I wasn’t always a BariAthlete, although at one time in my life I was very athletic – I played every sport, studied and taught gymnastics, and ran long distances. I was in my early 20’s and obesity had not yet grabbed ahold of me.
By my mid 50’s I tipped the scales at 404 pounds. Athletics and sports were a thing of the past. I could no longer take part in the activities I loved. My weight would not allow it.
On October 4, 2010, at age 54, I underwent gastric bypass and over the following five and a half months I lost about 150 pounds. It wasn’t an easy period for me – I suffered a couple of post-surgery complications that kept me from attempting to add exercise into my now daily practice of healthy eating. But in the evening of March 23rd of 2011 I was ready to start my road back to enjoying exercise, sports and physical activities.
So, it was with a mix of both excitement and apprehension, that I downloaded “Couch to 5k,” an app for my iPhone that coaches a person through a month-long training to go from being a ‘couch potato’ to running a 5k. In the morning I would follow the directions of the phone app which instructed me to run for 30 seconds and walk for 90 seconds, and then repeat that six times. With a warm up and a warm down, a total of 20 minutes of exercise.
Not Always a Couch Potato
In my youth and early 20’s I loved to run… the longer the distance, the more I loved it. I often went out at night and ran till I got bored… sometimes 20 or more miles. Just me and my thoughts cruising through quiet still neighborhood streets at 2am. I loved it. So, 20 minutes seemed like an easy way to start getting back into exercise. “Why, I’ll be running a 5k, maybe a 10k, maybe a half marathon or more, within a few weeks,” I said to myself. “Piece of cake.”
On the evening of March 23rd, set my alarm to wake me at 5:30am, and I went to bed, happy in the knowledge that in the morning I would be well on my way back to the athletic prowess of years gone by.
A New Beginning?
The five-thirty AM alarm woke me as programmed. I quickly dressed in my tee-shirt and sweat pants, had a protein shake, and headed out to reclaim my athletic glory. A few seconds opening the Couch to 5k app and I was ready. Let the count down begin. 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1… GO! I took a deep breath, lifted my leg to stretch it out into my first running step in years, and… fell straight on my face.
My dreams of easily reclaiming my athletic lifestyle, along with my nose, lips and chin, were firmly ground into the sidewalk. While my legs were certainly strong from holding up over 400 pounds every day – you could probably place a building on my head and I would stay standing… they had no strength for the mechanics of running. They hadn’t had the work of putting one foot way out in front of the other, into that long stride of a runner, for years. Even at my reduced weight of 250 pounds, my legs couldn’t hold me in any position other than standing straight up. I returned home with a mix of blood and tears on my face, and the fear of defeat in my heart.
After a few hours of a ‘poor me’ session, I decided that I would not be defeated. I would not let the work I had done since October 4th, the pain, the discomfort, and the fear I overcame, be taken from me. I would not only try again, I would do whatever it took to get my legs back into shape, and I set a goal that I would run a 5k in 3 months. And for three months I ran or trained to run every day, and on June 11th, 2011, I ran a 5k with my son Terry.
In the years that followed, I got back on my bike and rediscovered my love of riding. Of course, I’ve taken that hobby to the extreme and gone on some amazing long-distance bike rides.
The hardest part of part of several rides has been getting over mountains. The ascents are difficult and the descents scary. But I found them a perfect metaphor for what can come from the challenges we often confront 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 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 and across the country, had I not accepted and faced this challenge… if I had not ‘Dreamed BIG and Dared to Fail.’
And for all of this riding, in the summer of 2017 I was named the Male BariAthlete of the Year.
What I’ve Learned as a BariAthlete
The BariAthlete award is more than recognition of the athletics I’ve employed since WLS. It is an acknowledgement that nothing can stop a person from overcoming any obstacle, changing any circumstance, or achieving any dream, except their own fears and self-doubts. As is said in a popular meme, “Everything you desire is located on the other side of Fear.” 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?
I’ve met many wonderful people, seen unbelievable natural beauty, and experienced several life-changing moments. My life is richer, more peaceful, and fuller than I could ever imagine. My soul has found flight. I want to live a long time and experience everything I can from this planet and the people who populate it. To paraphrase the words of the One Republic song, ‘I Lived’:
Hope when my moment comes (when my time is up, and God comes to seize my soul), I can say:
“I, I did it all.
I owned every second,
That this world could give.
I saw so many places,
The things that I did, and
With every broken bone, I swear I lived.”
Go Find Your Mountain and Climb It!
Gastric Bypass is the tool I used to save my life. My bike is the tool I use to express my love for living. Saving my life was only the start. Now I get to live it anyway I want, and I like to live it on my bike… seeing the world at 12 to 15 MPH. And I want to live it a lot. Life is Good – Living is Great.
I hope that you use your WLS tool to experience life, however that manifests itself for you.
I hope when your moment comes you will say: “I, I Did It All!”