The Famed Russian at the U of C gym

If you have ventured into the fitness centre this semester, you have likely seen him. He struts between the pull-up bar and the parallel bars with a hardened face to match the intimidating hammer and sickle tattoo prominently displayed on his shoulder. When he arrives at the apparatus he desires, he performs the most outrageous feats of strength you have probably seen, short of dubious YouTube videos. Adorned in army pants and a muscle shirt, it becomes clear that this man is not your average “just going to the palace of pump to get my swell on” kind of guy. Many theories have been presented as to the identity of this mysterious individual. Is he a Russian spy sent to North America to infiltrate the Canadian education system? Is he an offspring of Ivan Drago from Rocky Four? Is he a soldier from the future sent back in time to find John Connor?

In an exclusive interview, we set out to answer the unanswerable questions regarding the identity of this mysterious man. To U of C students who have seen him in the halls, he goes by many names: “The Crazy Russian,” “Hammer and Sickle” and “The Russian Gymnast.” But who is this man that everyone seems to know? We managed to track him down after he attended the Strength & Fitness Club’s Push-up Challenge where he shattered the record and ripped off 150 consecutive push ups. Up until that time he was mainly the subject of locker room banter and gossip.

We caught up with him on his way to his second work out of the day. Wearing his classic apparel of army pants and muscle shirt with veins protruding from every muscle, we tried to find out who this infamous individual is.  

This gentleman’s name is Roman and he was born in the harsh confines of communist Belarus. When he was young, his parents moved the entire family to Israel where he spent most of his unusual childhood. “Prison soccer” was a staple of Roman’s youth since the school yard was covered with gravel and unforgiving rocks. During a fierce, bloody game of prison soccer, it wasn’t uncommon for a fight to break out over trivial details such as whose uncle distilled the best vodka. After a few black eyes and shattered egos, the teachers usually put an end to the violence. But the war was far from over.

Roman explained that it was typical of the loser of the prison soccer fight to seek a rematch during the walk home from school.

“It was crazy, but a lot of fun,” he said. “There were half-torn buildings and lots of fights. It was very rough that is for sure. People in Canada are very sheltered, but it’s much nicer here. You would end up getting in a fight during school with big groups, like 20 on 20 and then after school you would fight too. If they were much bigger than you, you would just run away really fast. It wasn’t all bad though.”

These harsh childhood conditions seemed like the perfect environment for the development of a future super soldier. If anyone has ever witnessed his training regime, apparel or his intense demeanor it would not seem like a stretch of the imagination to picture him as the villain from an early ’90s action movie co-starring Wesley Snipes. Standing six feet tall and weighing 150 pounds, Roman is simply an animal in the gym. His unique style is called calisthenics, which are body weight exercises. He sways ferociously like a gibbon in the treetops on the pull-up and parallel bars, doing movements we didn’t know could be performed. This exercise style distinguishes Roman from the gorilla juice heads trying to gain muscle mass performing the classic Friday night bicep pumps. His intrinsic motivation comes not from the “pump” or the aesthetics, but rather from performing new feats of strength.  

Speculation abounds on where he learned this style of training and how long he has been doing it. The man must be well tenured in his discipline as it seems unlikely that after a few months of performing Billy Blanks workouts on VHS that one could progress to the level of fitness that Roman is at. A military or perhaps even Cirque du Soleil background seemed like a possible answer to why the man is so fit. To our surprise, he had never been part of the army and never plans to be.

The army fatigues and boots he wears along with his classic grey muscle shirt are worn strictly for comfort. It should be noted that in our many encounters with Roman we have never seen him wear a jacket. When questioned on the topic of owning a jacket, Roman simply responded that he owns one, but has no intention of ever wearing it. He owns a jacket out of sheer chivalry. Should a woman in his proximity require a jacket, he can drape it over her shoulders to shield her from the unfavorable elements. And if you’re wondering why he always wears the same outfit, it is because he, like various superheroes, has several pairs of the same one.

The hammer and sickle tattoo depicted on Roman’s shoulder represents the pride of his heritage and is not a fortuitous birth mark like we had initially thought. Roman stated that this tattoo is to remind him of his roots and upbringing so that he will always remember the pride of his homeland.

This seemingly intimidating Russian rogue gymnast is really just like any other U of C student. He merely works out twice as much, does some of the most impressive training regimes and is impervious to cold. Other than those minute differences he is just like your average student. So next time you pass Roman in the halls or in the gym, don’t be afraid to ask him about his training style or about his childhood. You will learn, just like we have, that Roman really is a nice guy that happens to have a mean training style. And no, Roman has never killed anyone.

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