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Woman shares the powerful impact of a 'hardcore' gym bro's words of encouragement

Previous experience had her feeling nervous when the man approached her at the gym, but what he said brought her to tears.

Steph shares how a few simple words made all the difference.

Going to the gym can be a daunting prospect for a lot of people. It shouldn't be—the whole point of going to the gym is to exercise, which is something that should universally be applauded—but sometimes it can feel like there's pressure to be at a certain fitness level or have a certain physique before stepping foot in the door.

For people who are heavier, gym culture can be especially intimidating. Unfortunately, not everyone remembers to practice kindness and fatphobia appears to remain a fairly tolerated prejudice. That shouldn't stop people with big bodies from enjoying all that fitness centers have to offer, but all too often, it does.

It hasn't stopped a woman named Steph from working out regularly at her gym, albeit with some trepidation. As she shared in a hugely viral TikTok, she's experienced some unkind behavior at the gym that made her nervous when a man approached her recently. But her description of the encounter ultimately demonstrated how powerful a few positive words can be.

In a video made from her car just after leaving the gym, Steph explained that a "hardcore" gym-goer who is "super tough" and covered in tattoos had came up to talk to her. Her initial response was to be afraid of what he was going to say to her, based on previous experience. She shared in the video how hard it's been to stay steady with her workouts, especially with medications she's on making her body hold onto weight, but she's been working hard to be consistent. She steeled herself for whatever he might say.

She didn't expect it to be this: "I've seen you in here every week, almost every day. I've seen you in here every week—and I'm proud of you." Nor did she expect that such simple words of encouragement could make such a huge impact.

Watch her tell the story:

@steph5468

#gymprogress #workputjourney #keepgoing #healingjourney

People had a lot to say about the interchange and Steph's emotional response to it.

"People do not realize, how one person can change everything," wrote one commenter.

"Girl you are CRUSHING IT," wrote another. "That man you encountered is what real men do. Encourage. Support. Be human! It isn’t hard! ❤️"

"No one knows your story, your struggles. You're doing the dang thing and that takes courage and strength. You. Keep. Going. I'm proud of you too!" shared another.

More and more words of encouragement flooded Steph's comment section, and people on Upworthy's Instagram page weighed in as well.

"I'm a fitness coach and this made me cry 😢 just having someone say they are proud of you can move mountains for so many of us who didn’t/ don’t get the praise growing up," wrote one person.

"Who knows? He may be going through something too and saw a determined, consistent, fellow traveler," wrote another. "You share your Truth so powerfully. You may not know how many people will see this and be encouraged by your honesty. I’m in awe that you show up for YOURSELF every day. And as for the rude and ill-mannered? Well they struggle too—just to be decent kind human beings. Some people have not been shown Empathy and therefore do not know how to use that muscle. You are beautiful, smart, articulate, wise and a woman who knows where she’s headed. Keep walking, head up knowing there are many many more who do empathize, who see you and are on your side❤️"

"It’s amazing to think about how this man’s single act of kindness, spread through you to affect us all in a positive way," shared another. "This made all of our days, and I’m crying tears of joy while I write this. Please thank him from all of us the next time you see him, if you’re comfortable with that. And thank you for sharing! ❤️"

Indeed, thanks to both Steph and the hardcore, tattooed gym bro for being wonderful examples for us all. We never know what a small act of kindness or a few words of encouragement will do to make someone's life significantly better, but it's always worth trying.


This article originally appeared on 9.5.23

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Anyone affected by substance abuse knows that knowledge of the problem alone can’t help beat the disease.

For Todd Crandell, it took three drunken driving charges and 13 years of consequences to decide to get sober despite that he lost both his mom and uncle to addiction.

Crandell's mugshot. Image via Racing for Recovery.

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Finding the motivation to go to the gym isn't easy for anyone. But it can be much harder for women, for reasons that have nothing to do with actually working out.

Knowing they're likely walking into a hornet's nest of people (men) who will bother, critique, stare at, or otherwise annoy them is an unfortunate reality for many female gym-goers.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

About 14% of women say they're intimidated by the possibility of men leering or judging them while they work out, according to research done by Cosmopolitan Body in 2014. The problem gets even worse in the weights section, which is typically overrun with men. The survey discovered almost half of all women found the area intimidating because of "the people who use it."

Anecdotal evidence backs that up. Reddit and fitness discussion forums are rife with women asking for advice on dealing with men at the gym who gawk, flirt, interrupt, or even harass them. The common (and quite depressing) responses: develop a "resting bitch face," learn to be super rude, get better at ignoring people, or report these men to gym management.

Instead, we ought to be reminding men they don't own the gym; women shouldn't have to "put up with" rude behavior or "find a way" to not attract attention. Wouldn't it be better for everyone if women didn't have to deal with harassment at all?

So, fellow dudes and fellow gym go-ers, I implore you, think for a second about what women go through at the gym. And if you catch yourself or your friends doing any of this stuff, please cut it out.

1. Women can tell when you're staring at them, and it's not as flattering as you think.

Making a woman feel "on display" by leering when she's just trying to get a workout in is a surefire way to make her feel uncomfortable or even scared. And no, tight pants and sports bras aren't an invitation.

Think a lingering glance here and there isn't a big deal? Upworthy reader Meredith Cantrell says many of the women she knows actually drive to "gay neighborhoods" to work out so they won't be gawked at.

Totally unnecessary if guys can learn to keep our eyes to ourselves.

2. Women go to the gym to work out (like everyone else) — not speed-date between sets.

It's not that you can't meet that special someone at the gym, but there's a time and a place. Flirting with a woman at the gym when she's in the middle of lifting weights or grinding out miles on the treadmill is neither the time nor place.

