I originally wrote this post three months ago. It slotted in nice and easy as the next in a long string of “My Story” posts on this blog, and the first since COVID-19 shut down, well, everything. Then George Floyd’s murder woke up me, and millions the world over, that nothing about this is nice and easy. It hasn’t felt right to take up space with my (a straight white cis man) voice. Yet you’re reading this, so clearly I believe that what I’ve written below has some type of value to offer right now. But events of the last three months have changed my story, and “My Story,” in ways with which I’m still grappling. You’ll see some of that below, alongside the irreverence and corny humor that my tens of fans have come to expect from my prose. Anyway, thank you for reading…
I tried, really, to be a gym person. But I always felt far too self-conscious about my body, my skills, being in the way, not deserving of the space I was using on the machines, and more. So I landed on running as my exercise of choice. I could go right from my door, for three-ish miles at a time, alone, in fresh air. For a decade I felt no urge to change. But in the spring of 2016, I watched this video of Broadway stars Gavin Creel and Aaron Tveit singing “Take Me or Leave Me” from RENT, and, no joke, it changed my life. In that moment I knew… I needed to be Aaron Tveit. That body, that voice, that form-fitting white henley tee – I needed it. But when I looked in the mirror I saw scrawny arms, an unremarkable singing voice, and most disheartening of all: ZERO sexy henleys. I was crushed. Ok, I said, I may not have Tveit’s looks, or voice, or easy confidence, but nothing’s stopping me but me from having that body. Or that henley.
Turns out that shirt Does. Not. Exist. But did I give up? NO! I could still get that body, and as it happened, I had a friend who owned a gym.
I don’t remember actually meeting Hannah Wydeven, but I do remember seeing her in improv shows at HUGE Theater, where her strength and willingness to be vulnerable were on full display. In the years since, we’ve shared the stage together, spent literal years on the greatest trivia team to grace two Republic bar locations; I got to attend her wedding, her housewarming, and the birth of her child! (Not literally the birth, but syntax is hard. You get it.) As much as I want to be Aaron Tveit, I maybe want to be Hannah more. She has a truly inspiring level of focus and determination, a clear sense of right and wrong, she knows what she wants, has enough drive to get there, and enough empathy to bring as many people as she can with her. It thus didn’t surprise me one night at trivia when, after months of mounting frustrations with her then-employer, she announced that she was quitting to open her own gym. It surprised me even less that she actually did it. Good for her, I thought then, but I’m not a gym person. I did back the Kickstarter, though.
But two years later, buoyed by my best friend Aaron Tveit, I walked into Solcana for the first time. I wasn’t surprised by what I encountered; I was surprised at how much, and how quickly, I loved it. The two things I love most about running: the silence and the solitude. Two staples of almost every Solcana workout: the loud music and other people. But I quickly discovered that the Solcana community shares the same qualities I love about the improv community: openness to new experiences, willingness to fail, generosity of spirit, and that Wellstonian ethos: “We all do better when we all do better.” Everyone is so damn friendly and encouraging. As someone who actively avoided exercising with others, I’m shocked by how deeply I’ve become invested in seeing the people around me get stronger and achieve their goals. Ugh, what is this feeling? I don’t like it!
What strikes me most is how rare this seems to be. I know that had I instead entered a big box gym that first day, with Aaron Tveit dreams and “Help me with this pickle jar” arms, I would’ve left trying to convince myself that, actually, I don’t really like pickles that much anyway. Even other CrossFit* gyms, as far as I can tell, don’t vibe like Solcana vibes. My gym is welcoming, and loving, and forgiving, and ruthless all at once. It wants your best every day, but always within the limits of your best today.
Even now, Solcana, and Hannah, continue to inspire me. As we’re all going crazy stuck at home, Solcana continues to provide daily workouts via the magic of the internet, scalable and challenging for any skill level and home equipment (or lack thereof). This hasn’t slowed even as businesses have been allowed to cautiously reopen. After the disgraceful response from CrossFit HQ in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Hannah personally confronted CrossFit’s CEO, and led the way for thousands of gyms to disaffiliate from the brand after it became clear that our gym’s values did not align. It’s not an easy time to maintain a consistent workout habit. It’s an even harder time to be a small gym – a business that relies on people congregating in, and interacting with, a physical space. Even harder without the built-in marketing of being a “CrossFit” gym. But it’s a testament to the community this gym has fostered, and the dedication from the coaches to making fitness accessible for literally anyone, that of all the places to which I’d still feel connected during these isolation times, a gym is at the top of the list. I feel lucky and honored to be at Solcana, and even luckier to call Hannah a friend.
Honestly, the only way I could feel luckier is if someone found me that damn Henley.