The Anchor

Claudia was a one-on-one personal training client of mine at our old gym.

I’d love to say that when I met her I had a sense that there was something different or unique about her situation but nothing could be further from the truth.

We first met at a small cafe table at the front of the facility. We discussed goals (she wanted to lose some weight and get stronger), my credentials (“you look like you workout, I trust you,” was her response to my asking if she wanted to hear about my background) and schedule (her work required that she train at 8PM, the gym’s last available training session).

None of this was remarkable. And as she was referred to me by her co-worker, who I was also training, I didn’t see any need to dig deeper. I helped her friend get results, she also wants results, see you at 8PM on Monday.

Claudia always arrived a few minutes late and always trained hard. She talked very little, which, quite honestly, is very unusual for a personal training client. But given that she was my last session at the end of a 15 hour work day, I welcomed the silence as I contemplated how long I’d get to sleep that night before I had to turn around and get back for a pre-sunrise session the next morning.

Over the course of her time with me, Claudia did see some solid results. She was getting stronger, her body composition improved, she was getting much better at executing the movements and she was embracing hard training without complaint. Everything you can hope for from a trainee.

On a particular mid-Summer evening, Claudia and I had the entire training floor to ourselves (people tend to slack on their training a bit in the Summer) when I decided to finish the session with some challenging Prowler work.

It was then, at about 10 minutes to 9 on a July evening, halfway down the long rubber-tiled lane reserved for sled work, seemingly out of nowhere, Claudia broke.

She collapsed to the ground and started weeping uncontrollably.

These are the moments, as a trainer, that make your butthole tighten up just a little bit. Was she hurt? Did I make the training too hard? Did I say something off-color or inappropriate without even knowing it?

I looked around for an empathetic face, but it was just her, me and the front desk guy who was fully lost in his world of headphones and computer screens.

By now she was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the gym with her head in her hands. Good news was that this is not a position assumed by an injured person. Bad news was that I still didn’t know what the fuck was going on.

After what seemed like an eternity, I put my hand on her back and asked her if she was okay.

For the next 20 minutes, Claudia revealed how, just prior to the start of training with me, she had lost her husband to a short but devastating bout of bone cancer. About how her life had been turned upside down. How all the dreams they had had now vanished and all the other horrors that come along with losing your spouse at what must seem like the beginning of it all. These are my words, not hers, but you get the picture.

I just sat there with her. Managing to blurt out the occasional “I’m sorry” but mostly just letting her let it all out. Sometimes the training isn’t about the training at all.

We both stood up and after she wiped the final tears away, we didn’t hug. She didn’t apologize or thank me. But she said something that I will never forget.

“This training has made all the difference for me,” she said. “The weight in my hands and on my back has grounded me in a way that nothing else could.” With that she turned, went to the locker room and went on her way.

When the weight of an anchor is too great it will unapologetically and unrelentingly drag you to the bottom of the sea.

But when it’s proper, it creates a balance that will moor your ship to the earth. Allowing you a momentary reprieve to look out, take a breath, contemplate the journey and give you appreciation for simply being alive.