CHICAGO — Even if you are no football fan, the fact that Chicago is hosting this year’s NFL Draft is inescapable. The Loop is plastered with signs, posters, and placards emblazoned with “Welcome to the Family” and “#Draftown.” The 3-day signing extravaganza kicks off today in the Auditorium Theatre, where hundreds of prospective rookies are hoping a lifetime of work will pay off with a NFL contract. And in the days before the draft, official NFL sponsor Nike has been busy hyping up its fans. Last night, they hosted likely first-round picks Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Ezekiel Elliott in a panel discussion (and their first appearance as Nike athletes, natch).
The night before, a group of 48 hand-selected Nike+ athletes were treated to a football training-inspired “Get Drafted” workout at the Station 23 workout space above the Jordan Flight 23 brand store on State Street.
Well, 47 hand-selected Nike+ athletes, and me.
I’m not a joiner. While I lettered in high school, it was on the Scholastic Bowl team. I mean, I work out. I even see a trainer. But I’m 35, I have a job and a non-zero number of kids, and it’s been a long time since I hit the gym looking to PR. I am not a team sports person.
I am going to do this “Gridiron Fit” workout in the spirit of the draft. Go team?
6:15p.m. — I arrive 15 minutes early as directed, and there’s already a sizable crowd pressed in at the bottom of the stairwell that leads up to Station 23. Everyone is crazy-fit.
6:23p.m. — Logo Check: Let’s just say there is a deep committed to the Swoosh.
6:30p.m. — Does every super-fit person here know each other? Two guys just dapped directly over my head. #short #rude
6:38p.m. — I find a Nike person and my suspicions are confirmed: All the fit elites in the lobby with me won a chance to be here by posting impressive videos or pics of themselves doing reverse-lunges-to-sprints, plyometric pushups and skater jumps on social media. I emailed a PR guy to be here. You do the math.
7:00p.m. — Ladies first up to the gym above Station 23. It’s been retrofitted with a black artificial turf gridiron with a giant Jumpman logo.
7:20p.m. — We’ve all been given lockers with our names on them with a NFL draft t-shirt and a pair of Nike Free trainers to borrow. Trainers toss around a football. There is a DJ spinning Rick Ross—you know, your standard workout/DJ setup.
7:28p.m. — Betina Gozo, Bryan Jackson, and David Carson, the trainers running the session, call us in for a pep talk. (Sample quote: “Is anyone tired? Well, we don’t care!”) There is a lot of clapping. There is a “hustle up.” People are PUMPED.
7:33p.m. — First drill: high kicks to the 30 yard line, then sprinting to the end. Looks very silly.
7:37p.m. — Finished the high-kicks, sprinted through to a tunnel of high fives from my line mates. Wait: getting high-fives is awesome! Totally worth the silly kicks. I’m totally on board.
7:53p.m. — We’re rotating through a series of kettle ball lifts, a series of lunges, pushups, some hellish variation of a Pilates teaser, and goblet squats. My group mates (everyone, actually) are hammering these out with an intensity that NFL scouts only wish they would see at the NFL combine.
7:55p.m. — It is starting to smell extremely ripe.
7:59p.m. — No high-fives during drills. Motivation rapidly dropping. Muscles increasingly protesting.
8:04p.m. — Speed, footwork, and agility drills using some sort of trapezoid on the ground that trainer Bryan Jackson is flying through.
8:05p.m. — How can there possibly be so many ways to step in and out of a trapezoid? Is he inventing more? How is this still happening? Am I dying?
8:12p.m. — Heart rate: 1 million bpm. Blood hammering so loud I can barely hear Rihanna exhorting me to work work work work work. Hate.
8:15p.m. — New drill: hopping across the turf dragging our partners with a giant rubber band around our waists, like a deranged game of horsies.
8:29p.m. — Huddling up. We must be done! Yes! Killed it! Team Nike on three!
8:30p.m. — Not done.
8:32p.m. — Gozo is leading us through a rapid-fire set of footwork that takes up side to side, up into jumps and down into push-ups. (I am fully faking the pushups.) Either the lights in the ceiling are extra bright right now or I’m starting to see stars.
8:36p.m. — Clearly we are done NOW.
8:37p.m. — “At Nike training, we never end without some competition. Competition is how you improve. I don’t do ANYTHING for fun,” Carson booms.
8:38p.m. — Hey, we’re going to run a super-fun drill where we divvy up into teams and run six shuttle run-style there-and-backs! Competitively! This isn’t every vivid nightmare I’ve had about being back in junior high gym class come to horrible life at all!
8:44p.m. — My turn. After 5 excruciating (and excruciatingly slow) laps, I tap out. Six is not happening.
8:46p.m. — “DO IT! ONE MORE! GO! GO! GO! PUSH IT!” My track star teammates are a wall of sound. I keep running. I can’t let the team down. (And also I am a little afraid of them.)
8:47p.m. — High fives. Backslaps. I am definitely going to throw up. Elation.
8:52p.m. — Last huddle. Last Team Nike. Last cheer. I am so happy this is over. I am so sad this is over. This must be how winning the Super Bowl feels. Where is my confetti? Where is my kiss from Papa John?
The next day every muscle in my body is protesting, but it feels good. Virtuous. Nike likes to say anyone who has a body is an athlete. That’s a platitude, but I think there’s something to it. I worked my ass off, even when I was failing what my teammates were totally nailing. (Apparently I’m still calling them my teammates. That’s some powerful juju right there.) I could chase that high again.
But if I never do another shuttle run, hey, that’s just fine.