Big Al, jokes and gossip: Why I keep going to the gym despite being anything but ripped

A tattooed former bouncer, an 80-year-old retiree and Koula the Greek princess wouldn't become friends just anywhere, Adam Lucius writes of his gym experience.

I've got an old funeral program that I just can't bring myself to throw out.

It's coming up two years since Allen Taueki, the smiling face on the front cover, departed us, struck down by a cruel cancer that just wouldn’t quit despite him throwing everything at it.

A big, strong Māori with a bald head and tattooed arms the size of telegraph poles, Al was menacing at first sight. It was little wonder he had been a much sought after bouncer during the 80s and 90s, working the door at some of the heaviest joints in Kings Cross.

It still doesn’t sit right that he's not here, texting me about how bad Australian rugby is or how good the Russian meatloaf roll is at his local deli.

Allen Peter Taueki's funeral program (left) and Al working out at the gym (right).
Full of life but taken too soon, Allen Taueki was the inspiration for a group of unlikely Sydney gym-goers. Source: Supplied

Al was 65 when he died and was one of the nicest, most thoughtful, interesting and humorous characters you could meet. He was part of a group of us who frequent the gym early most mornings.

I never thought I’d be a "gym guy".

And the dad bod I drag to the muscle factory five days a week is proof positive I don’t fully qualify. Think unequipped, not ripped.

And while I won't be gracing the pages of Men's Health anytime soon, it's people like Al who made we want to go back when it'd be easier to lie in bed and dream of bacon and egg rolls washed down with flat whites.

Gym mates from all walks of life

The smiling Kiwi was a big part of our disparate posse of gym-goers who pumped iron while swapping banter, friendly insults and everyday stories between sets.

There's Keith, the 80-something retiree with more energy and strength than a teenager, a handle on politics to rival Laura Tingle and a side gig in homemade chilli jam.

Jay the English surfer, who knows all the good ice cream joints in town and will travel way out of his postcode to track down a quality curry, is there most days.

Steve the bespectacled legal eagle is always up for a self-deprecating joke as he hits the spin bike, Rusty is an accountant by day and frontman for an 80s tribute band by night, while Koula the Greek princess knows everything about everyone and is always good for a rumour or two.

Adam Lucius front and centre with his mates from the gym (left) and Keith is declared the winner of the 8 week challenge.
Adam Lucius and his gym mates who come together from all walks of life. Source: Supplied

The odds of us all meeting anywhere but in a gym would be generous, simply because we move in different orbits.

The leg presses, treadmills and chin-up bars brought us together and are the glue to our casual friendship.

We don’t do too many social outings but we do keep an eye out for each other and discuss life's travails. We've been through deaths, relationship break-ups, job losses, cancer scares and Covid these past few years.

You can get plenty of problems solved before 8am in between all the stomach crunches and push-ups — and receive a review of the new Thai restaurant into the bargain.

It's made me realise gyms provide much more than a place to exercise, sweat and release endorphins.

They're not just full of try-hards and desperate influencers with fish lips filming their workouts to attract Insta followers. You can work body and mind at the same time.

Al helped show me all that, always laughing and joking and checking in on people even when he was clinging to life. He deserved a better fate.

Keeping his funeral program on my desk is a daily reminder that there is always someone worse off, no matter what you might be going through.

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