gym was run by a West Indian with the fine name of Lincoln Webb, who’d been a good athlete in his youth and whose workouts still put the young footballers and basketballers who used the gym to shame.
Lincoln introduced me to the exercise machines and the weights and devised a fitness program for me. He was a skilled masseur and a fund of interesting stories. I dedicated my novel The Black Prince to him. He was the model for Wesley Scott, the trainer in my Hardy books, and was the source of the comment Scott made when first encountering a less than fit Hardy: ‘Those are executive hamstrings.’
I was hooked and joined a gym immediately at all the places we moved to over the following years – an island in Moreton Bay, Byron Bay, back to the South Coast, Newtown and Dulwich Hill.
I enjoyed the break from reading and writing and the physicality. I met some interesting people, including a private detective, an ex-Botswanan colonial policeman and his Australian army major domo, a disc jockey and others.
Work in the gym – a mild routine of treadmill, machines and light weights – improved my golf and when I was most regular in gym attendance, on the island, I played at my best with a couple of trophies to prove it.
The exercise was beneficial to my diabetic control and helped me to recover quickly from my quadruple heart bypass. One of the gyms had a spa, which was a special pleasure. Generally speaking, my only complaint about gyms was the music – too much plastic pop, not enough of that old time rock’n’roll.
Back in Sydney five or six years ago things had changed. Money was short, grandchildren were arriving and I was busy. To be honest, these are excuses – the truth is I’d become sick of going to the gym. Just as, years before, I’d become sick of jogging. For a good many years I was up at sparrow-fart running between the Illawarra townships or around the streets of Glebe and Leichhardt until I simply couldn’t face it any more.
So I had a non-gym fallow period of some years. I occasionally thought of resuming but that was brought to a halt by the street accident that broke my leg and smashed my elbow. By then I was less fit than I had been, older, and the leg took time to recover.
Cut to now. The leg is sound; I have the security of a pension and I’m writing less. Not exercising means injecting more insulin and that means weight gain. I read and watch sport and films on TV, but I’ve often been at a loose end and bored. It was time.
I’ve had a month at my new gym and am encouraged. The Fitness First facility in Newtown is an improvement on those I’ve known in the past – better equipment and associated services, well-trained personnel eager to help. All better except for the music – you can’t have everything.
The big thing about benefiting from going to the gym is to be consistently regular in attendance, not to duck and dive, but also not to obsess. Arnold Schwarzenegger says that when he rocks up to the gym and really doesn’t feel like a workout he goes home. I don’t imagine it happens too often for Arnie and I hope it doesn’t happen much for me.