Dad Fitness: Thanks, Dad

Editor’s note: The Father Life welcomes fitness guru Sean Barker. Look for his Dad Fitness column every month at

Wabush, Labrador, Canada. A small mining town nestled in the cold and desolate woodland of northern Canada. 7 months of the year this isolated town in the middle of nowhere is covered in a deep and cold blanket of snow. Darkness comes early and temperatures with the wind-chill can reach –70 degrees Celsius. But there is a place where I go where the temperature is a lot warmer. Tucked away in the basement of the local recreation center is a little room I like to call The Dungeon. Some people call it “The Weight Room,” others call it a gym, but to me it’s a dungeon.

It was originally built back in the early 80’s by old veteran power lifters. One in particular went on to win a gold medal in international competition. Almost every piece of exercise equipment was made by hand in the nearby iron ore mines. Welded and made of cold steel, almost every piece of equipment you see in this “gym” was built from scratch. Chalk filled barbells, dumbbells, squat racks and lifting platforms are what fill this gym. No chrome, no fancy machines, and one broken exercise bike tucked away in the corner. As for music, there is no surround sound system here playing Ryan Seacrest’s Top 40 Countdown, just an old stereo that mostly caters to heavy metal music… perfect.

Entering the Rec. Center, I reach the bottom of the stairs. As I enter through the old squeaky door, I drop down a little ramp onto the floor, which is concrete with rubber matting. Even the rubber matting covering the floor are old conveyor belts salvaged from the local mines. The low ceiling with condensation dripping from overhead pipes and bad lighting would give anyone the feeling of claustrophobia. The horrifying screams, the sound of cold steel, and the smell of sweat momentarily give me a chill like a cold winters day. But at the same time a fire begins to burn inside that is making my blood boil in anticipation of wrapping my hands around hundreds of pounds of cold steel. Your heart immediately begins to race, knowing before you leave you will endure a physical torture familiar with any dungeon.

The homemade paint chipped dumbbells don’t all go up in 5lb increments. After your 60’s you have 67’s, 73’s, 80’s, 82’s, 97’s, and 100 pounders. Unfortunately, this is where the rack ends. But you have to be creative, and there are still plenty of plates to make any bar bend.

I have trained in gyms all over Canada, and I wouldn’t trade this gym for a Gold’s in Venice. I practically grew up in this gym. I have been training there for 15 years.

I was first introduced to lifting weights at 12 years old. My father who was in his late thirties at the time started training at our local weight-room. No it was not a “gym” it was a weight room in the basement of our small town’s recreation centre.

I started to train consistently at age 16. As time went by the veteran lifters at the local gym really noticed that I stood out above any one my age, not just for my physique but also for my sincere dedication and love for training. I would get up bright and early while on summer vacation to be at the gym to train with my father (who had trained for over 20 years), and loved the challenge of pumping iron and the camaraderie that existed between the regular lifters at the gym. I loved learning from the old school lifters such as a former Mr. Barbados, and an international gold medal winner in powerlifting. It was like our own version of Pumping Iron, the bodybuilding documentary that made Arnold famous.

I will always cherish those memories of getting up early in the morning when all my friends were sleeping or at hockey practice, and spending that time in the gym with my father. As for all the guys I knew who grew up playing hockey and listening to their hockey dads scream at them for an hour, hardly any continue to play today. The time together in the gym taught me life long lessons of work ethic, goal setting, failure, and many more. I only hope that I can instill the same values in my children and show them the vital importance that exercise plays in living a long and healthy life. I sincerely hope that Dad Fitness will inspire you to do the same…

Image by: Nathaniel Dodson

0 thoughts on “Dad Fitness: Thanks, Dad

  1. Great article big man. I started working out there in 1977 and things haven’t changed since those early days….that’s what makes the “dungeon” unique. My son and I have also worked out together…great memories. There is something special about the basic, simple things of a “homemade gym” and the clanging of plates. I will be leaving the area within the year, but I’ll take many fond memories and more importantly the memories of good friends that I have met over the last 31 years right in the basement of the rec. center. I wouldn’t trade it for a Gold’s Gym either!! There are still young guys and girls going there to pump em up…good to see the next generation has an interest in fitness and a healthy lifestyle and you don’t have to pay an arm and leg to use it.

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