Late one afternoon, I was standing on a pavement in Fordsburg — right next door to the Planet Bioscope. I was minding my own business. Just looking in a shop window, that’s all.
Then I heard these sounds. Funny, strange sounds. Were these the sounds of humans? I did not know. But one thing I knew for sure. Somebody or something needed help.
The sounds were coming from the basement. I quickly walked down the stairs — and then along a dark, narrow passage. Carefully I pushed open the door.
The room was painted in a dark colour. The paint had seen better days. Then I saw where the noise was coming from.
In the shadows I saw big, big men lying on machines of all shapes and sizes. Others were standing with heavy iron weights in their hands — or above their heads.
The men did not see me. They were all looking into mirrors in front of them. They were pushing and pulling, moaning and groaning.
Then I started to think. These guys didn’t need my help. I mean these guys were the biggest guys you have ever seen. And me? I don’t weigh more than 125 pounds. “What am I doing here?” I quietly asked myself.
I began to feel a little bit nervous. Maybe these guys liked training in a dark basement with no fresh air. And maybe these guys didn’t like strangers coming to watch them coming to disturb them.
A big guy came up to greet me. He shook my hand — and my legs folded at the knees. My hand felt like I caught it in a door.
He told me his name was Yusuf Docrat but that his friends just called him Doc. The place was called the World Health Studio and he was the owner.
I looked at an old sign above his head. “First Pay, Then Train” said the sign. This was a poor man’s gym. I looked at the man in front of me. He had muscles in every corner of his big body. I couldn’t tell him I came here to help him. I didn’t know what he would do to me. Maybe he would laugh. Or maybe he would kill me.
I had to say something — and quickly. As some people like to say, my mind was working overtime.
“Excuse me, I work for Learn and Teach magazine,” I said, squeaking like a mouse. “Can I please talk to you guys. I want to do a story about bodybuilders for our magazine. By the way, I am very sorry I did not make an appointment. I can always come back. Really I can, no problem.”
The big man smiled. Yes, he suddenly smiled. Then I knew I was safe. I would live to see another day. The man was twice the size of a rhino. But he was as friendly as a Samaritan.
The other guys suddenly also didn’t look all that dangerous. They were maybe a little different. But they seemed nice enough. I decided to stick around.
Learn and Teach: Why did you start bodybuilding? Philimon: At one time I was drinking a lot. I was fat and lazy. I looked so bad that one of my friends said I looked like a scrap motor car. I decided to stop drinking. And I joined the gym and started training.
Learn and Teach. Why do you use all these different machines? Philimon: A factory that makes radios does not use one machine. A radio has many parts — just like the human body. We use different machines for different parts of the body. We want every part of our body to be strong.
Learn and Teach. Why do you guys use so many mirrors? Timmy: When you walk in here, you forget about your friends outside. In the gym your new friends are these machines, the iron weights and the mirrors. In the gym you don’t fight against anybody else. You fight against yourself. The mirror is the judge. The mirror never tells a lie.
Learn and Teach. Listen guys, would you mind if we ask some private and personal questions? For example, some people say bodybuilders can’t make children. Is this true? Doc. That is all nonsense and very wrong. With such talk, people will soon think we are the fathers of wild animals. Bodybuilders are the most healthy people around. They eat good food and they never drink liquor. I myself have four healthy children. But anyway, I don’t like to talk about such things. Why don’t you go and talk to a bodybuilder’s wife.
Learn and Teach: We wouldn’t dare go anywhere near a bodybuilder’s wife, that’s for sure. But tell us, some people say that guys like you can’t use your hands for eating and shaving. Is that also nonsense? Phil. Yes, that’s another famous nonsense. God gave us hands to reach all parts of our bodies. If we couldn’t eat, we would be very thin. And you don’t find so many thin bodybuilders. And if we couldn’t shave-well, there would be a lot more barbershops, don’t you think? Timmy. I must tell you abou one problem that we do have. The size of our bodies change all the time — and so do the sizes of our clothes. Sometimes when you stretch or bend down, you know all about it. And you know it’s time for new clothes. And if you suddenly yawn, there can also be problems — like buttons popping off your shirt.
Learn and Teach: Anything else you guys want to say? Phil: Yes, for us bodybuilding is a religion. It is our belief. God made us and we respect what God made. We only want to carry on where God left off. We are proud of our bodies. We want to make our bodies stronger and more beautiful. We like to look smart and we like to look good. Timmy: When a person comes to the gym for the first time, they learn many things. But they learn one very important thing. They learn to behave well to all people. We are big but we are peaceful. We don’t go around kicking sand in peoples’ faces.