• Richard Portugal

Maintain an Iron Grip



Although my grandfather died in 1975, I remember it as if yesterday. Sy was my mother’s father. Proud of his physique, he was a devotee of physical training before it was fashionable and the province of so many fitness gurus. He was of an immigrant family and grew up in a New York neighborhood in which youths had to defend their turf. Relying on his strength, agility and stamina allowed him to mature without too many battle scars. But the reliance on a strong body remained a canon of his life.


Years earlier when I was eight years old, Sy took me to his local Y. It did not shine like today’s gyms. The well-used wooden running track circled the building’s ceiling overhead, hanging precariously like a spider’s web to some bare iron I-beams. It resonated to the runner’s heavy footsteps as if it might, at any time, dislodge and drop to the floor below. When it was my turn, my eight year old body sprang to life. I realized I liked the springiness of the wooden track and found myself keeping pace with the more seasoned runners. I enjoyed the freedom of running, the power my body generated, the peace of mind it created. I was hooked!


There were no treadmills, stationary bicycles, ellipticals or resistance machines. Rather a no frills weight room, filled with sweaty bodies, iron weights, benches and medicine balls, was housed in a large room off the main floor. It was co-ed, although no females were present. The room had a dank odor of wet dog and was filled with men performing weight exercises necessitating lifting, pulling, thrusting, stretching, contorting and, predominantly, deep labored breathing. My grandfather positioned me on a weight bench and spotted me while I attempted to press a weighted bar appropriate to my size and strength. I then lifted weights over my head utilizing my deltoids, curled them with my biceps, hefted them with my lats and rhomboids, and shrugged them with my traps. The various exercises made my puny muscles feel alive and strong. Again, I was hooked!


This all went through my mind as I visited by grandfather in his hospital room. He was in his late seventies and had suffered a heart attack. The doctors had implanted a new experimental devise, called a pacemaker, into Sy’s chest. It was rather large and quite visible below his skin. He was thin, skin a pale yellow and his chest seemed to sink beneath the weight of the pacemaker. It saddened me to see him in this state. This powerful man, the man who had bequeathed to me his love of exercise, was now at the mercy of white coated, bespectacled physicians. They were doing their best, but they were missing the point. Sy was a man who respected his body and, when it could no longer perform, he would have preferred nature take its course.

Sy beckoned me with his eyes and I approached his bed. His misted eyes told me he was tired and in pain, but with various protruding tubes and wires, his arm encircled my shoulder and pulled me close. His grip was an iron vise. If I had wanted, I could not have broken his hold. He was holding me for love and he was saying goodbye. And he was showing me a human body graced by strength was a powerful ally, even at its end. With that one last grasp, he was showing me how to live. With an iron grip, he was showing me to be always strong.


Today with modern medicines, procedures and technology, Sy would probably

live into his ‘90’s. He would have been actively exercising, keeping his aged body honed, his mind sharp, and his muscles crisp and defined. Had he lived, Sy would have maintained his iron grip and fought to perform activities of daily living with independence and verve.


This lesson is one we can all live by. No matter our physical disabilities, our illnesses, our bodies’ strength is paramount. My clients are those seniors who are healthy or who suffer from various ailments as Parkinson’s, MS, coronary issues and chronic illnesses. Yet my clients all hold a commonality of purpose. Whether healthy or beset with illness, they all strive to remain independent and forge an iron grip. Sy would be proud of them!


Submitted by Richard Portugal, Fitness Senior Style, LLC, 201-937-4722.

Copyright © 2018 Richard J. Portugal All rights reserved.

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