#44: Gym Buddy

Koga and Alicia descended to the lower level of the Northshore University athletics building. They'd started in the Assistant Coaches' office where Koga walked Alicia through the schedule. A kinesthetic learner, Alicia insisted they take the meeting to the weight room. Koga obliged, wanting to keep Alicia as far away from Coach Richter as possible.

"So, you've never played volleyball before?"

Alicia shook her head. "Nope." With her side ponytail, hot pink yoga pants, and modded t-shirt, Alicia looked like an artifact from an '80s workout video.

"Do you know anything about volleyball. The rules or even the basics of hitting?"

"I've seen Percy edit a bunch of videos from your guys' games, but I never understood much of what was going on. I just cheered when everyone else did."

"Whitley told me you ran track in high school and I know you ran for NU a bit, so you have some experience with collegiate athletics."

"Yeah, but only running and jumping. As far as balls are concerned, I suck."

Koga cleared her throat. "That's an...interesting way to put that."

"From what I recall though, you seem to know what you're doing!"


Koga remembered Alicia from freshman orientation five years ago. Alicia had enrolled on a track & field scholarship before dropping out halfway through her sophomore year. Koga did not recall much about Alicia beyond her impressive physique and marked lack of social grace. Five years later, Alicia’s social skills had taken modest strides while her body had developed from 'unusually fit for a woman' to 'ready to redshirt the football team.'

"It's cool to be here. I never get to see where Percy works, only where he lives...and sleeps I guess too. He's my boyfriend. We sleep t—"

"So, yes! The lower-level weight room is here." Koga unlatched the double doors and flicked on the lights. The stale, musky scent of years of sweat baked into the walls and equipment assaulted their nostrils.

"When they built the new fitness center they decided to keep this room available for conditioning, classes, personal training, and overflow during busier times of the sports season. It's gross, but—"

"I love it!" Alicia shouted, clapping her hands and jumping in place. "It reminds me of the pictures I've seen of old gyms from the fifties and sixties. Can we do conditioning here?"

"We already do. The football team gets dibs on the new weight room, and volleyball settles with this. The smell can be bothersome, but you get used to it. Anyways, this packet details all of our exercises and drills." Koga presented a three-ring bound book of photocopies to Alicia, who made a face as if she'd been handed someone else's mail.

"Do I need to read it?"

"That would be best. Though I imagine some of the exercises might be familiar from your years in—"

"Can we just do them?"

Koga blinked several times. "What?"

"Let's run through them now. We could start with free weights. Is that cool?

"Like, now now?"

Alicia, who'd already made up her mind, walked to the squat rack and begun loading weight onto the bar. "Yeah, I'll remember it better that way. How long do we have in here today?"

Koga checked her phone for the time, partially hoping for a message that would give her an out.

Whitley did warn me this would happen.

"I reserved the room for thirty minutes, but we could probably stretch it to an hour if you like. I don't think anyone else has it until 2:00."

"Cool," Alicia said, pushing the final of six forty-five-pound plates onto the bar. "Hey, before we go on, I should probably tell you I'm not a licensed trainer."

"Neither am I," Koga said. "Think of yourself as a celebrity guest expert sharing some fitness tips." Alicia didn't immediately reply, and Koga realized she was not the only one looking for an easy out.

"Spot me." Alicia said, "I've never lifted this much before." Not leaving Koga a moment to consider the request, Alicia stepped under the bar, letting it settle against the base of her broad shoulders. Her feet firmly on the ground, Alicia squared her body and pressed up on her toes, testing the resistance of the bar.

"This is a lot of weight," Koga said. "Are you sure you can—"

"Nope. Here we go!"

Alicia's thick quads tensed and swelled as she hoisted the weight off the rack. Taking a deep breath, she squatted to the floor, exhaled, and pressed the weight back up all in one smooth motion, her form picture-perfect.

Koga looked in the mirror in front of them. Where she expected to see focused determination on Alicia's face, she instead found an eager smile. By the fifth rep, the smile became a giddy grin. She showed some signs of fatigue at seven, though it seemed to energize her into rep eight where Koga thought she heard Alicia giggle. Finishing her set at ten, Alicia racked the weight and burst into laughter as if to a private joke. Koga waited patiently, her eyes moving back and forth between the loaded bar and Alicia's pumped physique as Alicia shook out her arms, legs, and shoulders.

"New personal best?"

Alicia shook her head. "Nah. It's my normal weight plus fifty. I play it safe at home because I don't have a spotter, but you had my back here." Reaching forward, Alicia gave Koga a firm slap on the shoulder. "Thanks, Koga. You're a good gym buddy."

"You're welcome. Now I think we should probably—"

"Hit the bench!" Alicia shouted, skipping over to the bench press, which she loaded to 255 lbs. Again, Koga spotted while Alicia's arms worked like pistons powering through ten reps.  She finished with her celebratory post-bench shimmy dance before giving Koga an expectant smile.

"You ready to give it a go?"

Koga considered declining but remembered Alicia was doing them a favor. "Sure. After your performance though, I'm a little embarrassed to try."

"Aw, don't even! Look at those guns, girl! I bet you get in here plenty."

"I typically just do push-ups and sit-ups. Bodyweight resistance."

"Free weights are your friend. Come on, let's get you set up." Alicia assessed Koga's frame. "You look like you could handle about 115."

"Wow, you vastly overestimate my ability. I haven't regularly lifted for a while."

"Nah, I can tell. It'll be a challenge, but you so got this!"

