I was completely burned out, mentally, emotionally, financially and physically. I decided I was never going back to gymnastics. After training for the past three years nearly 20 hours per week and gymnastics consuming most of my thoughts, I quit. There was a huge void. I surely would have drank myself to death, after all was nothing stopping me now. Thank God I had some other healthy influences. Although never an athlete, my boyfriend at the time was a health nut and into weight lifting. He was 19 and far too old for me, but he was studying to become a chiropractor and earning his prerequisites at Clinton Community College. He asked me if I wanted to go to his gym and work out with weights.
I remember walking into this gym called “Body Works” with its somewhat tattered blue
carpeting, barbells, metal dumbells, and posters of famous body builders up on the wood-
paneled walls. Arnold was there of course, Franco Columbo and some other early greats. The ones that captivated me the most were the images of Rachel McLish and Corrine “Cory” Everson. Female body building then bears no resemblance to what it is now. These women were gorgeous, certainly strong and definitely disciplined. They were my new heroines.
As far as the female population at Body Works, it was just the owner’s wife, me and the posters. The rest of the clientele were small town cops and a few dedicated body builders, all men. The owner, Ron Regenweather, was super nice and he put me at ease working out with the testosterone-fueled clientele.
The first session I could see a hodge-podge of what would be considered real equipment now and a bunch of makeshift stuff too. I mean, people have been lifting since the Stone Age right? I even saw coffee cans with concrete poured into it with a stick jammed in each end. This place was old school. Except then, it was new school. It! Was! Awesome! I loved it right away. I didn’t know how to use most of the equipment, makeshift or not, so I needed a teacher.
Ron grabbed a broomstick and we started doing torso twists to warm-up. He had this whole
program written out for me. It was my first personal training session ever. I already had these massive gymnastics legs, so I was off to a strong start. But this was a new experience and because I’d grown so fast in the previous couple of years, my upper body was not proportionally as strong as the rest of my body. I did bench press the first day, aka “benching” for the experienced weight lifters. He marveled at how strong I was. My upper body wasn’t strong for a gymnast but it was freakishly strong for a regular, teenage girl. It was interesting bench pressing for the first time. Ron was there spotting me so it mitigated some of the danger, which of course I didn’t like( the mitigated danger, that is). But being under that weight and having to push it off of you, your muscles shaking and burning was something I completely loved.
Ron developed my beginner program and instructed me for the first couple of weeks every time I worked out. After that, I followed this program on my own. I did get a lot of help from the police that worked out there, they would spot me or instruct my form. I think they took an
interest in my success. It didn’t hurt that I could do a bunch of exercises from gymnastics
conditioning that they had never even seen. I remember this blue metal chin-up bar. I would
use it to do a bunch of crazy ab exercises like V-ups, windshield wipers, L-hangs, etc. V-ups
involve hanging from the bar with your legs straight down, then with your legs completely
locked-out straight and toes pointed of course, you raise your toes towards the bar. In
gymnastics conditioning you do this extremely slowly, and then as fast and explosive as you
can. Windshield wipers are similar except you keep your toes by the bar and go side to side like the name suggests. It only sounds bad ass because it is!
These big strong guys 10-15 years older than me would try this conditioning and frankly, I would put them to shame. All of my teammates could’ve done the same thing, but it was still fun to watch. (I’m snickering as I type this.) I have to admit there’s not much I love more than beating a man in a physical endeavor. Most of them act like they are automatically better at stuff than you just because they are guys. The smarter ones don’t believe this of course.
Ron was one of the smart ones. He knew so much more than I did about conditioning and
weight training. He helped me more than I will ever be able to measure. I don’t remember him ever charging me because I undoubtedly couldn’t have afforded it then. When I began training there, it was long before the fitness industry was as prolific as it is now. Ron was surely as creative as possible with the equipment we did have available. That was a great lesson I learned from him and being raised in Clinton. You don’t need the best equipment to get better. It reminds me of what’s been known as the Rhonda Schwandt story in my home for the past four years. Rhonda Schwandt was one of the best vaulters in gymnastics that the United States has ever produced. She was a national champion on the Elite level in 1978. She grew up in a gym that was so small that the vault runaway was compromised. She had to run down three steps to push off the wall as she turned a corner and then finally got to take off down the drastically shortened runway to punch off the board to thrust herself over the vault and into the sky. Practicing like this must have helped her because when she competed in meets and got to run in a straight line, she could fly! She most certainly would’ve been an Olympian if it weren’t for the 1980 boycott.
This little anecdote became a story in our home because one day when my son was about 11 he complained to me, “I can’t hit the ball because I need a better bat like David. You know, a good one, a $400 bat.” I’d like to think I calmly told him that maybe later we could consider the budget and if we deemed it necessary we’d buy him the bat. The conversation actually went more like this:
“YOU ARE SMOKING CRACK IF YOU THINK I’M BUYING AN 11 YEAR-OLD A $400 BAT! I’ve never even played baseball but I’ll tell you how to make your bat work better! Get stronger, do push ups, do your drills, go to practice, shut your mouth and listen to your coach.Seth, this is the first time you are hearing this story but it won’t be your last.” I then unleashed the Rhonda Schwandt story on him. He never got a $400 bat but he does know how to work hard.
The equipment at Body Works wasn’t great but the instruction was. Four months later when gymnastics season started up again in the November of my junior year, I completely geeked out about it and went back. I was able to pick up where I left off from the months of weight training I did, ultimately saving my gymnastics career. If I had broken my wrist and stopped exercising entirely, I would not have been able to get back into the swing of things. My muscles would have weakened in that time and I probably would have dropped out again. The gym in Moline was still without a coach, so I was content to just do high school gymnastics with all of my teammates I grew up with. I was very enthusiastic to be back at gymnastics again. The entire team was all looking forward to a very successful season after we narrowly lost the State Championship the year before. We had one goal, and that goal was to win.
*Portions of this text written with the assistance of Pauline Shypula