Moose was 17 years-old when I met him.
And already over 200 pounds. Kind of chubby, yes, but certainly not fat. He was just… big. He was Moose.
A ferocious college linebacker. Strong and intimidating, successful and popular.
Moose was pushed to the weight room early and responded fast, weighing 265 pounds before his 22nd birthday. When he walked down the hallway even the faculty made room. “Here comes the wrecking ball,” they’d joke.
But that wasn’t the Moose I knew.
We were in a few classes together, where Moose was well spoken and incisive. He also loved computers, and was the first I knew to own an Apple while the rest of us tried to split atoms on a Tandy or Commodore 64.
Moose and I went our separate ways after graduation. He failed to turn pro in football (I’m told he skipped the tryouts), and eventually landed a career in IT. But he was still huge and training hard, likely among the first meatheads that bent barbells while clicking & dragging for a living.
So it was quite a surprise when over 20 years later, Moose reached out to me through this blog.
It wasn’t to say hi. It was for help.
Moose was in a dark place.
He told me that he hated lifting now. For one, his body couldn’t keep up anymore. His workouts were “killing him.” A once easy 405-pound bench press now couldn’t exceed 185 otherwise his shoulders would scream for a week afterwards.
He had similar issues with overhead pressing, and big lower body lifts like squats and deadlifts were also out due to two back surgeries and a messed up neck.
To top it off, he couldn’t sit for extended periods, which affected both his career and his new hobby writing short stories and political essays.
Obviously his injuries required a re-hab expert, and while I was checking if I knew someone reputable in his city it occurred to me:
“If you were getting so beat up,” I asked, “why didn’t you just change things?”
The exchange that followed moved me. Most of all it made me question everything I do, from this little blog to my twice-daily treks to the gym.
“Because I’m supposed to be big,” he said.
Because he’s Moose.
The fiercest guy on the field. Strongest in the gym. Bench 405 without a warm-up, squat 500 without wraps.
That’s the guy most people new. But that was also 20 years ago, and I personally had long since moved on from “make the bar bend” thinking — and haven’t been happier or looked better. So why couldn’t he?
Turns out he’d tried. Many times. After his first major surgery he decided to slim down; to drop below 200 and see if he could get all lean and saucy, like a Chippendales dancer with a red beard and 19-inch calves.
He lasted a month. Not because he didn’t have discipline, but because no one would “let” him.
“I’d walk into my gym and start doing my high-rep sets of lat pulldowns and the old bros would laugh at me. They were just kidding, I know, but I felt it too.”
With each pound he lost, he’d feel like less of a man. Smaller, weaker, frailer.
“I’d get below 230 and say screw it and start bulking again.”
That meant getting back on steroids.
Moose was never shy about drug use, at least to me, and admits they played a significant role in building his massive physique.
But now he needs the drugs not just to maintain his muscles, but to keep his delicate sense of self worth from tumbling into a deep, dark hole. A hole his own brother fell into at only 26 years old, using a noose he’d rigged up with a plastic electrical cord.
Moose was the one that found his brother that cold winter night. And credits it for keeping him alive today.
“My family never recovered from burying my brother,” he said. “I could never do that to them.
“I have to find a better way.”
Moose is getting professional help.
I’ll be sending him workouts every month too. Workouts to help him feel jacked and pumped up instead of chasing meaningless PR’s down a rabbit hole.
I’ve even convinced him to join a more “normal” fitness center; a far cry from the hardcore gym he used to clang and bang in.
I love a good lifting pit but I also know how powerful environment is, and the less “triggers” he encounters from his peers, the better.
Yes, he’s going to piss and moan and make fun of the programming and the douchebag treadmill crowd, but he’s promised to stick to it.
Cause he knows it’s time to start looking forward.
I’ve been in bodybuilding for a long time.
Many of the bro’s I’ve met are some of the funniest, sweetest, “would take a bullet for you” types you’ll ever meet. That’s why I’m proud to call myself an unrepentant bro.
But some bros, they’re hurting. Not physically, but psychologically — they have an identity crisis.
They’ve spent most of their lives being the “big guy” or the “ripped guy” that people can’t imagine them as anything else. And they can’t either.
But the only constant in life is change.
Some bros are like Hiroo Onoda.
He’s the Japanese intelligence officer who went so deep underground in the remote Philippines jungle that he believed the Second World War was still being fought — 29 years after the Japanese had officially surrendered.
It took a personal visit from his former commander for Onoda to finally step down and accept the truth — that the war was over, that they had lost, and it was time to move on. With dignity.
In Onoda’s case, it was a tough transition. Japan had changed a lot since he’d left. And it won’t be easy for Moose either.
But I have faith in him. Because he’s smart and creative and has bros like me in his corner.
And no matter how “small” or “weak” he gets, he’ll always be one of us.
He’ll always be Moose.