First, there’s the gym. Always, the gym. Because the gym is his anchor and it’s his sanctuary, and because it helps him to remember, and because it helps him to forget. The gym has been his home when he was homeless, and it is today, when he’s far from it. It’s seen him through his many successes and served as an outlet for frustration over his failures. Above all, the gym has provided him sacrosanct life lessons, learned in his youth but still applied in his adult life.
This is a story about Dwayne Johnson, but it’s not about his global successes as a WWE legend and Hollywood’s most bankable star. It’s also not a first-person account of an interview at a chic restaurant that details his attire and interactions with the waiter. Let other magazines tell that story.
This is the story of his formative years, and some of the lessons he learned during them, many in dusty gyms across the country, acquired by way of iron and sweat and his holiest of grails, hard work. Because, as Dwayne will tell you himself, it is these very things that have made him the man he is today.
Here are seven young Dwayne Johnson teaching moments. Seven, because that’s how many dollars he had in his pocket when, at 23, he was cut from the Canadian Football League and found himself forced to start his life over from scratch, this time as a professional wrestler. Seven, because so significant is the number to him that he named his company Seven Bucks Productions. And seven because, of course, the issue you now hold marks our Man of the Century’s seventh Muscle & Fitness cover.
No. 7: Work Hard, Always
Dwayne Johnson was 13 years old when he had his first weight workout, but he’d been accompanying his dad, legendary wrestler Rocky Johnson, to the gym since he was much younger than that—maybe five or six. Some of his oldest memories are triggered by the smell of sweat and rust and chalk, and of the hollow clanging sound 45-pound plates make when they’re slid onto a cold-rolled steel bar and slapped against one another. Although he wasn’t allowed to touch the weights at that time, it was enough for him just to sit quietly on a bench and watch his father pound the iron.
“Every morning my dad was up at 5 a.m. He’d have his coffee and then hit the gym, regardless of whether he was at home or on the road.”
More often than not, Rocky Johnson was on the road. Much of the time young Dwayne would stay home with his mother, Ata. When Rocky was home, though, Dwayne would savor the chance to accompany him to the gym. For Rocky it was a form of babysitting. For Dwayne, it was a chance to enter a wondrous world, full of men performing seemingly impossible tasks — like a bunch of real-life Hercules.
Back then, going to a gym wasn’t “a thing,” at least not like it is today. There wasn’t towel service and scented lotions in the locker rooms, and no TV at every cardio station. Hell, there weren’t even cardio stations. And if you wanted a personal trainer, you’d simply pay the biggest guy in the gym to show you what he did to get that way. What gyms did have back then, though, was lots of living examples of grit and drive and, most significantly to present-day Dwayne Johnson, hard work.
“Other dads took their kids to the playground. Mine took me to the gym, and the gyms he took me to were very hardcore. Weight rooms, really. But it was important bonding time for us, and it was there that I learned at a very young age that there’s no substitute for hard work.
“My dad and the other wrestlers would train for hours and hours every morning, just like all of the top bodybuilding stars of the day—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, Albert Beckles. It was all he knew, and it was all I knew back then. And it worked.”
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