Wednesday, November 7, 2018

My Stairway to Hell

By a stroke of luck or foreboding catastrophe, at the beginning of the summer I noticed a facebook post advertising a local fitness facility. I read up on Sixel's Circuit Fit in Eagle River, intrigued because the description seemed to closely mirror my workouts with Trainer Tim - one of the things I knew I'd miss most upon leaving Illinois. However, I'd be lying if the owner of this facility, Dave Sixel, didn't intimidate me on paper. And I quote: "David's current rankings are purple belt Jiu-Jitsu, 4th dan Tae-Kwon-Do, 4th dan Hakido, 4th dan Judo, and 8th (actually 9th now, I believe) dan Pankration."

Gulp. In my world that means he can kill you and defend the entire town of Eagle River singlehandedly.

Squelching my jitters, I stepped inside to see what it was all about.
The irony of walking down to the lower level for a workout wasn't lost on me. They don't call it the Stairway to Hell for nothing.
Lucky for me a sweet gal named Kayla stood behind the desk, warmly welcoming me as I signed a waiver and asked her the scoop. Dave was off for the day but she was there to show me the ropes. Literally.

Gadgets of torture menacingly stared me down in that basement. Ropes dangled from walls and draped around support beams, taunting. Massive rubber tires of the large farm implement variety lay in wait, and I suspected heaving would be involved. A sledge hammer rested on its side, poised for destruction. Stacks and stacks of boxing bags lined the wall. Numerous freestanding boxing bags looked weary - just how I felt. I spied weighted balls, bosu balls, ladders, medicine balls, dear lord. This place had everything! Best of all? In the corner I spied...Kettlebells! Maybe this would be the fitness spot for me. 

Kayla walked me through twelve circuits that day. Every station contained two exercises, the idea being you'd do a movement for 30 seconds and then switch to the other exercise for the next 30 seconds. Go back the the first, then the second, then gasp for air and stumble to the next circuit during the so-called break - a mere 30 seconds.

I wasted no time in establishing myself as the resident nincompoop. I laughed during every station because I thought I was in shape, but this crap is challenging, and the freaking buzzer unyielding. Every time I started elementarily performing the movement, BUZZ! - switch to the other one. Then I'd get the hang of that and BUZZ! back to the original. 

Kayla surely thought me a whack job, with all the giggling and grunting and questions. "Am I doing this right? Can you show me again? I know you showed me 30 seconds ago but I'm old and have concentration issues. As in, I'd much rather be at the bakery eating one of those Apple Fritters. Did you know they have coffee and sandwiches and French loaves there too?"

I made it through the workout, struggling hard, leaving humbled.

But I went back, repeatedly. Knowing this would be one of the first places I'd make friends, I became determined to find them. Rumor had it a group of teachers work out consistently at 5:30 every morning. "Well yay!" I thought. Many of my original workout gang were employed by the schools, so this'll be great!

But people. 5:30? That's spooning in bed time, followed by lazy stumbles into the kitchen to mainline two cups of coffee. Then sidetracking distractions to lull me into a false sense that I'm already in shape and I don't need to work out (all lies), ultimately leading to grand master levels of procrastination that may involve writing two lines of prose versus the planned 1000.

Eventually I make it to Sixel's nearly every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to go through what morphed into a 9 circuit workout, three minutes each, with 30 seconds of rest hustle between each station.

It's holy hell for 30 minutes. I recall using TRX ropes for the first time, not sure whether my new trainer would appreciate sarcasm, so I swapped in positivity: "Ok. Wow. This is really effective," while thinking, "Hot damn. Why do my fingertips hurt when I'm supposed to be working my back? And why are my ankles burning? My big toe. It wants some wine. This Circuit Crap may not be for me."

Even the non-cardio spots are Satan's spawn, because things burn and hurt and ache and cry out for rubdowns and whirlpool baths. 

Neither of which I ever get.

Sometimes Dave gets down on his hands and knees, right by the side of my face, and "encourages" me to, "GO! GO! GO! Three more. Great - two more. Super - that's too easy for you. Come on. Four more."

I grunt, say vile things in my head, and will him...summoning all my telepathic skills while crossing my eyes and scrambling my brain with please. go. send. some. emails in the other room already!

But he patiently stays beside me, cheerleading me on, unaware of how much I want a new client to wander in or a boy scout to sell him popcorn. Anything. Anything at all to save me. 

With my feet dangling in the TRX ropes, failing to hold a high plank and perform knee in-and-outs, I collapse to the ground in a heap at the buzzer, sincerely unable to remove my feet from the bands. I roll onto my back like an invalid, unable to sit up or form legible words, let alone make my way to another soul sucking station. He kindly removes my feet and tells me, "You rock."