Not only is it super rude to interrupt (honestly, you're not going to get a good response doing this anyway), it's also pretty dangerous to distract someone while they're, say, holding the equivalent of their own bodyweight on their back while doing squats. Yet, incredibly, it happens all the time.

A good rule of thumb: When someone's wearing headphones, it usually means they don't want to talk to anyone. Even you, handsome.

3. When women lift heavy weights, guys around them get insecure and lash out.

Reader Emma Johnson writes that one day, while working with her trainer, she hit a pretty impressive 250-kilogram leg press (over 550 pounds — go Emma!). A jealous guy standing nearby couldn't help but chime in, "Yeah, but you're doing it wrong."

Look, guys, women are strong. Sometimes they will be stronger than you. Deal with it like an adult and get back to work on your own fitness goals.

4. Unsolicited advice isn't helpful. It's insulting.

When people want help, they'll ask, or they'll hire a personal trainer. In the meantime, worry about your own "form." OK?

Laurna Robertson says she was talking to a "persistent guy" in the sauna at her gym one day when the subject of running came up. After sharing their respective half-marathon times (Laurna was faster, by the way), the man "generously" offered to coach her. What a guy!

Sophia Bromfield adds, "I have a corner in the gym to hide while I lift," but one day a dude stood next to her until she took her headphones off, then insisted on teaching her proper lunge form.

This is the gym version of mansplaining. It's annoying and insulting. Don't do it.

5. Some guys just don't know when to go away. Others are straight-up bullies.

Being "overly friendly" with questionable motivations is one thing, but some women find men at the gym can be downright nasty, purposefully intimidating them or boxing them out so they'll leave.

The gym is a shared space. Other people pay money to go there, just like you. If you don't want to be around other humans, buy a home gym.

Also, beware of unconscious behaviors like "manspreading," taking up more room than you need, or stealing someone's weights before they're done with them.

6. These behaviors aren't just annoying. They can be extremely intimidating.

At a certain point, these behaviors cross the line from rude and inappropriate to downright scary.

Ashley Loshbough writes that a man once came up to her (asking her to remove her headphones, which, just ugh) and said, "Wow, I wish I had beautiful [pale] skin like yours," stared for a moment, then walked off.

It might sound funny and harmless, but this is the kind of thing that has women looking over their shoulder in the parking lot and wondering if they should ever come back to that gym again.

A little empathy goes a long way, fellas.

Do you want someone gawking at your butt while you're on the treadmill? Interrupting you while you're holding heavy weights? Impatiently waiting inches away from you until you finish up on a machine?

Let's work together to keep this crap out of the gym and make it an environment where we support others to reach whatever their health and fitness goals are.

Even if that means just leaving each other alone.

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It was just like any other daily run for Andrew Jones. He put one foot in front of the other. He breathed in. He breathed out. He made it to the mailbox, but he knew something wasn't right.

"It kind of felt like my lungs had turned into sponges. Like I was breathing through a sponge."

That bizarre feeling first happened in 2012. And it would change his life forever.

Andrew Jones. Image via ajFitness/YouTube.

Labored breathing would alarm anyone, but for Andrew, an avid runner and fitness hound, it was particularly worrisome.

After his run, he called his doctor and requested to see someone right away. Two specialists and 24 hours of heart monitoring later, Andrew was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy.

"I didn't really know much about what it meant," Andrew said. "I was still very strong, getting my workouts in at the gym like normal, just being young and feeling invincible."

Andrew at his gym. Photo courtesy of Andrew Jones.

So after that one troubling run, Andrew kept working out. But his symptoms started getting worse.

Andrew, now 26, has loved the gym since college. He found an unexpected home there and noticed that regular workouts kept him focused and disciplined. "The best way to explain it is that being active is in my blood," he said. 

But soon his fatigue and shortness of breath turned into pain and weakness that left him, at times, unable to stand up for more than 10 minutes.

Eventually, Andrew suffered heart failure. He was coughing up blood and had to be rushed to the hospital. There, doctors told him that if he didn't get a heart transplant soon, he could die.

Andrew in the hospital, recording his journey back to health. Image via ajFitness/YouTube.

That was two years ago. 

He is still awaiting a heart transplant and relies on an artificial heart and a pacemaker to keep him alive.

While he waits, Andrew is doing something few people awaiting a transplant would do. He has become a professional fitness model.

As you can see, Andrew doesn't hide from his scars. Nor does he hide from the tubes coming in and out of his body that operate his artificial heart.

Instead, he wants those things to inspire others. He wants people to know that whatever your goals are, you shouldn't let anything, including a near-death experience, stand in your way.

Everywhere Andrew goes, he carries a backpack. Inside it is the machine pumping blood through his veins and keeping him alive. The literal weight on his shoulders is a constant reminder of how close he came to losing everything.

"Tomorrow's not guaranteed for any of us," Andrew said. "For someone in my situation, it’s guaranteed a lot less. ... Two and a half, three years ago? I probably would've taken waking up in the morning for granted."

Now, he says, he's grateful for every single morning he gets.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Jones.

Andrew knows that everyone has goals. Whether it's starting a business, paying off bills, or writing a book.

"If there’s something that’s on your mind 24/7 that you can’t stop thinking about, you need to act on it," he said.

Andrew uses his body and his mind to inspire people all over the world. On his Instagram, he spreads messages of hope and acceptance, calling on people everywhere to embrace the hand they were dealt and push forward. 

"I want people to leave with a little more motivation than they came in with," Andrew said.

In all of his photos, scars and medical equipment are on proud display.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Jones.

They remind people that no matter what you're up against, you can achieve incredible things. 

Andrew has also started a foundation called Hearts at Large, which raises awareness for organ donation and collects the stories of people whose lives have been saved by it. 

For Andrew, paying it forward is not just a thing he occasionally does, it’s a mantra for his life. 

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