Ancient Gym

"What's the best gym that you have ever trained in?"

The Slippery Rock Barbell Club? World Gym of San Francisco? Cressey Sports Performance? The Bonny Lane Club? None of the above.

My childhood friend Keith lived approximately three miles up the road and through the woods from my home. His parents still live there, with a patch of huge boulders and rocky crevices less than 50 yards from the front door, and another similar "facility" less than one mile away.

How could anyone forget the remarkable features? I'm sure they have depreciated very little in thirty years, and I'm hopeful that a gym hundreds of thousands of years in the making will retain its wonder for a few thousand more.

The feel of the cool damp rocks and the smell of moss and wet leaves retains a prominent grip on the memory. Mountain laurel, ferns, hickory and chestnut trees adorned the areas immediately above and beside the crevices.

There were no instructions, no yellow lines or right angles. There were no rules, safety guidelines, competition, or thoughts on form.

But there was much training. There was jumping, climbing, lifting, carrying, and agility (chasing after and running from wildlife).

You have no idea what "speed and agility" training is until you've stirred up a nest of yellow jackets in rocky terrain. Some boulders were sloped enough to be navigated only with a heavy lean or on all fours.

Image result for PA yellow spotted woods salamander
There were crevices that often held snow into May, and in the summer were perfect air conditioners. Water lay at one end of these, full of tadpoles and newts. I recall one occasion of deadlifting (flipping a large rock) to reveal a few yellow spotted salamander.

Trees growing next to cliffs served as the perfect elevators between floors. Some rock walls were climbable. One, in particular, could be scaled only by use of a tree trunk that had been pushed from the forest floor above and wedged partway down a crevice.

For claustrophobia desensitization, the gym featured abutting boulders that formed a tunnel. A boy could get small and barely slide directly from one crevice to the next. I dreamt about being chased by a huge wolf and narrowly escaping through that crevice while the wolf peered through, knowing he would not fit. There was also a cave, perfect for hibernation, of which we had been warned. And so we took turns on who would peek in, risking their face being mauled by a bear.

And lastly, there were the leaps. There were leaps over narrow crevices of approximately 40 feet. A small jump is nerve-racking when the penalty of failure is possible death. There were drops from one rock to another, and long leaps over broad boulders. These offered a high degree of difficulty but little penalty of failure. This is how we learned about risk:reward in those days.

And the point of this jump/climb/lift down memory lane?

Keith had the opportunity to "train" nearly every day he was home. At most, I visited this facility once or twice per month. Keith outpaced me to the point that I could barely keep up with him. He was familiar with the pushing, pulling, climbing, leaping, and carrying, and he was fearless, strong, and agile.

We played nearly every season of sports together. Keith was always an inch taller, but he was also stronger and a bit faster. He could dunk a basketball, I believe as a sophomore, a full year before I even came close. Keith and I diversified in sports and in life. From what I know, he had a great soccer career. I do known that he was specifically recognized as having an extremely powerful leg.

It's as if he naturally, playfully drew ancient strength right from the soil, wood, and stone, and applied it to the modern world. And...to think that playground companies now design and construct fake boulders, with no right angles or yellow lines, with mild cliffs and crevices to explore...

This all came to mind while watching the kids play on the single fake boulder at Simpson Park in Mechanicsburg. I think we have a road trip coming...

 Simpson Park Single Fake Rock in mulch and curb, 2015

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