In May 2016, after gaining weight and battling chronic soccer injuries, I asked Brian the physiotherapist: “Do you know a good personal trainer?”
I quickly added that I wanted someone who knew what a 50-something body felt like – I didn’t want a 20-something trainer apathetically giving instructions while checking Instagram on their mobile phone.
Brian looked up from painfully massaging my calf, smiled (masochistically I now realise) and said “There is only one – Rob Rowland Smith – the Sandhill Warrior. Let’s call him now”.
Brian put the phone on speaker for me to hear: “This is the Sandhill Warrior. I’m currently busy running the dunes at Palm Beach, doing close grip chin ups and decline push-ups – so I’m out of action. Please leave a message.”
I remember feeling quite scared – this sounded more intense than I’d been thinking.
Naively, I didn’t know that Rob had a reputation as a hard-core fitness freak who has successfully trained some of the biggest names in the business – various Olympians, Kelly Slater, Tom Carol, Layne Beachley, Pamela Anderson, the Manly Sea Eagles and The Tigers rugby league teams – to name but a few. And he’s infamous for his intense sessions in the Palm Beach sand dunes, known to make Olympians cry.
Coming from a rugby league and rowing background he has amazing endurance – especially when you consider he still does 4-5 hard sessions a day. He always leads and works with his clients through every one of these workouts. Good thing I didn’t know that then.
A few days later, I was invited to the Warrior’s so he could “size me up”. He was pottering in his outdoor gym, which is nicknamed Muscle Beach – I recall a lot of sand, weights, various machines and a major feeling of trepidation. He agreed we’d start slowly and build up my base.
The initial sessions (grooming!) were designed to give me aerobic fitness and be fun – 15km cycles around Narrabeen Lake followed by body weight exercises and sit ups. Swimming and sand running at Bilgola and kayaking on Pittwater. For the latter we’d leave from Palm Beach and head across to Mackerel and Resolute beaches to jog on sand, do sit-ups, water wading, push-ups and dips on park benches.
It was all outdoors and I loved the sense of adventure that came with it, plus the chats we’d have while cycling and kayaking.
And the Warrior’s enthusiasm. “How good is this? ” would be repeatedly shouted to me as we came across a beautiful vista – often the only people around at 6.30am in the morning.
About six weeks later and five kilos down, I was formally inducted to Muscle Beach. I recall the session painfully well. His warm-up routine is 210 repetitions (70 movements with a 12 kilo bar, repeat three times) – 10 each of bicep curls, behind the head press, bar raises, bent row, straight arm lifts, 45 degree press, behind the head press. Followed by 25 push-ups – then repeat. All done quickly with no break.
Muscles used to pushing a computer mouse and keyboard were quickly exhausted, shaking – with the Warrior observing me bemusedly like a scientific experiment and giving calm, measured encouragement. And that was just the warm up! I was shattered.
A few weeks later my good mate Dave decided, having noticed some changes in me, that he wanted “some Warrior action too” and joined us on a kayaking session from Palm Beach.
Across at Resolute Beach, the Warrior realised he had two David’s on his hands, making instructions difficult – so he pointed to me and Dave in turn and said “D1 on my right, D2 on my left”. And D1 and D2 were born.
Dave and I eventually joined the regular weeknight warrior weight sessions at Muscle Beach and were introduced as D1 and D2 to a great bunch of blokes from all walks of life – tradies, professionals, students – including Big Patty, Super Sis, Big H, The Enforcer, Gaz, Mighty Morgan, The Moth (as in Behemoth), Sensei Pete and others. That’s D2 immediately to the right of the Warrior in the photo above.
After a while my son James started to come too – and of course he needed a nickname and was quickly christened “Son of D1” (Dv0.5 was discarded as too hard).
Two years on I retain a great enjoyment of these sessions – held every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – they’re outside, we train rain, hail or shine, but usually with dappled sunlight and a sea breeze. There’s great banter and a wonderfully positive energy.
And always a playlist at high volume.
I’m not sure how, but over time I’ve become DJ Dave – in charge of the playlist – now carefully curated for high energy tracks and subtlety changed every week.
The Warrior is a child of the 70s, so there’s a base of AC/DC, The Angels and that ilk. But thanks to my musician Son of D1 we add in new material as well. It is always fun to hear the Warrior’s (negative) reaction to a new tune that is not to his taste.
Then one day I wondered if we could take the playlist to the next level …
And that’s how the idea for holding a Warrior Christmas Party was born, a celebrating of a year of working out together at Muscle Beach, with a live band as the soundtrack.
It’s coming up on Saturday, I’ll let you know how it all panned out next week …
As for the strange main photo on this post … apparently training in a mask simulates low oxygen /high altitude environments … or it could just be that the Warrior likes some kink …
(It’s the former!)