We were trying to get big, real big, lift weights, grow our muscles so the girls would like us, so the guys would respect us.
And it wasn’t happening fast enough.
Nothing happens fast enough when you’re 19.
Each day meeting after work, after school.
Saying hello to the cute girl with the nice big smile we had a crush on at the front counter.
Walking around the gym with our towels and water bottles.
Taking turns on the different movements.
Dave’s turn, my turn, Don's turn, Dave’s turn, my turn, was it your go or my go?
Three sets of twelve, four sets of eight, five sets of five, ten sets of ten.
Upstairs we admired from afar.
Eventually you got to know the consistent ones.
Not always by name but by presence.
We saw him across the room, white shoes, torn pants, dark t-shirt, blonde hair slicked over like Captain America, muscles to match.
A real-life Captain America we thought.
Every place has a guy.
And he was the gym’s guy.
One day we made our way over.
Curious kittens tip-toeing towards a lion.
Using the machines beside the ones he was using.
His tricep push downs, our bicep curls.
At some point we said hello.
Asked if he wanted to share.
Or the opposite, he said hello and asked if we wanted to share.
A superset setup. Hit the front and back of the arm in quick succession, feel the blood rush in and the sleeves get tighter.
We learned his name, Aaron, and our fascination became a little more real.
Each time coming in and saying hello to each other.
We found out he was a few years older than us.
He worked at the supplement store down the street.
We’d go in and buy protein and other supplements and get tips on training.
The tips started happening inside the gym, try this, see how you go with that.
Tips were great but it was mostly the hellos, the silent eyes of approval from across the room saying you've got this, I've been where you are.
Several sessions we'd imagine ourselves looking like Aaron.
He didn't have to even be there to be a role model for us.
We’d think of his energy and be jacked up for the next set.
We'd remind ourselves what he showed us, all it takes is time.
A silent idol.
Years passed and our lives moved on.
Aaron to another gym, Dave overseas, Don overseas, me to other sports and different kinds of workouts.
But every so often we'd recall what it felt like to meet a real-life Captain America.
Telling friends, telling our younger brothers.
What it felt like to be standing across the room from this guy.
All of a sudden we realised we'd become the same to them as Aaron was to us.
Now it was our turn to be the role models.
We hadn't seen Aaron in a number of years.
It didn't matter.
Strong memories get etched in stone.
Dave ran into him eight months ago at the cafe.
Both of them have children now, Dave a girl and a boy, Aaron two young boys, similar ages.
They bonded over what it was like raising young children.
I hadn't seen Aaron in five years maybe more.
Until Don sent me a photo.
A photo along with a post.
A tribute post.
The kind of post where you know someone is gone.
I threw my phone on the bed and walked out of the room.
I knew he was gone.
But I didn't want it to be true.
Photos of him and his young two suns and his beautiful wife.
The post detailing what happened.
In late 2020, Aaron was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer and given 10 months to live.
Heavy news for anyone.
Heavy news for someone young, 32, 33.
The pinnacle of fitness and health.
I didn't know.
I hadn't seen him in years.
Dave saw him at the cafe eight months ago.
Told me about it.
Our real-life Captain America, we said.
Aaron outlived the doctor's predictions, obviously, and passed away peacefully on January 4 2023 at home in the loving arms of his wife.
One of the closest.
Life’s a strange thing.
Especially when one of your silent idols passes away.
I’m not sure he knew the impact he had on us.
Or maybe he did.
Like the way I feel when I know I’m being watched by younger eyes.
And they’re always watching.
You can never know how much your actions, even the small ones, will ripple out and influence those they touch.
He’ll forever be the older brother we never had.
Rest in peace legend, thank you for the memories your love and energy contributed to the man I am today.
A silent idol.
Unspoken but not unfelt.