My fraternity of persistent athletic club members ( gym rats) is more than an elite group. We are the best of the best because 2,000 new members sign up at our club every year. The club admits all of them, but 98% will have dropped out a year later. That makes us surviving regulars a group more exclusive than getting into Harvard. 

Club membership applications are driven by holidays in this country. After woofing down that turkey gravy, candied hams, pies, cakes, washed down with bottles of New Years’ Champagne, the chubby, guilt-ridden hoards resolve to repent. For salvation and a tighter tummy, they flock to athletic clubs. But unfortunately, few find what they seek.

 The obvious question: What’s the difference between my group of “two percenters” versus thousands of newbies who pay the fees but don’t show up to pump the iron, run the cardio theater machines, swim in the pool, or levitate in the yoga studio?

We must be a peculiar, self-selecting crew. We pay big money to spend hours of our busy day in a gym. Yet, the return for all this time and money is sweat, pain, and fatigue week after week, year in and year out. 


I said we were a fraternity but a fraternity devoid of camaraderie. In my 25 years of membership, I’ve learned some faces of the regulars, fewer names, and occasionally I exchange a couple of words. Other than that, we’re so closed mouth that we might be CIA operatives in a covert conference. It could be we’re incommunicado because we’ve all seen each other’s bodies in the shower, or we’re just not that compatible. 

Absent communications, it’s hard to say much about our diverse backgrounds. Over decades, I’ve learned that Ruth is an art historian who writes books about sculptor Auguste Rodin. Joe is a storm window and siding installer, not to be confused with over-caffeinated “Day Trader Joe,” who must tell you about his penny stocks. Then there is Brian, who’s quit his no-paying job as a novelist. He’s enjoying a liquidity event editing the manual for a high-tech firm. Add in a few doctors, a Japanese chef, and three Russians who are impossible to understand, and you get the diverse picture.

Everyone knows gym rats are a mixed bag, but what you’d like to know is WHY the “Rats” differs from the dropouts? Membership retention is key to a club’s viability. Could our long-time regulars hold some secrets in the dark regions of their consciousness? Who else would trade money for pain? It might be masochistic tendencies or some undiagnosed infirmity. Naturally, the club owner would like answers, but good luck, because this is a fraternity of secret-keeping mutes.


So, I will reveal my secret motivation.

My Dad had a heart attack when he was 54. It left me with a trauma that never subsided. I was a naive eleven-year-old and didn’t know what a heart attack was. But I knew it wasn’t enjoyable.

“What was happening?” I wanted to know. And “What was a heart attack?”

I did know the house became suddenly draped in morbid silence.

 “Don’t ask questions or make any noise! Your father is gravely sick. You’re going to make him worse.” they told me. The prospect of growing up fatherless was terrifying. Mom became quiet, but without speaking a word, expressed her angst about raising five fatherless kids. In our big house, she and my four siblings were expecting homelessness, foster care, moving in with Grandpa, or being split up. It was a time I couldn’t forget.

In the end, we kept the house. Dad recovered and happily lived another twenty years with diet and exercise. The memory of “HEART ATTACK” , two words no one could speak, will keep me sweating, and pumping iron every week.

Categories: Humor

1 reply

Share a comment