TPHS students find a second home at the gym

From an outsider’s perspective, gym culture may look like nothing but a hulking combination of gleaming steel equipment and bulging muscles. As the powerful, rhythmic thump of weights pummeling the floor resonates throughout those oversized rooms, some are even intimidated by gym culture. But along with the snowy chalk and heavy lifting equipment, many TPHS students have found a home in the gym, a safe space for not only improving their physical and mental health but a tool for turning their lives around for the better.

Gym culture may also conjure the image of a ripped weightlifter filming himself deadlifting to show off on Instagram. In truth, this perception paints an incomplete picture of what gym culture has come to be in 2023. 

“They’re a few crazy people who post videos of themselves lifting insane amounts of weight while on steroids and if you go to the gym long enough, you might run into some mean people,” Giancarlo Del Core (11) said.

The majority of gym content on social media is motivational and the last thing most people at the gym think of doing is bothering others, according to Joey Weisman (11).

For TPHS students, gym culture is all about supporting each other in the pursuit of self-improvement and the cultivation of a healthy lifestyle.

“I go to the gym because it’s a safe space for everyone to go and better themselves. Also, whenever I go, I feel like I’m progressing myself and being productive with my time,” Alia Amor (11) said.

The gym is also a place for students to step away from their hectic lives. 

“It’s a place that’s just a good stress reliever, you feel a lot more at ease when you’re done,” Daniel Hong (11) said.

The gym has also been a way for students to fix their less-than-ideal routines. During the lockdown from 2020 to 2021, Leo Kong (11) played video games to fight his boredom, but before he knew it, Kong was spending countless hours on his newfound pastime. Realizing that he was wasting his time and health, Kong decided it was time to make a change and go to the gym.

“Now, I take the gym seriously because I strive to become the best version of myself,” Kong said.

Some students use the gym as a powerful tool against substance abuse. When he was 14, a student currently on the TPHS varsity swim team was swept away by stress that came from the demands of swimming, school and his family. To ease the pressures, he turned to painkillers. 

“I was going through a lot of stress and anxiety from swimming as I was very nervous and even scared of it … because of the high expectations my family had for me,” the student said.

But when the painkillers brought him down, he decided to take up lifting.  

“I wanted to take [swimming] to the next level, so I started lifting. This completely changed my life,” he said.

For him, the gym was a place where he was left unbothered to thrive, a place to do whatever he wanted, the safe space that he lacked in his life.

“A couple weeks after I started lifting, I completely stopped taking painkillers as I didn’t need them anymore,” he said.

The gym has even helped students recover from surgeries. In January of 2021, Trevor Kalt was recovering from a recent chest surgery for pectus excavatum.

“I was super weak for a while, and I felt pretty bad about myself because of that,” Kalt (11), a track and field athlete, said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a world-renowned health center, pectus excavatum causes a person’s breastbone to sink into one’s chest which can interfere with the function of the heart and lungs.

Ever since he recovered from his surgery, going to the gym has drastically improved how Kalt feels about himself.

“I think going to the gym has really made me happier and stronger physically and mentally,” Kalt said.

In poetic irony, the gym is where physical burdens on the body release emotional burdens of the soul. As students work through the chaotic and stressful obstacles of high school, the gym and its supportive culture make the endeavor lighter and lighter, weight by weight. 

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