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Go to musicgives.org to donate and get your own shirt. This is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show. Our next story comes to us from Paul in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Paul moved our listeners with his story Wilbur and the Empty Nester. We asked him if he had any more.
Here he is with the story titled A Baby Boomer's Battle. With Insanity and Fitness. I decided I needed to challenge myself to get into reasonable shape.
It would be easy. I would start exercising more and get back to my college weight before the summer started and feel as young as ever. At six foot six, the 30 pounds I had gained over the years came on easily and slowly year after year as I settled into my career as a computer programmer. But at age 49, I had to face the facts. It was time to stop blaming my clothes dryer for my tightly fitting shirts. Time to fess up that my scale is not broken, no matter how many times I stepped on it each morning, hoping for a better result. That shameful number displayed was indeed correct. It was time to admit it. My waistline was growing as steadily as the stock market.
Of which, by the way, I wasn't even taking advantage of, because I'm a stubborn German Catholic and much too conservative. I knew if I wanted to correct this belt-on-buckling dilemma, I had to take some drastic measures. I had to pry myself off my La-Z-Boy chair, which I more accurately call my fat chair. At first I thought, let's go the cheap route. I had a stationary bike in my basement, perhaps I should give it a try.
But when I went down there, I remembered I was using it quite well as a clothes hanger, and I didn't feel like finding a new home for my dirty laundry. Then I thought, how about going the digital or the old-fashioned DVD video route? But insanity and P90X seemed like a stretch.
There was no chance I could force myself to mimic some dude on a DVD. I had tried jogging in the past, but I would spend those entire 30 minutes forcing myself as best I could to keep from transforming my jog into a leisurely walk and dreading every minute. So I went a different route. I decided to do something I never thought I would do. I pried open my wallet, took out my credit card, handed it over to the friendly young lady at the front desk, and for $50 a month, I joined a gym!
Yes, I almost hate to admit it. I became one of those urban adults on a mission. The guys and girls you hear about, prancing around the gym, trying to look like fashion models and college kids. Only, I was one of the few who didn't run around with either fresh makeup on and skin-tight spandex workout clothes or under-armored sleeveless shirts peeking in mirrors at finely-toned bulging muscles.
I was out there every day in my baggy sweats, going as hard as I could on an elliptical machine set to its maximum resistance, huffing and puffing, and leaving behind a pool of sweat on the floor below my machine. All the while, I was getting strange looks from those next to me, peddling as if they were out for a Sunday stroll. I tried to figure out how they do it. They make it look so easy. Either I was in much worse shape than I thought, or these other gym members were in incredible shape. But I glanced at their machine now and then, and I found the secret.
They were not setting any resistance. It was all a fraud, just for show. They were pretenders! Then and there, as stubborn as I am, I decided to do it the honest way. I don't have much of the pride and prowess left in me that carried me through my Bloomington Kennedy High School days. I was no longer a slow and lumbering center iceman on the Mighty Eagle hockey team. I was an old man now, but a decisive one, just the way my old coach, Jerry Peterson, taught me to be. I was going to lose the weight.
As a Minnesota native, born into a Catholic family of 10, who settled into a middle-class neighborhood in Bloomington, I was a blue-collar guy who hated to lose, and I was not going to fail. And believe it or not, before I knew it, a mere five months from the start of this experiment, the weight displayed on my driver's license was once again accurate. Thirty pounds in fifty years, I celebrated those two milestones together. I hit mid-century with a smile on my face, and with some smaller shirts and pants that fit me just right.
Ah, year fifty, halfway to a hundred. What a great feeling. However, the glory was short-lived. Sure, I felt great and I looked better, but I had to shake my head. After all that blood, sweat, and tears, I had to ask at what price had I achieved my victory. Having met my goal, I wondered if I had lost some of my sanity in accomplishing it.
Had I gone bonkers? Imagine yourself getting on an elliptical machine every day, sometimes even twice a day, and at the end of the workout, you looked at what you had done. The machine said I went 4.1 miles, but every time I got off of that machine and stepped on the ground, I could verify it plainly.
I had not moved an inch. And consider the other machine I mastered, the StairMaster. I love that word picture, the master of stairs. The intimidating StairMaster machine, when I was done for the day, said I had climbed 120 floors, while wheezing and running out of breath. In the real world, having mounted that tower, I could have been looking forward to a much easier walk down those same floors. Then it hit me.
