Living the adventure
Helen Keller once said, “Life is a great adventure, or nothing.” When 51-year-old Jay Gondek decided to pack up and leave his home of 15 years in Santa Fe, New Mexico and move to Nashville, it was Keller’s words he had in his head.
One of his longtime personal-training clients was moving to Tennessee, and they wanted Gondek with them. For this man, always driven to push himself in both his work and his athletics, the job offer was another opportunity to reach for a new goal.
When Gondek first began personal training in 1984, he admits he was obsessed with size and muscles, but a business venture helped him to broaden his view.
“It was a great experience because I learned a lot about bodybuilding and all that,” said Gondek, “and then I opened my own gym, and I realized I needed to be more well-rounded. So, I started running 5Ks and 10Ks, and then the triathlon became pretty popular.”
Always pushing, Gondek committed himself to a rigorous training regimen and completed several triathlons throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, after completing an Ironman Competition, he decided it was time to set some new goals.
“I took up figure skating. I was always making fun of figure skaters, but my boyfriend at the time was a figure skater and when I saw how hard that sport really was, I took it up.”
“I’ve been privileged to be there with a few people as they transition from this life, and those, by far, are the best moments of my life. Dying is not pretty. At times, it’s just not pretty, but it is a beautiful thing to be there for, and to honor somebody to be there.”
“I decided after the Ironman it was so time consuming and one-dimensional. I needed to study sports, so I decided to take a break,” he said.
However, his break was only from triathlons, as he quickly started taking his athletic endeavors in new directions. While continuing his career as a personal trainer, Gondek started experimenting with other athletic activities.
“A trainer needs to know other sports,” Gondek said, “so I did things like snowboarding, massage therapy and Pilates.”
At one point, Gondek actually sold his bike and completely devoted himself to a very different sport.
“I took up figure skating. I was always making fun of figure skaters, but my boyfriend at the time was a figure skater and when I saw how hard that sport really was, I took it up.” Spending three days a week on the ice, Gondek started competing about a year after he began his training. Gondek however, hated being inside to train, and he eventually moved on to other sports, but not before winning three different figure-skating competitions.
Despite his interest in other sports, Gondek wouldn’t stay away from the triathlon forever. He competed in the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney, participating in the Olympic distance triathlon. After completing a 9/10-mile, open-water swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10K run, Gondek found himself on the podium, winning the gold medal in his age group.
Hoping to repeat his success, Gondek is currently training for a trip to the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany later this summer. As part of his training, Gondek recently participated in the Country Music Marathon here in Nashville.
“I wanted to race faster, so I did the half instead of the whole,” he said. “I tried to do it at under seven minutes a mile, and I did. It was a great training vehicle to get me in shape for the Olympic distance race.”
As always, reaching for personal goals is at the heart of Gondek’s efforts. Wanting to finish in the top 10 for his age group, Gondek actually came in third out of 725 guys with a time of one hour, 30 minutes.
While Gondek’s passion for sports and athletics has given him hobbies, a career, a business, friends, and travel, it also opened up avenues for him to help others. Gondek has always done volunteer work, but when he opened his first gym, he noticed he was training a lot of wealthy clients and saw an opportunity.
“I was raising money for a black-tie dinner for AIDS Services of New Mexico, or raising money through art auctions similar to how they do with Artrageous here in Nashville,” Gondek said. “Then finally, I thought, ‘I work with people best one on one,’ and I wanted to get involved with something else.”
Through his volunteer work and his massage therapy, Gondek was approached by a local hospice in Santa Fe to work with some of their patients.
“I had been studying with a Native American teacher, and I do sweat lodge and vision quest which is all about the lifecycle and natural rhythms of life, and I felt very comfortable when I went into it,” he said.
Gondek recently began volunteering at Alive Hospice here in Nashville, and he says it’s the most rewarding and important thing he has ever done in his life.
“I’ve been privileged to be there with a few people as they transition from this life, and those, by far, are the best moments of my life.” Gondek said. “Dying is not pretty. At times, it’s just not pretty, but it is a beautiful thing to be there for, and to honor somebody to be there.”
So, what’s next?
Gondek continues to work for the clients that brought him to Nashville, while at the same time looking to expand his training business and learn what is needed in the training world. After competing in the Gay Games in August, he says he plans to compete in the Ford Ironman Louisville event in 2011. After that, Gondek plans to conquer the tennis court. “I’ve really met some great tennis players here that play in gay events, and I’m going to start training for tennis after I get back from the Gay Games.”
To keep up with Gondek and his travels, visit his website at www.jaygondek.com.