guest post from Sharon Rosenblatt
I know that people always say that exercising improves your life because of all the health benefits and endorphin boosters but I’m one of those rare cases–exercise has literally saved my life. I wasn’t particularly active when I was younger. I did what I had to in order to stay thin. I participated, but didn’t excel in high school softball and track. Actually, I didn’t really come close to coming close to excelling. After all, I am the height of a standard hurdle. I’m not built for being active—I’m built more to be an armrest for my over 5 feet tall friends. High school sports were mostly just a way to beef up my college resume and make new friends.
College didn’t really change that. I was terrified of the freshman 15 so I started making the gym part of my daily routine along with trying to eat more than two different vegetables a day. Nothing special. I treated the trudge to the gym on the opposite side of campus as a viable escape from the library although I’d always try to take the stairs to the obscure 6th floor to study. Suffice it to say, working out was definitely a small component of my life but nothing I identified with. When I was close to finishing up my sophomore year in college, I went through some tough personal issues that landed me home for a semester on the strict recommendations of everyone but me. I was frustrated, for lack of a better word publishable word. I had doctors give me enough prescriptions to wallpaper a small bedroom and I was in an outpatient therapy program three times a week. After some time, I was getting better in the clinical sense, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I was getting praised for sharing feelings and speaking up in group but I missed that sense of challenge for something larger; something I couldn’t describe.
One of my friends who went to school not too far from my home suggested that we train for a road race. She gave me the details–a Thanksgiving run that was almost five miles. It didn’t have that hokey name of ‘Turkey Trot’ so I didn’t write it off immediately. I hadn’t run five continuous miles, ever. Even when I did track in high school, the most I could muster was a mile. The distance sounded like a marathon. But I was determined because I needed something good to look forward to besides CSI marathons on TV. So I joined a gym near my house. I went at those random hours of the day when it was less crowded and people couldn’t see just how much a tiny girl could sweat. I jogged a mile on the treadmill a day for two weeks. A 12 minute mile. Then I bumped it to two. I pushed myself to work out every day, even weekends. Suddenly, I wasn’t just running, I was running to something–a real goal that wasn’t thrust on me by a medical textbook and diagnosticians. I experienced self-motivation. I hadn’t believed in myself for over a year and seeing myself run my first 5k on a treadmill made me hunger for more miles. I started buying running clothes to make me look forward to working out more. I even bought one of those shoulder iPod holders.
Yet, the worst part of the process for me was dealing with my bodily limitations. I had never pushed myself at the gym before and I had to teach motivation again. I wish I could say that I was pumped from the get go and did two-a-days at the gym. There were some days where I would look at the gym as this foreign place where my kind didn’t go. A five miler was a morning workout for some of my fellow gym goers, and I was huffing through two. It was almost as though I had to learn how to walk again since I had no endurance. I did it without a personal trainer and only the advice from a few web pages. I recall being embarrassed that I couldn’t make myself run that far when people who looked to be less in shape than me could. Yet, I knew it was something I had to do if I wanted to break out from the doldrums of group therapy and repeated trips to the mall.
One way I remedied this was to make fun playlists for my workouts. I picked music that I related to and got me going. That made my workouts seem more like a dance party. However, this became embarrassing because I have the habit of raising my hands when a song tells me to do so. The song ‘Shots’ by LMFAO is especially problematic with the lyrics ‘If you’re feeling drunk, put your hands in the air’ and I’d start waving my hands like a maniac in the middle of the line of treadmills at the gym. I’m still occasionally guilty of this.
Even though I had to walk the uphill portions on race day in November, I still finished. And now, two years later, I’ve completed over a dozen road races (including two half marathons!). I’m running that Thanksgiving race again for my fourth time next year. I had to change my mindset that all runs are a race because I learned that in high school track. I used to get hung up over my mile times and trying to reduce by seconds became a mathematical and psychological nightmare. Since I’m bad at remainders from division and I have short legs, I’ve learned to live with my deficiencies and just run for me—not against me or anyone else.
Over the few years, I’ve found that running recreationally with others, even if it is at different speeds, is the best motivator. I treated running like group therapy—you always have something to learn by watching others. I’ve run with running clubs associated with athletic stores, college groups and just friends. Each and every time, I’ve had fun talking about the meaning of life related to the run. I’ve found runners to be the most grounded, yet philosophical people I’ve ever met. I also try to avoid fitness ruts as much as possible. I’ve experienced treadmill running to be boring after a while. Even if you have to run inside in winter months, at least pick a different position inside the gym or switch up the TV from ESPN to “The Price is Right.” Once the weather got nicer, I’d always try to explore new areas around familiar places. Suddenly, my friendly neighborhood hills seemed challenging when I’d approach them from a different side street.
Running, especially outside, gave me that push that drugs and therapy couldn’t always do. I’m not the fastest or have the best form but I do it because I always know that when I finish a jog or a 10 miler, the euphoria of the finish is always better than where I started.