I'd like to be rocked like a baby right now all snuggled up in a blankie while being fed, but I keep it to myself.

Rather than allow my salvation via the bell, he walks over to the demonic buzzer and pauses it. HE PAUSES IT! And sweetly announces, "Go ahead and get ready for some tire flips, and I'll restart the buzzer." 

I slump my shoulders, roll my eyes and sigh, telling myself that there are only three more of Lucifer's positions to complete before it's over.

I'm starting to learn to stop asking questions when I don't know what a station entails. He'll demonstrate it, adding, "But for you, why don't you add a knee up, a few punches, then throw in a SPRAWL!? Oh and here, hold this twenty pound medicine ball while you wall sit for some bicep curls." If he had a dollar for every smarmy look I gave him, he'd retire tomorrow. 

Mr. Energy Personified one day asked if I'd be up for kickboxing.

"Well, it's at 5:00 and that really doesn't work for me. Otherwise I'd give it a shot," I lied.
"Great! I'm starting a new class this week at 9:00. So I'll see ya there!"


Always a glutton for punishment, I agree to go. Primarily because I want to meet friends. I'm about to start paying randos at the coffee shop to join me for cocktails, so I curtail those plans and give the kickboxers a try.

The women are all friendly, and young. I mean, I could have been the teen baby mama to nearly all of them, but I woman up and convince myself I can hang with them. Five minutes in, I gasp for air. They do this ridiculous thing - quick feet (mine aren't quick), drop and pump out a pushup (ok - I've got one very slow pushup in me), flip it around and perform a sit-up (thank you Trainer Tim - I can do that), and come up in a defensive position with a kick and fast feet.

Thank you all so much. That workout rocked, I'm ready for my protein shake, a shower, and my easy chair for the remainder of my life.

Oh no. No dice. Next we drop for TWO pushups, TWO sit-ups, pop up like a weeble (yeah all you Sixel babes are too young to even know what a weeble IS!) and fast feet it AGAIN! I see a pattern emerging, and I know this is it. How I'll die. On the floor of the basement of the Vilas County Movie Theater surrounded by masochistic torture freaks. 

But somehow I survive the folly that continues up to ten pushups.  That's 55 pushups total. And 55 sit-ups. The worst part? I'm on pushup 3 of 5 and all the others - ALL OF THEM - are already back up and waiting on me with their annoyingly fast feet. How is that even possible? HOW?

They're a fraction of my age. That's how. And that is only the warmup.

Five years ago I would have never returned. But desperate times call for desperate measures and I need friends, so a week later I come back. I guarantee you there's at least ONE of them who breathe a sigh of relief when I show up, because she hates the pace of that blasted warmup, and she knows she gets a little break when my slow ass joins the misery.

The funny part of all of this? I have no idea how to kickbox. 

Truly. I honestly don't even know "how" to throw a punch or land a kick, as evidenced by a video on Facebook. I'm not tagged, so don't bother looking. For the first few classes, I partnered up with Sue. I like Sue. We were both newbies. Sue, if you're reading this, please come back. Please?

Then I partnered up with Vicki. We had a good time. I could keep up with Vicki, and she with me. But that was only for one week. Don't leave me dangling, Vicki. Come back. Even if you're sick.

Enter Jaclyn.

She stood in for Dave as our instructor when he recently traveled to Russia. She's a badass ex-Marine and told stories about bootcamp - never high five a partner in fitness training, or you'll spend every day at lunch standing in the corner performing star jumps shouting for all to hear, "I'm a star! I'm a star! I'm a star!"

If you birthed a baby or two, star jumps will quickly remind you that bladder control is a gift of your past, and they also told me my left knee needed surgery a few years ago. The Angel of Darkness created those monsters, and Jaclyn loves them. I managed to hang on (barely) with her, her barrage of kicks and punches as much of a workout for me to absorb as attempting to keep up with her strength and quickness.

The first time Dave told me to go partner up with Viviana and Kristina for roundhouse kicks, I thought, "Oh nice. I'll get to know some more people." Immediately the battering came, and it was all I could do to hold that bag in place. Every second on the second they blasted me with powerful kicks, pivoting into the target, throwing all their muscle behind each blow. Thinking things were all snuggly bugs under my tank, I soon realized that the straitjacket nature of today's sports bras are no match for the roundhouse. My boobs rattled, and were surely bruised from absorbing those kicks. Somebody please invent a vice for boobage control during kickboxing class. You'll make a mint.

Last week topped the cake though. I walked into class, quietly imploring Jesus, Mary, and Joseph for divine intervention. There were five of us. Abby and Alicia always pair up. As do Viviana and Kristina. Jaclyn was out. Vicki? Nowhere to be seen. Sue? Please come back, Sue. Please.