Whitley had warned Koga it would be futile to fight the force of Alicia's determination, particularly when it concerned exercise. While Alicia adjusted the weight, Koga laid back on the bench, preparing herself for humiliation. Grasping the bar, she immediately felt Alicia's hands over hers.

"Alright, I'm here for ya'. Now relax and get your forearms vertical. Don't lift yet, but just give the weight a nudge. You feel that?"


"That's the weight working with you, not against you. You're working together. Don't forget that."


"Now take a deep breath. Let your chest expand, then let it out. Pretend you're on the volleyball court and someone's about to hit it towards you. Don't freak out—"

"...focus." Koga finished, visualizing her volleyball pre-service routine.

Alicia beamed with anticipation. "Alright! It's go time. Lift!"

Koga pressed the bar off of the rack. God this is heav—


Koga guided the bar down to her chest. While it was more than she would have chosen to lift on her own, she felt in control of it.

"Don't lose your focus. We're still in play! Now, up!"

Koga exhaled and pressed the weight back up. Alicia, near-bursting with excitement, managed to hold it together.

"Feels good, eh? Let's see another."

Koga nodded and repeated the press—her confidence building as she brought the bar back to its apex.

"Oh, you totally got this. Now own it. Keep going!"

Koga continued powering through her set as Alicia, coaching from above, counted each rep with increasing excitement. By the time Koga reached the ninth rep, her arms trembled, nearly ready to give out. She battled fatigue to keep the bar level and secure as she brought it down.

"Two more, Koga! YES! YES!"

The trembling in her arms increasing, Koga paused, the bar inches from her chest.

"Alicia, I can't. You need to—"


"Aaaaaguh!" Koga grunted, marshaling her strength and pressing out another rep.  "Alicia," she wheezed. "You need to take—"


Koga brought the weight down and poured her entire being into one magnificent effort. As the bar crept upwards, Alicia's cheers morphed into a sustained, piercing scream as she jumped up and down in place. Koga managed to squeak out the final press and Alicia promptly snagged the bar and set it back onto the rack, before raising her arms in triumph.

"OH MY GOD!" Alicia shouted up to the ceiling. "That was so awesome! YOU are so awesome."

Koga, to her surprise, in the midst of her pounding heart, pouring sweat, and spotty vision, wore a smile on her face. "I don't know if I can do another set of those."

"Oh, you totally can, and will, but I'll need to borrow these plates first." Alicia launched into a set of preacher curls with the same weight Koga had struggled to bench. Catching Koga staring in disbelief, Alicia grinned and winked.

"Yeah, I'm waaay strong, right?"

"I'm starting to get that."

After an additional set of free weight exercises for herself and two for Alicia, Koga wrangled Alicia's attention long enough to talk her through the footwork drills. Alicia complied on the condition Koga join her as they worked through them together, followed by a yoga cool-down. Despite Alicia's limited attention span and flighty personality, she absorbed the exercise details like a sponge, asking questions and even suggesting a few variations. Though apprehensive about the task before her, Alicia had an undeniable gift, as well as a desire to do the best job she could.

Maybe Whitley did find the right roommate.

Alicia's physique reminded Koga of something classical artists would carve out of marble. Chords of muscle fluidly and synchronously shifted beneath Alicia's skin. Koga looked away as a smirking Alicia caught her staring again.

"It's cool. You can finish checking me out."

"No, I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"It's okay. I get the appeal." Alicia extended her arm, sweeping it around and down to her side before curling it upward, her bicep swelling with vitality. I don't work this hard for people to not look."

"...as long as they're polite."

"Of course," Alicia said.

"So, Alicia," Koga said, as they lowered into runner's lunges. "I have to ask. What's your goal? Why do you push yourself like this? Do you want to be the strongest woman in the world? The strongest person in the world?"

"I lift heavy weights so I can lift heavier weights."

"What, like, to win the North American Strongwoman Competition?"

Alicia shook her head, whipping her ponytail around. "Nah, there's just something great about wanting to do something, setting a goal, working hard, and then getting it done." Alicia raised back up from her lunge, smiling thoughtfully. "...and then doing it all over again!"

"So, you do it because it makes you feel good?"

"I don't do it for just me. I also do it for my followers who, besides cosplayers, also include lifters, dudes super into muscle chicks, and people—guys and girls—that want to pay me to be their dominatrix. You wouldn't believe the offers I've—"

Koga held up her hand. "I get it. But what's your point?"

"I didn't find them, they found me, and they like me for who I am, in my world. I tried being an athlete, but when I did, people expected me to hang out with certain people, act a certain way, and play by rules I didn't believe in."

"I guess I understand, though I'm not sure I relate."

Alicia leaned into her stretch, gradually pulling herself upright. "Koga, do you want to be a head coach someday?"



"Because I love volleyball, and I love inspiring the players."

"...but you also like the sound of 'Head Coach Koga.'"

Koga grinned. "Yeah, you got me there."

"Well, I like the sound of five hundred pounds, and I'm totally gonna squat that one day," Alicia announced to the empty weight room.

"I believe you."

"And when I do it, I'll broadcast it so all my followers can see. I like inspiring people too, and I know when I get stronger, it inspires them, and that inspires me."

Koga chuckled. "I guess I can relate. I mean, heck, if Whitley can muster the drive to inspire these girls you can do it in your sleep. They're a good squad, but they need a push sometimes. Just be yourself. The team will respond to you."

"So, about that. Let's talk what I can wear."

Koga sighed. "Yes. Let's…"