I did not grow up with Chuck Ramirez. I was not a fellow artist, didn’t live in or around the compound, and was far from the inner circle of close friends that were his family.
But I knew him in a way that most people did not. I knew him from the gym, an unusual and often gritty place that can serve as a metaphor and testing ground for so many of the other challenges we face in our lives. Sometimes the simplest things – moving, sweating, breathing – can provide the deepest insight into who we are and who the people are around us.
This month, on the third anniversary of his passing from a solo bicycle accident, I can still look back, reflect and be thankful that our lives happened to cross paths – even if it was often among iron plates and rowing machines. It’s there that I really got to know him, and learned that he was terribly kind hearted, dedicated and above all, passionate. Passionate about his art, his friends, and his health, which he worked to forge despite illness and heart surgery.
In or out of the gym, we all have issues and excuses for not doing things. Not Chuck.
We worked together for nearly a year, an hour at a time, three times a week. He never complained. Not even once. No matter the move, the workout, the conditions, the heat, the noise, the time, nothing. He never complained. Never.
I think he was happy to be able to move and breathe and have this body that was healing and getting stronger. He seemed to see only the positive results of his efforts and what lay ahead, and didn’t fuss about the immediate labor at hand.
It was all part of the process, which I guess goes with being an artist. You work to create something, and the steps in between are just the things you do to create your vision – they’re certainly nothing to complain about. I think he viewed his workouts the same way.
As much as he liked to create, or cook, or carouse, he was equally happy to be in the gym; sweating, working, making himself better. It was an infectious, endearing attitude that we could all benefit from applying a bit more often.
That enthusiasm and happiness also meant this: he never missed a workout. Whether he was up until 2 a.m. working on a project, or out until 4 a.m. having a good time with friends, he always made it to the gym. He would schedule business meetings around his workouts, and on the rare occasion he could not, he would immediately reschedule to come in before, after, or the next day, meaning we’d sometimes have hour long training sessions two days in a row.
For die hard fitness fanatics, that may not seem like much, but for a busy artist with long hours and an immune disorder, his dedication and tenacity were remarkable. Especially when you consider our history.
The first time I met him, I was with a colleague, helping pick up and deliver a large piece of art for our training studio. Standing there at the Blue Star gallery was a seemingly dazed, somewhat heavyset man in a mismatched suit and a plume of crazy blonde hair. It was a 2 p.m., but he looked like he had just woke up.
He told my friend he had been sick, and was going in for a heart procedure soon. Once he was cleared, he wanted to start working out again. On the truck ride home, my colleague mentioned the man I had just met was Chuck Ramirez, a well known local artist, and that maybe when things came around, I’d be a good match to work with him. Considering his seemingly spacey, disheveled state, I never really expected to see or hear from him. But many months later, we crossed paths again.
We were in the process of rebranding our company, and opening a gym and retail boutique in Southtown, when Chuck’s name came up. Our condensed title, logo and business cards are his work, and the bright colors and clean aesthetics of our gym and accompanying teahouse and retail boutique were his vision, too. His colorful plastic bag photo series hung on our walls, and he created a special large-scale text piece for our weight room. His fingerprints and influence were all over our wellness company,and now it was time to get his body in on the action.
Our first workout, in the very gym he helped design, had one particularly memorable moment. In the process of establishing a baseline, he cranked out three full range of motion pushups before collapsing on the mat. And that was pretty much the start of it – not only was he committed to getting healthier, but we were going to conquer pushups in the process.
It took a while, and we worked on lots of different things, but it would come to pass that his favorite workout would be pushup day, which we usually reserved for Fridays. It consisted of no less than 100 total pushups within the context of the rest of our workout, broken up into sets of ten, in every conceivable, difficult and diabolical form or fashion you can imagine.
He loved it. Loved that he could do this thing with his body that seemed impossible not so long ago. And inevitably, about midway through our session, when he was a sweaty mess and his hair was all crazy – a condition we dubbed ‘Chucktacular’ – he would say, “Remember the first time? When I could only do like three of these?”
I remember a lot.
I remember how you always invited me to special events and late night gatherings, which I mostly missed due to my early morning starts. But on the rare occasion I made it, you went out of your way to introduce me to everyone, made sure I was doing okay, and played the role of social wingman, as I was obviously the biggest square in the crowd. You made me feel welcome, and special and important. I remember that.
I remember our conversations about politics and music and art and religion during our workouts, and how charged up you’d get on some of those topics … or when a great song came on.
I remember the time you rode your bike from your house downtown to Alamo Heights just for a workout, where we hit the stairs, then hit the gym before you rode home. I remember how happy you were that you could do all that in one day.
I remember thinking how you can’t spend hours a week with someone in close proximity and not develop some sort of bond. And if you’re fortunate, you get a friendship out of it, too.
I remember all those things and so much more.
It’s been three years, Chuck. And I still miss you.
We all do.
All in our own special way.
Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His weekly column covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.