How A Stack Of Iron Saved My Life

When I was about fifteen years old I saved up enough money to buy my first weight set, consisting of one of those rickety Weider benches, a couple of iron bars, and a hundred pounds in crumbling, concrete-filled vinyl weights.

I was a short, fat, socially awkward kid who spent the majority of my time watching the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Conan, reading fantasy novels and writing really terrible short stories. I was often bullied, and I thought that if I looked like Conan I would suddenly become popular and receive less ass kickings.

I had absolutely zero athletic ability, but I hassled my mother for a copy of Muscle and Fitness every time we went to the grocery store and, very gradually, figured out what I was doing. As I got a little older, and a little bit stronger, I once again saved up my nickels and dimes and bought a pass to an actual gym, with weights that didn’t fall apart and puff grey dust in your eyes. I was also lucky enough to meet a couple of older guys who were willing to point me in the right direction and stop me from dropping a barbell on my head and killing myself.

When I left home and started a career in law enforcement, the necessity for fitness quickly became much more urgent. Instead of scuffling with other kids in the high-school hallway because they thought it was fun to beat up the fat kid, I found myself fighting with grown men, who were often under the influence of illegal stimulants. Sometimes, I discovered, these men (and occasionally women) were more than willing to kill me if it meant they wouldn’t have to go to jail for the night. My life was cheaper to them than the last dime-bag of crack they had purchased, and no one was going to be responsible for my survival but myself.

I always took my lifting seriously, but despite all my time spent in the gym, I remained somewhat uneducated. I spent a lot of time doing things I didn’t need to and ate a lot of crap food. Then, about a year ago, a friend pointed me in the direction of a man named Jim Stoppani, and his one of his training programs, Shortcut to Size.

I started the program and I took it seriously. I didn’t skip any workouts, I didn’t miss any meals, I followed Doctor Stoppani’s word as though it were a sacred gospel and I had phenomenal results. By the time I reached the end of the program, I was lifting more weight, moving more iron, than I ever thought possible. Then, one morning at about 0500 hours, the program saved my life.

I was eleven weeks into the program and was working my last night shift. It was one of those nights where my crew was running short, and at 5am there was only two of us working in my district. Just before sun-up, we got a panicky 9-1-1 call from a man screaming into the phone that someone had broken into his house. I, along with my lone constable working with me, scooted over to the scene as quickly as I could.

We found a very frightened family barricading themselves behind a door that had been kicked off its hinges. Once I convinced them we were the police, and not their attacker coming back for another try, they opened the door and told us they had all been awoken from a dead sleep when a man had broken down their door and stormed into their house. As they were giving their gibbering, terrified account, the family’s eldest daughter’s eyes grew wide and she pointed into the street.

“That’s him,” she said. “That’s the man who was in our house!”

I turned to see a wiry man walking briskly towards us, carrying a soccer ball (I don’t know why he was carrying a soccer ball, so don’t ask). Against all reason, he was walking straight towards us. I stepped away from the family and across their lawn to confront the man. As I got close, it became very obvious that he had been using a large quantity of some manner of stimulating street drug; he was twitchy, erratic, shouting incoherently, and was not the least bit concerned about me or my uniform.

I stepped in front of the man, who was walking directly towards the terrified family, and said, “You’re under arrest for break and enter, turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

He stopped and looked at me for the first time, then dropped the soccer ball. He gave a weird little screech and turned away from me while he reached into the pocket of his dirty coat and pulled frantically at an object, trying to get it out.

Any street cop will tell you that if you’re trying to arrest someone and they reach suddenly for an item in their pocket, it’s never good.

I saw just a glint of something shiny in the twitchy man’s struggling hand and I jumped on him. I believed, with absolute clarity, that anything he pulled out of his pocket would probably be the death of me. I latched onto his arm and tried to control it, but moving the man, despite the fact I had at least thirty pounds on him, was like trying to move a cement block. His arm was as rigid and unyielding as a piece of re-bar, and it was all I could do to shove him towards the side of my nearby car. My partner jumped on his back and tried to pin him down, but even with both of us on top of him he was still able to stand up and we had next to no control.

The struggle was ugly, desperate and extremely violent. I couldn’t get my hand up to my radio to call for help, and I didn’t have the space to reach for any of my tools. It all came down to a simple question: What was stronger; Me, or the drugs in the guy’s system.

Ultimately it turned out to be me. By the end of the struggle, we got the guy in handcuffs, but all three of us were bleeding, and I was gassed. My hands and forearms were throbbing from trying to hang on to the guy, and the fragrant blend of stress, adrenaline and fatigue had the muscles in my legs, back and arms shaking.

Apparently, during the struggle, the mic on my radio keyed and all our dispatcher could hear was scrabbling and muffled yells. She sent another member from a different district, and when he arrived he helped us search our new friend and shove him into the back seat of a patrol car. When I searched that pocket the guy had be reaching for so intently, I found a very long, very sharp, kitchen knife. As I looked down at the knife in my hand I could only think that if he had gotten it out he would have killed me, or I would have had to shoot him. Either way, it was an outcome I didn’t want to contemplate.

It took Carla and I several hours to finish the paperwork necessary to bring the accused before the courts, and during that time I did contemplate all the possible outcomes that might have resulted from the encounter. If I hadn’t been quite as strong as I was, or had the same level of endurance, or had the fortitude to keep fighting, the consequences would have certainly been life altering, if not life ending – and not just for me, but for my partner and the frightened people who were standing behind me.

I felt, in those moments, like I owed my life to Jim Stoppani; him and all those stacks of iron I’d moved.

In the days since that confrontation I’ve walked into the gym with a different attitude. Because of my profession, every workout I do could be the last one before I have to fight for my life, and I’ve kept that in mind with every pound I slide on the bar.

No matter what you do for a living, whether you’re a street cop or a storyteller, I would encourage you to keep your body strong, and make your fitness a priority. You never know how deep you’re going to have to dig to save a life.

As always, thanks for reading.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “How A Stack Of Iron Saved My Life

  1. jmh

    I love this. Really glad everything turned out all right, and that you did everything in your power to make it so.

  2. susanpieters

    Thanks for the encouragement, Tyner. We never can know when all these years of self-discipline (in whatever discipline) will be called upon to save us, and make us thankful.

  3. Kate

    And with all this, keep your mental muscles sharp. Never knowing when these things are going to present themselves, I found myself covering a regular old town council meeting when a community member went down. Nobody moved. An entire room of people froze except for the me, the retired doctor and the tow truck driver. 30 minutes of CPR is not for the faint of heart, pardon the unintentional pun. Thanks for the reminder to keep my physical strength up there as well. Vital.

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