That left me with Grand Master Sensei Dave himself. I knew immediately. I was going to die.

For SIXTY minutes (OK - now I'm exaggerating. It was fifty, because warmup) I paired up with Dave, but since he's the instructor and would kill me with one punch or kick, I did all the work. I think we typically perform an exercise for three minutes, switching the bags every 30 or 60 seconds. So part of the time you're punching or kicking, and the other time you're absorbing your partner's aggression.

But not me. I punched and kicked. FOR FORTY MINUTES STRAIGHT. With an occasional 30 seconds of sucking wind.

During the ab section? All me. All the time. Every time. My bladder failed.

At one point, Dave tried to lighten the mood. He started asking me questions. Dude, if you think I can punch, advance my position, go backwards, still punching, and look away from the bags to speak a legible sentence then you completely overestimate my coordination. I'M TRYING NOT TO DIE HERE!

Midway through the workout, we paused. For a break? Hell no. For the pushup / situp / pop up defensively / fast feet bull crap because we did a different warmup that day. And since it was Alicia's birthday, she got to pick the number. Before this, I imagined Alicia and I would become besties and stroll down Main Street arm in arm to get coffees together after class.

No longer.

That sadistic girl says, "Let's make it twelve today!" all sweet and cute with her beautiful brown doe-eyes and dazzling smile. But girlfriend didn't do TWICE the work that day, so my glarey eyeballs darted poison flares in her direction for the remainder of the workout. She needs to learn to respect her elders, and choose five.

At the end, we roundhouse kicked from the floor for 95 minutes.

It probably was only for two or three rounds, but I'm telling you, I kicked that blasted blue bag 500 times with each leg. And my soul died right there, with me, on the floor of Sixel's Circuit Fit. I wobbly stood up and asked what's next.

"That's it. We're done. Stretch it out."

I gratefully collapsed back to the floor, thankful for yoga poses that ply my body back into some kind of recognizable shape, then gathered my things and left. I didn't chit chat much, because that would have meant moving my jaw, and eff that. Exercise was no longer an option for any body part.

Later that day I texted my old workout groupies, telling them about the underworld thrashing I endured. I mentioned that my partner is a 9th degree black belt. The snarky comments started rolling in, and one friend sent a GIF with a sexy six packed man unlatching his "black belt," swooping it off, and doubling it promisingly between his hands. I replied:

"Yesterday he dressed up for Halloween. But it wasn't as Christian Grey."
I love that Dave has a great sense of humor. It's evident in his workouts, the energy in his wormhole, and among my fellow nitwits who keep coming back for more. 

The next day I unbelievably returned for another 30 minutes of torture. Dave asked if I would mind pairing up with a sweet gal named Megan. We commiserated a bit during the first station about what hurt from earlier in the week, and I attempted to restrain myself from bashing Kickboxing too much. About three circuits in, I stopped talking to Megan. At the end of the workout, I apologized to her. "Apparently Dave thinks I'm some kind of superhuman and can multitask during his medieval movements. I'm sorry I was so quiet. I cannot talk and I cannot do pull-ups and I certainly can't attempt both at the same time. But it was great meeting you and I hope to see you again. Will you come to kickboxing?"

Misery loves company, man. Come to Kickboxing, Megan. You'll love it. At the very least, we can go drink a mimosa together afterward. I know a place. We'll even let Alicia and the others come.

I haven't even started in on the "back room" Dave showed me one day. Beyond his lair lies another darkened room, dimly lit, with signage about wine and going barefoot. It's the Rezyn Yoga Room, and I've got plenty to say about that in an upcoming post. Compared to this, it's a love story. 

Sarcasm aside, the people I've met at this locale are kind, honest, supportive, hardworking, and non judgmental. That's absolutely the best part. Nobody tries to one-up the next person, and they're all there to make themselves a little bit better than when they walked in. The nature of the workouts functionally allows anyone of any fitness level to challenge themselves to become stronger, more physically fit, mentally happier, and overall healthier. A person with zero physical activity can come in and leave better, as could a professional athlete and everyone in-between. There's no set class time (aside from the kickboxing classes on Thursdays at 9:00 am and 5:00 pm), so there's no excuse for not giving it a 30 minute whirl. Sixel's is open from 5:30 - 1:00 and again from 3:00 - 7:00 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Dave also teaches Martial Arts and is the Team USA coach for Pankration.

On Monday, I walked out of Sixel's feeling lighter, stronger, and the best version of myself since I landed in town in June. I owe all of that to Dave, his establishment, and the community he built there. Not to mention the royal ass kicking I endured the week before. 

This community is so fortunate to have a man like Dave Sixel in the center of town, doing what he truly loves, motivating every single person he encounters to be their best. 

Thank you Dave and the Sixel Community. "You Rock!"


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