“Avete sentito che è morto?”

I overheard that question countless times growing up. It was a hot topic of adult conversation. Loosely translated from Italian to English, it means, “Hey, did you hear who died?” No disrespect whatsoever to the dead but there’s a limit to how many times you can hear that question. There was no Facebook when I was a child. No Twitter. No Youtube. No Internet. But social networking was just as powerful then as now, if not more. Word traveled at the speed of sound. Especially about who died.

I got hired as a cop in 1975, three months after my 18th birthday. I quit in 1990 at the age of 33. “Guess who died?” was a hot topic at work. Death is a big part of real-life cops & robbers. During my rookie season as a cop, I was stopped at a red light on Niagara St. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a man crossing the road get hit by a car. The man went flying in the air and crashed on the pavement. Later pronounced dead at the hospital. Even though I saw it with my own eyes, my mind didn’t get it instantly. Did I really just see a guy get killed in a car accident? It took a few seconds to process. I called for an ambulance. I should still have been in grade 13. Yes, there was grade 13 at the time. I got hired during the fall semester of grade 13. Instead, I’m witnessing a death-in-progress.

About a month later, during a day shift, I saw a car drive off the road and slam into a building. Drive pronounced dead at the hospital. Two deaths witnessed in one rookie season. People asked me, “Hey man, you saw two guys get killed!” like it was a badge of honor/honour.

The pattern of death continued. Eventually it led to having to knock on doors and telling parents that their child was dead in car accidents or because of horrific crime. The number of deaths investigated mounted. Autopsy after autopsy. One day as a detective in 1988, I was called to investigate a death – guy sitting in a living-room chair with his brains blown out. Two hours later, another call. Guy hanging in a garage. We’re shorthanded. You’re it.

Later that week, my partner and I were investigating a homicide. While trying to figure out who killed that dead body, we were sent to a park where a dead guy had a knife sticking out of his chest. These are just a few examples. I’ve been asked thousands of times why I quit policing in 1990. There’s a long list of reasons. Too much death is somewhere in the top ten.

When I turned 40, more and more people asked me, “Hey, did you hear who died?” Some people add more – “Man, a lot of our people our age are dying.” I stopped reading newspapers sometime in the 1980’s because I got enough of death and destruction at work. When morbid curiosity gets the better of me and I sneak a peek at a newspaper, I avoid making eye-contact with the obituaries because I don’t want to become a “Hey, did you hear who died?” guy.

When I taught wannabe cops in college, I had to teach 3-hour lectures to 200-plus jam-packed auditoriums. When I sensed I was becoming boring, I belted out, “WHO WANTS TO SEE AN AUTOPSY??” All hands shot up in the air. Instant stimulation. I shamelessly used death to get the crowd back on my side. I wasn’t proud of using death to stimulate an audience but it worked. I formed ‘autopsy committees.” Elected ‘autopsy presidents.’ The number of ‘likes’ grew.

Two years ago, I was asked to listen to a sales pitch from an investment/insurance company. This is how it started – “You going to die. Let’s get that straight. You’re going to die.” Then, someone convinced me to get on Facebook a couple of years ago. My news feed grew in number of obituaries. What’s all this got to do with workout motivation? Plenty. Life is depressing enough. Working out makes me feel alive. Let me say this again – working out makes me feel alive. Working out isn’t about pumping iron, its about pumping life to fight the steady bombardment of depressing news daily/hourly.

I’ve been asked why we only have one TV at X Fitness. One small TV. One small old TV. I have a standard answer – “Motivation and inspiration. I want to minimize the volume of depressing news. Addition by subtraction. ” Working out is Sacred Time. I tell my football players that the gym is a Sacred Place. I tell them that the practice field is a Sacred Place. Do not pollute the brightness of Sacred Time and Sacred Places with darkness. Shut Up And Lift (SUAL of a Lifter). That’s sounds insulting but it isn’t. It’s great advice. Shut off depressing noise. Shut out the darkness. Just lift. Just run. Just shut up and shut it out. It does work out for the best.

One of my workout motivators is to escape depressing talk, depressing news, depressing people. Working out puts me in a Sacred Place. We don’t just have one live to live. We have one life to live FULLY. Any night where my mind tries to convince me to take it easy, to lift light, to walk instead of run, to coddle myself, I flip the switch. The ‘switch turned on’ is a tacit experience. Words don’t do it justice. It’s one of those things that has to be experienced. But it sounds this – “Don’t fuck around!” My inner voice drops those 3 words instinctively.

“Don’t fuck around!” is not gratuitous profanity. It’s real. It’s a message that works. I gave thought to giving up swearing for Lent but football season is starting and I know what’s going to happen. Plus, if I give it up for Lent, the implication is that I can resume swearing after Easter. That didn’t make sense to me. And, I’m concerned about f’ing around with my inner voice. I’m deeply concerned about the inner fire going out. I’m not advocating foul-mouthed conduct by any means. I’m not using insincere shock value to add popularity to my blogs. I’m simply sharing the truth. I’ve tried to tone down my inner voice but “Don’t screw around” doesn’t work out the same. “Don’t mess around” doesn’t work out either. What works out for me is, “Don’t fuck around!” at those moments of truth where I have to decide to go heavier or go light, and when to run a few more minutes or give up and quit.

Peace.

Gino Arcaro M.Ed., B.Sc, Level 3 NCCP
owner – X Fitness Inc.
head coach – Oakville Longhorns football team
author – Soul of a Lifter