Henry

18 02 2013

It was about 30 years ago that I took an interest in weight lifting and bodybuilding.  I had a good set of weights and benches, but I just didn’t seem to be getting the results I was looking for so I joined a local club who had a professional trainer we’ll call Henry.  It didn’t take Henry long to see where I was making mistakes in my attempts to add muImagescle.  From the very 1st workout routine he put me on, I began to see and feel a difference.  He instituted types of lifts into my conditioning that could make a 20 pound weight feel like 100.  In 12 weeks, I added muscle tone I never achieved in all other workouts.  Every four weeks he would dramatically change everything I was doing, most often without increasing the weight.  “You have to shock the muscles into growing not by lifting heavier, but by lifting smarter,” he would say.  Yep, Henry was a miracle worker when it came to helping guys train and it didn’t matter the challenge be it putting on muscle or burning away fat, Henry had an answer that worked.

To meet Henry in person, you might not have gotten a 1st impression that this individual could be so knowledgeable in weight training.  You could tell he was in good shape, no bulging layers of fat protruding anywhere on the man. But Henry stood 5feet 4 at best. He looked to be in his 50s and spoke softly and little at that.  If you came to him and told him what you wanted to accomplish, he’d say, “Okay, let’s get started.”  He’d then take you to his office where he would get out a binder and start placing pages of workout routines in it. This would be your workout bible, you had to bring it every time you came to the club.  As with me, he would change up a routine and place new pages in the binder as you advanced in your training.  Maybe in the early phase you would be a little hesitant on whether or not this not so rugged looking individual knew what he was doing, but you wouldn’t stay that way once you got into the program; the results would speak for themselves.  Also, once you got to know who Henry was, you found out this man was the real deal.  Outside of Henry’s office were several pictures of a man fully ripped from the neck down and I liked to watch new people studying the pictures and then suddenly realize, it was Henry!  

Henry was older than he appeared and back in the 50s and 60s he competed on the world stage in bodybuilding, lightweight division.  He had many more pictures of himself and some of the top muscle men in the world in his office.  

His life story was something you would see on an old movie.  A young boy, orphaned early in life and running the backstreets of Brooklyn, until a local policeman takes an interest in Henry and gets involved in weightlifting at a local boy’s club.  The rest is history, Henry is a natural and gains notoriety for his muscle toned body.  Then an agent gets him into competing and Henry travels all over the world to many tournaments and exhibitions.  As fame would have it with so many, Henry got involved in a bad lifestyle filled with drugs and alcohol.  He later found himself penniless, living in Columbus, Ohio sleeping in shelters.  It wasn’t until a friend found him and helped Henry get his life back on course by letting him sleep on his couch. He then met his future wife and made a vow to clean up his life if she would marry him.  They married and Henry kept to his word.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks in his road was that the only thing he knew was bodybuilding; he had never done anything else.  So Henry and his new bride would have to locate to where ever he could find work as a trainer, that’s what brought him to our town.  These tidbits of Henry’s life were something he shared with everyone.  Cathy and I got to know him not only as a trainer, but as a friend.  The club was a mile from our house so we had him come over for lunch on occasion and casual talk, something he enjoyed.  Over the course of time, he let us peer into the life he once led.  As time passed he became more comfortable with others and shared more of his life story.  He even allowed a local news writer to interview him and put many details of his career in the paper.  Henry was, once again, becoming quite the celebrity, only this time on a much smaller level, something that he could handle and enjoy much more than the earlier days.

It had been over a year after I met Henry and thought I knew everything about him, until one day at the club.  Members who worked out there were always bringing muscle magazines in to ask Henry workouts that were being shown.  Always there were pictures of the routine demonstrated and Henry would give his appraisal.  

Then one day a guy brought in an article, no pictures, only a new technique and he had to hear what the master’s opinion was.  Henry looked nervous as he put on his reading glasses and seemed to scan the commentary in front of him.  A small group of us had gathered around, always interested, in new workouts and what Henry’s take on it was.  After a brief moment he looked up and said, “Well, maybe.”  Then looking at me he handed the paper, “Here John, what do you think of this?”  What do I think of it?!!  To me that was like Hank Aaron, back in his day, asking the batboy what bat he thought he ought to use. Without really looking at the article I handed it back to him; “Henry, whatever you say is okay with me,” I said with a smile.  Henry wasn’t smiling; “Okay, let me take this to my office and study it,” and he turned and headed off.  Something wasn’t right, that’s for sure but I didn’t think it was the right time to pry.  After my workout, I showered, got dressed and headed out of the club; but I could see Henry was still sitting in his office. Opening his door I went in and sat acrossed from him. “Henry, are you okay, did I do something to upset you?” Now he gave a little smile.  “No, not at all I was just looking for you to fish me out like my wife does, but if you don’t know what’s going on you can’t.”  He could see the look of confusion written on my face, so he just said it, “John, I can’t read.”  Starting back to the early days when it was discovered he was gifted in his art of muscle building and progressing on from there no one ever took the interest in whether Henry could read or not and he reached a point where it was embarrassing to him, so he never mentioned it.  He was able to fake his way through a lot of things and later friends and his wife were able to cover for him.  I felt terrible like I should have caught it and been more of a help later, but Hank wouldn’t have any of that.  “I’ve started to learn how to read with the help of my wife.  I’ve found it’s a lot like everything else I caught on to, I memorize.  That’s why I came in here to see how many words I could pick out and maybe understand what it says.  What I don’t get, my wife will help me with when I get home so, you see, it’s okay.  Memorization, that’s something I could relate to for I, like Henry, could not read until I was 12 years old.  To have any hope of understanding what was going on in class, I memorized the words I could in hopes of just getting by.  Henry and I spent the better part of an hour talking and comparing notes on how fearful we used to feel that someone would discover our secret.  So here was something we shared, but we also shared something else, that was the love of a Savior in Jesus Christ.  The friend that took Henry in back in Columbus was a Christian and poured all the love he learned from following Christ into Henry.  It had such impact on Henry that one night on bended knee in his friend’s apartment he made Jesus Lord of his life.  He pulled out a little tape-recorder I had seen him listening to in the past.  On it he showed me where his wife had recorded many Bible verses for Henry to have with him always.  He had complete books of the Psalms that he could recite right along with the recording.  Reaching into his desk he pulled out a tape, placed it in the recorder and said, “Here’s the one I listen to every day.”  Pushing the play button only a few words were recorded, his favorite verse as well as one of mine; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”   Henry, “As long as I know that, I know everything will be okay.” I got no argument.

The next day Henry talked to the guy who brought the article in and told him his opinion. He also told him he had to get his wife to read it to him first since he couldn’t read.  After that seemed even more comfortable and everyone who knew felt the same way, read or not, Henry was the best weight trainer any of us had ever met, he was the teacher, we were his students, and oh my, did we ever learn!
A short time later the club closed up and Henry was gone.  The next time I saw him, he looked different, weaker; he was battling liver cancer.  But when he saw me that same smile came to his face as he related to me what he had been doing since the last time we saw each other.  He talked and talked and before we parted ways he reminded me of our verse; “Remember, we can do all things with the muscle God gives us!”

Later that evening, I was thinking of Henry, his condition and his outlook and knowing I would never see him again I realized this man, this teacher was still training the student. Wow, strong in body, strong in spirit, strong and happy, in his march into Heaven, awesome.

Top that, Charlie Atlas!!!


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One response

6 03 2013
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