Five years ago I was 54 years old and the prospects of a 55th birthday seemed bleak. I weighed 404 pounds and my health was failing, obesity was putting my life at risk. Countless diets and weight loss plans had not worked. But on October 4, 2010, I underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery and my life changed forever.
Today, I weigh 200, and instead of watching life pass me by, I embarked on a 525 mile bike ride to increase awareness of the dangers of obesity, specifically in people aged 55 years and older. My destination was the 2015 ObesityHelp annual conference in Cary, North Carolina, where I was a speaker.
It’s important that people realize that it’s never too late to take control of their health. You can defeat obesity and reclaim your active, healthy and productive life, even in your senior years. I am living proof that it can be done.
The Planning and the Anticipation
The time that goes into planning these things. The details, the specifics, the decisions. Trying to imagine what it will be like… what I will need…. how it will feel… how I’ll react. Planning not only the agenda, but for the resources I’ll need for contingencies unforeseen. Knowing it will be work. Hard work. Knowing I’ll be tested. Afraid of the possibility of failure but excited about the chance to feel success and accomplishment.
There was a point when my mind switched from the images conjured and formed during the planning process, to the cold hard reality of implementation. The planning process being full of hazy, vague and often romanticized thoughts, images and feelings of what I was about to do, which were quickly replaced by the stark, bold, distinct, and often ugly facts that present themselves when I actually took action.
For me this point of demarcation came on Thursday morning October 1st as I jumped on my bike and began to peddle away from my home in Westerville, Ohio. My stomach was in knots. My mind raced with thoughts, not the least being: “Can I actually do this?”
I was off and riding. It didn’t take long for a feeling of comfort to overcome me and I relaxed and began to enjoy the ride. But that level of anxiety, of discomforting worry and fear, would return, almost nightly, as I reviewed the agenda for the next day. Would the weather hold? Would there be hills that might defeat me? Would the wind turn against me and beat me into submission? And my most personal and private fear, “Will I have the strength to ride as far as I planned?” But each day I got up and peddled my bike – and each day brought a new level of accomplishment, of wonder, and a sense of personal achievement and victory.
I was having the time of my life. The trip far exceeded my wildest dreams. I was having a great time viewing wonderful parts of America as I rolled by at 10 to 15 miles per hour. It had been years since I had felt so alive and had such confirmation of proof of life… proof that I alive – felt ever so viscerally through testing my inner strength against challenges I couldn’t see coming, but knew were out there… Of the daily cycle of fear of the unknown being overcome by the accomplishment of doing and achieving.
There is a tremendous sense of freedom while traveling around by bike. Your spirits soar, the shackles of everyday life are lost, and you cannot help but feel a joy for life, a lifting of limits, the elation of living LARGE.
Things I’ll Never Forget
· Being up in the mountains of West Virginia looking down on clouds that filled the valleys leaving the mountain tops exposed above them like endless waves upon the ocean.
· The absolute fear and rush of careening down a Virginia mountain at 35 MPH on a narrow road that twists and turns and has no shoulders, a rock wall on one side and a 300 foot drop on the other, holding the handlebars for dear life and praying that there aren’t any potholes or out of control cars ahead.
· Spending time in Mt Airy (Mayberry RFD) with thousands of people celebrating their Autumn Leaves Festival and meeting some special people who sat and talked and laughed with us.
· Riding for miles along Paint Creek in West Virginia, observing beauty so profound that words cannot describe it and photographs cannot capture it.
· Getting up each morning and facing the fear of not being up to the task of the miles and the climbs, and then the feeling of success and victory that came when the day ended and I’d defeated every obstacle I faced.
And I Wept When It Was All Done… For Being Done Too Soon
Then, after months of planning, 12 days of riding through four states, the Appalachian Mountains, 400,000+ revolutions of my bike wheels, one flat tire, a bee sting, being chased by a half-dozen dogs, temperatures as low as 40 degrees and as high as 81, riding in the rain, being watched online by over 40,000 people, burning 25,000 calories, making dozens of new friends and hundreds of memories… the ride was over.
I had accomplished what I had set out to do.
What I Learned
The hardest part of the ride was the mountains. The ascents were difficult and the descents were scary. But I found them a perfect metaphor for what can come from the challenges we often face in life… Right in the middle of the worst of them came the most beautiful views… The beauty of the mountains revealing itself to me as I crested each peak, something that I never would have experienced had I avoided the challenge.
We face challenges all throughout life. Some are imposed upon us, others we impose upon ourselves. My Journey to Fitness has had challenges of both types. Both have tested me, but also gifted me with beauty and joy.
Right in the middle of my life, I accepted the challenge to get healthy. I never would have experienced my rebirth into a healthy life, the joy of riding through the mountains, or the honor of meeting so many wonderful people from the WLS community, had I not accepted and faced this challenge… if I had not ‘Dreamed BIG and Dared to Fail.’
We are capable of far more than we can imagine. There are no limits except those we impose upon ourselves. Age has nothing to do with possibilities – who is too old to dream?
Thank you to everyone who prayed, supported, encouraged, cheered, coached, followed and believed in me (even when I doubted myself). You are part of the beauty that this challenge has revealed to me and I am infinitely wealthier for the experience of knowing you.