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Last night at my local 24 Hour Fitness I was doing situps (a painful reality that takes up far too much of my time, alas) when I spotted a man on a nearby bench. Each time my head came up, there he was. Dressed to the nines for the gym, expensive headphones. Slumped against the wall, immersed in his phone.

Head up- yup, still there.

Head up- yup, still there.

One hundred and twenty situps later, he was still there.

I labored through eight exercises.

Still there. Dressed to the nines for the gym, buried in his cell phone.

Not a drop of sweat.

Couldn’t say the same for me by this point. Thank heaven for tennis wrist bands. Keeps the sweat out of my eyes. I’m half-blind out there without my glasses to say nothing of three quarters of the Dead Sea running across my vision.

Eventually the guy got up and walked around. A lot. Still staring at his cell phone. Very much as though he was touring the facility but terrified of getting something on his white shirt. He refused to get in the game.

I was drenched. Probably didn’t smell very ladylike either.

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A Real Cowboy……

This reminded me of an event put on by some years back here in Colorado. The social involved horseback riding. My friend Ginger, who has a stable in the low foothills, was hosting this opportunity for folks to mingle over their mounts.

Guy shows up in cowboy boots, decked out in a huge Stetson. Spangly shirt. Minus the guitar.

I’d been there for about two hours helping Ginger saddle up. I’ve ridden since I was four. Guy strides up to me and asks me if I need help with that.

“Thanks no, we got this.” He strode off. Flirted with a few of the girls who were all duly impressed with this honest-to-God, real cowboy.

Until, of course, we mounted.

Mr. Stetson (who turned out to be an IBM salesman) wasn’t entirely sure how to get on. Once on, he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the reins. (“You hold them,” I offered.) Once mounted, he hung on to the horn of the saddle with a gorilla grip. Riding this way throws your whole body off balance, you curl forward like Quasimodo instead of settling comfortably into your saddle, and it telegraphs a clear message to your horse: ROOKIE.

At one point we cantered. I will spare you the details.

We never did find that hat. A genuine Stetson can set you back up to $1000 these days.

He’d never been in the game.

Clothes Don’t Make the Athlete

Putting on cowboy boots doesn’t make you a rider. Dressing in expensive Nike tennis gear doesn’t make you Rafael Nadal. Buying a pair of Air Jordan 23 Trophy Room sneakers for $1600 doesn’t make you Michael Jordan. It makes you gullible. Buys him a lot of cigars. Besides, lately Michael looks like he could hit the gym a little more himself. He needs to get back in the game.

Good Intentions Don’t Get You in the Game

Mr. Expensive Headphones was still making the rounds when I headed back to stretch out. Never picked up a piece of gear. Sat on a single machine. Sadly, his body looks like this is how he spends his time: watching others work.

Gear doesn’t do us any good if we don’t use it. My gym shoes get so foul that if someone did break the lock on my gym locker while I showered, the thief would promptly expire. They get tossed when they start walking around on their own. Hey. At least they get used.

That’s more than I can say for a lot of expensive gear that people buy with good intentions, but end up either being drying racks for your wife’s Victoria Secret underwear or put out on the driveway at the spring garage sale.

We Watch Others Work

Today we are far more adept at watching others get dirty and sweaty than we are doing it ourselves. Most of the technological advances for the last twenty or thirty years have focused on making life easier, not more challenging. Video games do our adventuring and turn us into fake heroes. Virtual reality replaces real life experiences in the natural areas that are getting hijacked by our government. We let our sports teams do the sweating. While we sit in comfort, our vacuum cleaners purr around the room, our comforters make the beds themselves (no I didn’t make this up, see, public toilets flush without our help and our cars park themselves.

I love to parallel park. And I am good at it.

So many gizmos and doodads make life easier for us that we have expanded exponentially to the point where waiting rooms have sprouted double-wide obesity chairs. We can saunter around a gym looking like we lift (without the body anyway) and take the elevator down to the first floor because the stairs are just too much work (this obviously doesn’t apply to disabled or infirm, but you get my drift).

Time to Throw Down and Get Dirty

You want results? Get in the game. The hell with pricey gear or designer duds. They might give you a temporary ego lift but they don’t turn you into an athlete. Get in the game. Get dirty and filthy and break a nail. Get sweaty and messy and wrestle with the dog in the yard. Come inside with grass stains all over your butt and dirt in your teeth. Roll on the floor with your kids with the TV off. Permanently stain your new jeans playing softball or rugby. Get in the game. Put down the fake adventures and the fake experiences and the fake epic hero stories. Go out and be one yourself. Some of life’s very best adventure stories come from going out with crap gear and figuring out how to make it back alive. Holes in sleeping bags, tents that collapse in snow storms, GoreTex that doesn’t work in an Amazon downpour (that last is epic, it’s happened to me).

Then tell me that wasn’t fun.

Getting in the game makes you laugh. Grin. Releases endorphins. Gives you a huge high. Reminds you that you have a kid inside- who has been waiting a very long time to be asked out on the lawn for a came of catch.

To wit: last week a guy in his seventies comes into the gym wearing dress slacks, dress shoes, a nice shirt and sweater vest. Ran through all his exercises. No expensive duds. He left smiling. He’s in the game.

Let’s go play.