Pacing the Cage

A Portrait of the Pit: Some super swole dudes in a woman’s world

by Sam Brasch, editor

“Excuse me, would you mind if we got ripped in here?”

The poor female near the entrance of the Tiger Pit, looking up from her power squats, had to hesitate before she responded. I couldn’t blame her. Here were two guys, one wearing short-shorts and knee-high socks, another clad in denim and a soiled sleeveless flannel, asking if they could gain access to a work out room full of sweaty women stuffed into spandex. In the words of the immortal Big Bird, “some of these things are not like the others.” “Yeah, sure, go right ahead, I guess,” she said, recovering from the initial shock. “You know, you guys aren’t the first boys ever to come in here.”

Maybe not the first, but we were among the few. Men on campus never know what to make of the Tiger Pit. We walk by the room on the way to our Worner Boxes, maybe sneaking a peak to see just what goes on behind that de facto gender boundary before shuffling away, just a little more aware of the tail already hanging between our legs. The Tiger Pit is a place where neither our presence nor our gaze belongs. This, we feel, is a world created by and for women.

The divide is something females on campus don’t deny. Ari Rocca, a junior who frequents the treadmills of the Worner basement, has even gone so far as to forsake the official name for the room. “I call it the Pussy Pit, not the Tiger Pit. You know why? Because it smells like pussy.”

Cara Greene, another woman who enjoys the room as a workout option, took the idea further. “Do we want to work out in Beaver Creek or Dick Pond [in El Pomar]? For me it’s an easy call. I’ve got a beaver, I am gonna be more comfortable working out with other beavers.” Maybe the Tiger Pit tilts towards females, she explained, but there are reasons behind the gender split. Stretching, straining, and sweating are all things women don’t always feel comfortable doing around men. Because the Pit is a women’s space, it is a place where shorts and a sports bra can be understood simply as the practical clothes for exercise, and not a sexual statement.

I am not another beaver, but I wanted to plunge into Beaver Creek like a thrown stone to see how the currents might shift around me. Taking the longest route possible around the room to flaunt my presence, I caught a few women taking stock of the outcasts from Dick Pond. I moved away from the exercise bikes (hunching in my short-shorts might be a little too much) and the ellipticals (I’d rather not look stupid) and found my place on a corner treadmill.

Of all the things that struck me once inside the forbidden world, nothing was more noticeable than the fierce level of concentration. This was not a social place. Plugged into iPods, eyes focused on their workout screens, the women quickly lost interest in my pale upper-thighs, not to mention one another.

I had a harder time focusing on my workout. All around the Pit hung memories of campus places long gone: a rhino statue in front of Cutler Hall, a CC marching band at a busy street corner in downtown Colorado Springs, a debate panel full of men with well cropped hair and horn-rimmed glasses. On the south wall hung a black and white picture of a dozen young CC students in sweaters and skirts around a dark wood bar. The bar appears twice on the walls, alluding to a time when the basement of the student center served glasses full of cold beer rather than paper towels soaked in sweat. Drinks in hand, the bar-goers leaned against the walls and each other, taking a quick swig and a deep breath after another long day of classes. Their smiles looked out in contrast to the grimaces of pain on the faces of the living.

The room we now know as the Tiger Pit was never a bar, as some campus rumors purport. When the college finished the construction of the Worner Center in 1986, mostly demolishing the old Rastall Student Center, they expanded the basement in answer to demand for extra space devoted to student activity. Student managers of the old CC Hub, a social bar that had operated on campus since the 1950s, had their eyes on the space that is now the Tiger Pit, but the same year the state of Colorado passed a law moving the drinking age from eighteen to twenty-one. The school first filled the room with pinball machines and pool tables before treadmills and dumbbells took over in the 1990s.

But despite the lack of a perfect historical parallel, the pictures struck me with nostalgia. How great would it be to come to a room full of great people, right on campus, and chat it up over a weak beer? It felt so much less satirical, and so much more honest, than stomping into a women’s workout room dressed like I belonged in a Castro Street leather bar.

But I might as well finish what I started, I thought. Taking up a medicine ball, I laid on my back and instructed my buddy to stand on my feet.

“Are you a man?!” he asked, more than loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Yes!” I replied, louder.

“Are you ready to do some sit ups?!”

“You’re damn fucking right!”

“Well then get on it, big guy!”

For all that effort, I only got a sideways glance from the girl doing power squats. She shook her head, and then turned back to her own reflection in the mirror.

Pacing the Cage (PDF)

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