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2/22/2012 10:29:06 AM - Steve Pulcinella
Paying my Dues

I quickly outgrew my little basement gym by the time I was fourteen and there was only one real gym in our town, Ed Ryan’s Gym. Most of you young people that are reading this that have grown up in the era of the corporate health club chain could never comprehend this place. This was a dirty, little, hole in the wall that was located in the basement of a barber shop underneath a railroad bridge and was well known in the area. It had the old 1970’s paneling on the walls, a water stained dropped ceiling, one window that has been broken for forty years and torn up carpet remnants over a busted up concrete floor. Most of the equipment, other than the old, squeaky Universal machine, was homemade and about forty years old and rusted, the bars were so ancient that every bit of knurling had long since been smoothed out and replaced with a layer of rust. The gym had a constant stench of mold to it from the years of sweat and poor ventilation but we didn’t care, we thought it was awesome!

Ryan’s was well known, not only because it was the only gym in our area but its where Ron Teufel, an IFBB pro bodybuilder and Joe Klecko, hall of fame, NFL sack specialist with the Jets both trained. To me and my cellar dweller buddies this was the big leagues, it was a man’s gym and an “only the strong survived” kind of place. I remember being scared shitless the first time me and two of my friends walked down into this musty dungeon. It looked like that gym that Apollo Creed took Rocky to in Rocky III, if you were the new guy you just stood out. The owner Ed Ryan, an eccentric guy to say the least, signed us up and took our money, we were now officially members of this mad house. The owner then took me aside and said “Well Bull, what are you looking to do in here?” (He called everyone Bull) I looked around the room and spotted the biggest guy in the gym at the time, he was around six foot tall and 260lbs, big arms and terrible skin from the years of being bombarded with acne. He was the big gun in the gym at that time and his claim to fame was that he could belly whomp a 405lb bench press on a good day. I told the owner “See that guy over there, I want to be bigger and stronger than him by the time I’m nineteen.” I think Ed Ryan was shocked and laughingly said “Whoa take it easy Bull, it takes a lot of years of training to look like that”.

His concerns didn’t bother me nor slow me down, I was just a kid, and the new kid at that, but I hit the weights hard and I was growing and getting stronger. Much like a lot of old school gyms this place had a definite pecking order and I knew I was on the bottom of that list. The older lifters, at first, would publicly mock and ridicule me and my cousin Dave’s relentless and sometimes haphazard style of training. These losers had obviously never learned the important lessons of hugeness that are in Arnold’s book.

Ryan’s was all men, no frills and no supervision whatsoever, Ed Ryan was the only person who worked there and he was rarely there so it was a free-for-all most of the time. The gym’s sound system was a haggard, old clock radio in the corner that Ed Ryan salvaged from the trash somewhere that was constantly being fought over. Half of the guys wanted rock, and half of the guys wanted ‘top forty’, many times it came down to a violent street fight behind the gym to settle the music selection. Actually, it was not uncommon to see fights at that gym. The biggest and most vicious brawl that ever took place there was between me and my older brother Joey. We beat the living piss out of each other down there one night when we were in our late teens. The end result was a victory for me over my battered brother and Ed Ryan handing down a two week sanction against us because we knocked a wall down and smashed some picture frames in the process. By the time we came back we had been nicknamed the “Bruise Brothers”.

This was the kind of place where you paid your due and there was even certain amount of hazing between the established older lifters and a lot of the new kids. We all would get tortured on a regular basis at first. There was one maniac lifter in particular named Tom, he took it upon himself to dish out most of the hazing to us kids. One night he targeted me and was chasing me around the gym when I was trying to leave. I was running for my life and took off for the steps leading outside to make my getaway, Tom guy caught up to me and tackled me around my ankles in the middle of this dimly lit stairway and was biting my ass! Just then we both heard a woman scream and we looked up. At the top of the stairs was my hysterical mother, who had been waiting outside to pick me up. She started screaming, “Get off of my son you god damn pervert!” Tom must have as scared of my mom as I was and took off running back into the gym. All the way home I had to assure my mother that I was not involved in some sort of pedophile sex club. It took me another week to convince her to let me go back.

After a year or so of training there I became friendly with a few of the powerlifters at Ryan’s. They were nice enough and had enough belief in me to take me under their wing and teach me a few things about the sport. When I was fifteen they took me to my first three lift meet over in Glassboro New Jersey. This meet was huge, there were a lot of lifters and it was a total chaotic cluster fuck. Thank god I had a couple experienced guys with me to keep me semi-focused because my head was spinning from all the activity and I was nervous as hell. As I nervously prepared to open up with my first squat I was two lifters out and was watching the guy on the platform take his lift. He was at the bottom of his squat, nice and deep, his squat suit reached its maximum stress point and the tight fabric in the ass end of the suit completely blew out. He must not have been wearing underwear because when the suit blew out a six inch turd came flying out of his ass and plopped onto the platform!

I was completely mortified, I had never been to a lifting meet before, is this common? Will I too put on a public poop display like that other guy? Or will something worse happen? I was just a kid so I was really worried about this stuff. Nobody else seemed too surprised or concerned that this guy just shat himself but I was freaking out! Now instead of concentrating on successfully completing my very first competitive squat I was more so trying not to shit myself. Thankfully I went eight for nine in the meet and put up some good lifts. I won the best teenage lifter award. But this meet was such a mess that they ran out of awards so they ended up grabbing trophies that were hanging on the wall that were on display from years gone by. I think mine had a golfer on top of it or something.

I trained at Ryan’s from the time I was fourteen until I was nineteen and in that time I went from a 180lb kid to a 265lb man. This gym was my whole world throughout my high school years. I didn’t play sports in school, I didn’t go to dances, I didn’t attend Friday night football games, I didn’t go to keg parties, I just ate, slept and breathed weightlifting. By the time I left there I was the biggest and strongest one in the gym just like I told Ed Ryan I was going to be five years earlier. We trained hard in that little place and I learned a lot while I was there. I put in my time and went from a kid that was hazed to a guy that the older lifters all respected.


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