Pete Buckley/Voices: It's man vs. StairMaster

Pete Buckley/Voices: It's man vs. StairMaster

By PETE BUCKLEY

So there I was, entering the local gym for the first time since I moved into the community. I noticed that the facility was packed ... massive weightlifters grunting and straining to bench press plates of metal weighing more than me ... runners in multi-colored tights holding water bottles as they raced on treadmills ... bike riders bent over stationary bicycles, some pedaling furiously, others more leisurely ... men and women of every height and weight clinging to the handles on elliptical machines as they pushed these handles in rhythm with the foot paddles.

Every machine and weight bench was occupied except for a lone machine located in the absolute center of the gym. This machine is best described as a moving staircase and it closely resembles a small escalator with railings on each side and, I find out later, is commonly known as a StairMaster or stair climber. I assume the railings are designed to hold onto while you walk up the steps that continually move toward you. The machine looks simple enough, but I wonder why not one person in this crowded gym is taking advantage of this unused exercise machine. Its location, in the middle of the gym, reminded me of an altar at a church, but instead of pews, the altar (StairMaster) was surrounded by other exercise machines. I think to myself, "what the heck," which is also a phrase my granddaughters use when they are about to do something dangerous.

I slowly climb aboard the miniature escalator, and I notice that when I do, all the other patrons of the gym appear to turn their heads, simultaneously, toward me. I feel a little self-conscious as I try to figure out the dynamics of turning the StairMaster on and adjusting the speed and the length of time I plan to spend on the machine. I don't want to appear like an out-of-shape knucklehead to the throngs of onlookers, so I turn the speed to a level just below a category identified as "Olympic" and I set the time for a respectable 20 minutes and hit the start button.

I immediately realize why no one uses this machine. I can't see the stairs, because they are flying at me so fast that they are blurred. Within 60 seconds I'm sweating. Within 2 minutes my shirt is soaked through.

I glance to my right and left and notice that all eyes in the gym remain on me. My ego has somehow superseded common sense and I decide not to slow the machine. I tell myself I don't have to last the full 20 minutes because if I make it 10 minutes at this speed, I will be the envy of all present.

Seconds pass by like hours, minutes seem like days. My knuckles turn white from holding on to the railings so hard. Sweat has caused a puddle to form on the moving stairs and drops from my face strike the puddle like rain from a thunderstorm. I look at the time on the StairMaster and see that I have endured almost nine minutes of hell and have only one more minute of self-imposed torture left.

My feet are no longer listening to the commands of my brain. I think my shoes are raising high enough to land onto the next oncoming stair, but my feet knows otherwise. My right foot hits the edge of the next stair and my left foot falls short of the subsequent step. I fall spectacularly, face first, onto the stairs which continue their unceasing motion, pushing me to the rear of the stairmaster where I lie in a wet heap on the floor ...exhausted, unable and unwilling to move.

As I gather my wits and slink off to the locker room, I don't have the nerve to look to see if the crowd was still staring at me. When I returned to the gym the next day, I immediately headed toward the StairMaster ... and bypassed it to sit on a stationary bike.

Pete Buckley, a retired chief deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office who previously worked as a special agent with the FBI for 24 years, recently moved to St. Joseph.