They’re watching.

All the good stories are set in the winter. I remember being a little kid, no more than seven or eight, wandering around our home and trying to find Dad. As I approached a room with a closed door, I heard some muffled grunting behind it. I peeked in.

There he was on the floor, trying to keep it quiet (probably to get a brief moment of peace to himself) doing ab crunches on an old rag rug. “What are you doing, Dad?!” It looked anything but normal to a little kid.

I remember other times, again in the middle of winter, when I’d take the steep concrete stairs into our basement. One careful step at a time, I would walk to the first fire door, somehow force it open and then hear it slam behind me.

A few more steps and I was at the second fire door leading to what we then used as our laundry. When my grandparents built the house in the 50s, it was an underground garage. Add hundreds of litres of oil stored for heating the home and the original wood-fired sauna, and you’ll get an idea of why all the fire doors.

Anyway, I am back at the second door. I’d peel open the twisted metal door and find Dad bench pressing, doing squats or arm curls. Windows packed with styrofoam on the inside and with snow on the outside to provide some insulation from the freezing arctic temperatures. It was cold in there in January and February. Going in wearing just a t-shirt would’ve been a sign of blind madness.

Dad had this homemade, rusty weights set that he bought from an old neighbour in the city they used to live. The lore is that the neighbour was a professional hockey player who sold the set as he graduated to the big league. Either way, gripping it made your hands smell like old iron. And if it would’ve been any colder in that basement, your hands would have gotten stuck to it for good.

Whatever training Dad was doing, either on the bedroom rag rug or in the basement, looked odd to me. But it was also intriguing. It made me curious about what it was all about. And why was he doing it to himself?

It wasn’t until much later, once I got to my mid-teens, that I started training myself. I’d make my way into the basement, trying to copy what I’d seen Dad do. While training there one day, I remember him coming in and saying that once I could bench 100kg, I would be as strong as him. That kept me going for years.

I started training and have kept training for the last 22 or 23 years because of the example that my Dad, intentionally or not, set. He didn’t tell me to do it. He just did it.

It’s the same reason I want my kids to notice me training in our garage every now and then. I hope they grow up to see training as an essential part of an active, healthy lifestyle. The same way as walking or eating vegetables is.

They’re only young. But I know they’re watching.