Silver Spring, MD, USA
Guest post from Tricia Downing
Imagine a moment so dramatic that it defines you for the rest of your days; that it changes what you do, how you do it, and calls into question every dream you’ve ever dared to chase. What happens when you arrive back at square one?
For me, that day was September 17, 2000. At the time I was a competitive cyclist and my enthusiasm for the sport could not have been greater. All I wanted to do was ride, race, and ride some more. I loved it. During the summer of 2000, I packed my car and set off across the country to compete in as many races as I could. When I returned home five weeks later I was more excited than ever to pursue the sport with everything I had.
But on a beautiful fall day, while riding with an out-of-state friend, I was hit head-on by a car. The impact sent me soaring off my bike, over the front windshield of the car, and to the ground. I was paralyzed instantly.
In the first moments, days and weeks I dealt with pain, confusion and uncertainty. But after the initial shock wore off, I was struck by the realization that a wheelchair would now be my mode of transportation and I was terrified by the thought of having to live my life on the sidelines. Fortunately, my team of rehab specialists (doctors, nurses, physical therapist, occupational therapist and recreation therapist) had different ideas for me. On one particularly difficult day in therapy, my physical therapist said, “Trish, you have a long road ahead of you, but I assure you that you’ll still be able to do all the same things you’ve ever done. You’ll just have to learn to do them in new ways.”
I didn’t realize at first how I could possibly do the same things I did before my injury, but as I write this ten years later, I realize that I AM, in fact, doing the things I did before. I am working a full-time job, spending time with friends and family, owning my own home, driving all the places I need to go and competing in sports.
Being able to get back to sports has been one of the most important things in my life. I have always been an athlete. It is my love and passion and the fact that I was able to find activities that were adaptable to my new situation was one of the greatest discoveries of my life. It wasn’t easy to build my arms and shoulders to be able to handle riding a handcycle or pushing a racing chair. And re-learning to swim was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But again, it was advice from one of my therapists that stuck with me. She told me if I worked hard, did a little more every day, stayed patient and didn’t give up, that I could build on my skills and achieve in direct correlation to my motivation.
I started small, just riding the handcycle and pushing my racing chair around the neighborhood with friends. I’d swim a few laps every week, but just as my therapist said, I did a little more each time. I remember the first time I rode ten miles on the handcycle. It was like the biggest accomplishment in the world. If you would have told me that four years after that day, I would compete in my first Ironman triathlon, I would never have believed it. But working hard and doing a little more each day paid off. In 2005, I competed in the Redman Ironman in Oklahoma City, OK. Sure enough I had worked hard enough to be able to complete 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles handcycling and 26.2 miles in the racing chair. It took me 18 hours and three minutes, but when I crossed the finish line I realized that I was much more powerful than I ever thought.
My accident had definitely derailed me but it hadn’t stopped me. It taught me to look inside myself for strength and to not give up on my dreams and goals. The thing is that life is a lot like an endurance event and it doesn’t matter if you are an athlete or not. We all have races to run and finish lines to cross. And how you do depends on your willingness to get in the game, give it all you’ve got, and follow though to the very end.
Guest post by Erik Therwanger, of ThinkGreat90.com
As a former U.S. Marine, I have always led an active lifestyle and remained in great physical shape for most of my life. In 1999, after ten months of marriage, my then 27 year old wife was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. We were told that it was very aggressive and she needed to start chemotherapy immediately. The effects of her treatments were devastating. To have more time as her caregiver, I left my job and started a career in sales. One of the side effects of her treatments was a violent reaction to the smell of food. To make sure that she did not encounter such odors, I started to eat out more often, usually at fast food restaurants in between my sales appointments.
In addition to eating poorly, I had stopped exercising due to how hectic my schedule was. After months of taking care of my wife, I realized I had stopped taking care of myself – I had gained over forty pounds. I began a ninety day diet and exercise program. I began eating three smaller meals consisting of a protein, a fruit, and a vegetable. I drank mostly water. In between each meal, I ate about a ½ cup of granola cereal (with a glass) of water.
I started a small amount of exercise, which only included about seven minutes of cardiovascular training, three days per week. My initial goal was to lose 16 pounds. At the end of my 90 days I had lost 42 pounds. I looked great and felt even better. The goal-setting process was a huge part of my success. I identified my initial goal of losing 16 pounds and attached many powerful reasons to it: I don’t want to die early, I want to be around to watch my daughter grow, and I want to feel good about myself.
During the first week, the least fun part of my program was cutting out the junk food that I had gotten used to. But after the first week, I was starting to see results. I had lost nearly seven pounds and I knew that I would not only hit my first goal, but I would exceed it.
The top four habits that I adopted to accomplish this goal were to:
But the most rewarding part of accomplishing my goal actually had nothing to do with me. I inspired other people to lose weight also. In fact, I have been asked so many times about my weight-loss program that I started to write a book, The Goal Formula which provides a detailed account of my story and my program.
For me, losing weight enabled me to regain control of my life in so many ways. It also allowed me to impact the lives of other people!
Readers: If you want to contact Erik and learn more of his story (which gets even more interesting and inspiring) go to http://www.thinkgreat90.com