I was almost thirteen when my dad caught me smoking on my way home from school one day. My punishment: no more playing soccer for the National Railway Team. I had been one of only three kids selected from my town to play for that team. Life was really good to me. I got vouchers for movies, soccer cleats, even milk and yogurt. The rest of the kids…well, they just played in the streets and smoked. So, instead of a part time soccer player at thirteen, I became a full-time smoker; at sixteen, a part time drinker.
When I met Pam at 25, I was a full time drinker and smoker. Pam’s dad, also a smoker, had just passed at age 52. She was adamant she would never marry a smoker. I had tried to quit and failed miserably. With Pam as a prize, the thirteenth time was a charm. I finally quit smoking. I couldn’t believe it, I wanted to celebrate with a few beers. Pam now says: “Do you realize that there is nothing you and your friends do that doesn’t involve booze?” “Sure I do,” I said, “So what’s wrong with that?” Everybody drinks when they watch a ballgame or go to a pot luck. I didn’t cook back then, I just drank imported beer instead. I figured that would be the equivalent of a gourmet dish. Pam’s observations did make me think about drinking. Was I enjoying my friends and the activities we shared or was I looking forward to a cooler full of beer? Did I ask Pam to dinner to enjoy her company or a bottle of Bordeaux? There was only one way to find out: quit drinking. That remains the accomplishment I’m most proud of. Alcohol to me is worse than illegal drugs. Gracious hosts offer it to their guests; parents give it to their kids at certain birthdays, etc. No one seems to care that alcohol is addictive. Just because you don’t drink everyday doesn’t mean you’re not addicted. There are weekend addicts, occasional binge addicts, etc.
We moved to Castro Valley when I was 33 years old. Although freed of nicotine and alcohol addictions, I was in terrible shape. I worked too many hours in food and beverage hotel management and cooked a lot of food on my day off. I felt like I had no time or energy to do anything else. I did take short walks sometimes. The longest of these walks would take me three blocks over to Castro Valley High School. I’d watch soccer or track practice. One day a chatty “older” lady joined me on the bleachers. She said she was waiting for track practice to finish so she could do some speed work for her upcoming 5k race. She was slim and pretty but definitely older, at least 50 or 55. People that old probably jog and call it a race, I thought, to make themselves feel younger. It turned out that Maggie was 68, ran road races regularly, 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons. She just recently stopped running marathons because of a nagging knee injury and hoped to get back when the knee got better. I decided if Maggie could accomplish so much so could I. Overnight, I turned into a Forrest Gump. On the track again after 20 years I kept speeding up whenever I heard footsteps. The competitor in me was still alive. I wasn’t going to let anyone pass me, especially the older folks. Alas, the older runners, just like everyone else, passed me as well. It seemed like they were rubbing it in too. As they blew by me they would say things like: “Good job!”, “Keep it up!” and “Good to see you back!” As I got to know more and more runners I realized that they were not mean at all. They truly were supportive of one another including perfect strangers. They were friendly and smiled a lot. They were high on life and on themselves. I, on the other hand, wasn’t feeling good about myself, therefore I was mistrusting and defensive. I didn’t think you had to be a shrink to figure that one out.
So I stopped making excuses and started running more. I also started gaining weight. Pam was pregnant with our first child. She didn’t have much of an appetite so I did my best to eat for the three of us. She had her baby and I kept my extra 35 pounds. I’ve always liked to cook. I’d worked with a few talented chefs and developed a somewhat discriminating culinary appetite. My challenge now was to cook healthier food without compromising the taste. This was a big deal for me since I had never had a weight problem. I used to polish off a whole banana cream pie and not gain a pound. Well – I guess I was younger then. I needed to get my metabolism rolling so I joined a gym. I took aerobic classes and worked with weights. Later I took swim classes at the Plunge with my kids and learned to swim more efficiently. Still today I try to vary my workouts to include weights, swimming, biking and running (at least one session of each per week) and I’m happy to say I too would blow by that 33 year old me today. As I’m nearing my 48th birthday, I have ten marathons under my belt and my times keep getting better in short and long races. Older and better? The clock at the end of the race says it all. I’m not entering the Olympic tryouts but I really do enjoy beating the younger me and that keeps me motivated.
Another woman inspired me at about the same time I met Maggie. Her name is Oprah Winfrey. I used to complain about the grueling hours of the hotel business and how my career left me no time for anything else. Then I read Oprah’s book with Bob Greene (her trainer) entitled: Make the Connection. Oprah had tried and failed the diet routine so many times that she decided to start exercising. Keep in mind that Oprah runs several companies in addition to working on her show. Her day usually starts at 5:30 AM and ends at 8:00 PM yet she finds the time to read two books a week and train for marathons. Keeping busy with work, family etc. can be used as an excuse not to exercise. These very reasons I came to realize should be excuses TO exercise. Exercise gives me the energy I need to keep up with Body by Pam, Classic Gifts and Luggage, the Busy Body Dinner Plan, Youth Soccer coaching, etc.
As for my family, I truly love them too much to ever stop working out. I’m happier, kinder, more patient, etc. when I exercise. That’s the kind of person I like for them to have around. Sometimes Pam suggests that I go for a little workout; that’s my hint that I’ve gotten grouchy and need some positive energy back. When she says I need a long run or a bike ride then I know that I am totally out of line and I need a major attitude adjustment. So I just “lace them up” and look forward to coming back with a big grin on my face thankful for my loving wife and children and the hot shower awaiting me.