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Retired steelworker follows music, cycling to fulfilment

Paul Gabrylewicz and a few friends decided to form a band, Man Feelings, and produce their original music after he retired

For Paul Gabrylewicz, life's quality is much more important than its quantity.

At the age of 62, he's healthier and happier than he's been most of his life, he says.

The retired steelworker has loved and found fulfillment in music since he was very young but became much more serious about it after retiring from a 40-year career at Algoma Steel.

"I get a spiritual experience out of music. It allows me to express emotions. It’s a feel-good drug," he said. "There’s a sense of self-worth, of well-being. All these spiritual things are brought to me through playing music. Also through listening but playing music is another level of return."

When Gabrylewizc was thinking about retirement, he thought it was at least as important to focus on his priorities and how he would spend his time after retirement as it was to save money and make a financial plan.

"My goal is to lead a rich life without a lot of money," said. "It’s perspective, it’s about enjoying what you have."

So, he thought about what brought him the greatest satisfaction in life and found it was his music. But not just cover songs, it's more about writing and playing songs he wrote or co-wrote with his friends and bandmates.

For about a decade, Gabrylewicz was a member of Coverfly, a cover band. He enjoyed playing bars, parties and special events with the band but found it was just not quite what he was looking for. He felt like playing music could be more fulfilling if he played his own music or at least the music he helped create.

“It was a great experience but there was more of a feeling of mimicking and copying than true self-expression,” he said.

“One of the other members of the band, the drummer, John, kind of felt the same way.

"When the band broke up we decided to go in a different direction. We hooked up with a couple of other people who, like us, didn’t really want to do a lot of cover songs.

"We did some covers and had fun doing them but we found that we were better doing our original music than we were as a cover band. There wasn’t the same reward from the cover music."

So Man Feelings was born and the band released its first EP on April 1, 2021.

One of the things Gabrylewicz did to nurture his love of music was to construct a studio space on the side of his garage. The band practices and writes there a lot and the space helps with the process, he said.

"I try to put as many things in here that I can that might inspire creativity," he said. 

Scattered around the room are an eclectic collection of musical instruments and odd items like a stuffed alligator and an old light from the streetlights before they were replaced with LED lights. 

But, sometimes it's life's less-than-ideal situations that inspire him and his bandmates.

“I retired in October 2019, just before COVID. I’m happier. I’m much more at peace. I’m happier being that I’m not exposed to the social environment or drama that comes from working in such a (socially) chaotic environment,” he said. “The job, I really did not mind. Sure the (physical) environment was challenging but the social conflict was just too much... A lot of them (his coworkers) were very much like children fighting in a sandbox.”

The band's original music is peppered with overtones of anger and sarcasm, which has kind of become its go-to voice. 

“With the bold and brash nature of our music and lyrics… well, let’s just say we still haven’t gotten around to writing a love song, yet and we probably never will. We try. We keep saying we have to write some feel-good music but we keep going back to the sarcasm and humour.”

He also said the band members challenge each other. Individually, they help each other become better musicians and better people in general. This helps the band produce better music, too.

But there's no pressure and, really, they are making music for themselves and for the benefits they get out of it.

"There’s no expectations whatsoever when it comes to our music. If people like it, then it’s great. If not, then they don’t," Gabrylewicz said. "Do we expect to go on tour? Absolutely not. We expect everything and nothing. That way, nobody is disappointed.”

In addition to music, Gabrylewicz enjoys cycling, driving his sports car, downhill skiing and spending time with his adult daughter who lives at home with him. 

He has another daughter who lives with her boyfriend.

Cycling has been a big part of his wellness plan and represents his primary activity aimed at helping him stay physically fit.

"I decided that, when I retired, I was going to look after my health because your health is what’s going to dictate the quality of your life in your final years. So, I was going to commit myself to physical fitness as well as spiritual and mental health. They’re all dependent upon each other. It’s hard to feel good about yourself if you’re not healthy.”

He has a mountain bike and a road bike that he rides often, as well as a bike he calls his 'hobby bike' because he's constantly doing something to it.

His favourite is definitely the road bike, though, because he likes to go fast. 

He said cycling is an ideal activity for fitness because you can make the workout as difficult or as easy as you like. You can cycle indoors with your bike on a stand or outdoors. You can climb hills, mountain bike or race on a track. The activity is versatile and is a whole-body workout that engages your mind and body, too. 

His advice to younger people thinking about retiring one day is to be fearless.

“It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to be afraid to do something because that’s what courage is born of. It’s born out of being helpless or unsure. You can’t have courage without being afraid or being vulnerable. You can’t have one without the other.”

“Find the courage. Go for a bike ride. Just go. It doesn’t matter. Just participate in life. Do you want to sit in the bleachers and watch the game or do you want to be in the game? You can sit back and criticize all you want but the person on the field is the one that’s vulnerable. But, they are also the most courageous and they’re the ones that everybody is there to see.”

“You really have to put yourself in an uncomfortable place. Don’t be afraid to try something new, different or that you might suck at. Don’t take life for granted and find something every day to enrich your life whether it be cooking, going for a walk, making music or riding a bicycle. Find something to be happy about. Find something from within yourself.”

Gabrylewicz said he also appreciates the steel plant and the time he spent there.

"Working in the steel plant was a really good experience, especially from an educational perspective," he said. "I’m very grateful to the steel plant that I had a steady income to raise a family and got a pension out of it.”

He also said he believed the changes the plant is initiating are going to make life better for everyone in the city. The new electric arc furnace will eliminate the need for both the blast furnace and coke ovens, two aspects of steel production that have traditionally been major contributors to environmental and health issues in the Sault.