That simple pleasure was denied. I had not moved even one story. I was standing in the same spot ground level as when I started, right next to an immobile machine.
Who am I kidding anyway? I can't even claim to be master of my own waistline, let alone some non-existent stairs. And even though we already established jogging is not my thing, once in a while, I did give it a shot, and I tackled the small indoor running track on this infamous gym of mine. 11 laps were equal to a mile. My goal was usually 3 miles, but I was never quite sure whether I made it or not. Needing all my focus to keep from stopping, I would lose track of the laps. Did I just finish lap 21, or was that only lap 20?
I found myself struggling to count to 33. Oh, and get this, there was a sign on the track saying walkers could use the inside lane, and joggers had to use the outside. Well, when there were no walkers on the track, I just went ahead and jogged on the inside lane.
Yet somehow that made me feel as though I was cheating. These manufactured encounters in the gym were insane in my world, and they took their toll on me. So what did I do to get my sanity back? I did the same thing any lazy 50 year old would do. I gladly quit that gym membership, and I went right back to my old habits. I reacquainted myself with my fat share, and I eagerly resumed my nightly snack habit. And, with the $50 per month membership savings, I was able to spend that cash much more wisely. I no longer had to force myself to take the long way around the Walgreens store when going to the pharmacy to pick up my high blood pressure medicine. I went back to taking the shortcut through the candy aisle. It's only $1.39 for a box of Milk Duds.
And better yet, if I buy 3 at once, it's an even better deal at 3 for $3. That ain't no fuzzy math. Over the next several months, those 30 pounds were sure a lot easier to put back on than they were to take off.
Much more enjoyable, too. Reflecting on that rebound, I think that perhaps there's a correlation between sanity and the size of your waist. Obviously, sane people have bigger bellies.
However, I guess it is possible that's just me justifying the size of my girth. But, whatever you do, don't ask my daughter if I got my wits back. If you do, she most likely will say I never had any real sanity in the first place.
To which I would reply, that's insane. At age 50, I was a somewhat fit, bald, sane old man. But then, by age 51, I had once again become that guy you hated to play pick-up basketball with. You know who I'm talking about. That guy at whom you would shake your head at during the pick-up game between the shirts and the skins. A 51-year-old with a beard belly and a hairy back, his tongue dragging on the floor, sweat pouring from his armpits, surely unable to dribble or dunk, but somehow able to make a three-point shot. But only taking that shot because he didn't have the energy to run the whole court. That's me to a T. Except for the part about making a three-point shot. I didn't make them.
I could only take them. This fitness rollercoaster I was on has led me to this conclusion. There is a need for balance in there somewhere. Leisure and exercise can go hand-in-hand. And I was reminded that exercising is a lot easier and much more fun when there's a competition involved. What I miss are the days of doing real exercise. Nothing contrived. No spandex and no makeup.
No Sean T on DVD. And no neon shoes. And maybe best of all, no monthly gym membership coming out of my credit card. I exercised for free in my old days, and I enjoyed it. I miss running up and down the Emmaus Lutheran Church Gymnasium with my high school buddies, Lyle, Gooker, Levi and the Monster, playing hoops at full speed late at night, and sweating it out the old-fashioned way. I miss playing pickup-touch football games on Sunday afternoons, down at Running Park, my friend Soopy on the receiving end of my wobbly passes, where we played on real grass, watered by the rains, not by an irrigation system. These are the kinds of way a guy should be exercising. I suspect that my friends and siblings would tell me that those long-lost efforts in streetball and pickup games did little to improve my sanity. But still, I felt like a normal guy back then, and that was good enough for me.
I do applaud the efforts of those men, women and neon-wearing daughters working out in spandex, doing workouts to a video called Insanity or P90X. As for me, I've got to go. It's late at night, my stomach is growling, and shh, I think there are some peanuts left in the pantry. Oh, and stay tuned for the sequel of this experiment, coming out in a couple years when I turn 60. But between now and then, I think I'll make things a bit easier. I'll say goodbye to my La-Z-Boy chair, and I'll go play outside with the grandkids.
And then I'll go with my daughter on a nice, long walk. And you've been listening to Paul tell his story of his battle with insanity and fitness. And thanks to Greg Hengler for finding the story, sharing it and producing it.
Paul's battle with insanity and fitness, his story, it's my story too, here on Our American Stories. Use code LulusFan20 to save 20% off your first order. That's LulusFan20. Freshen up your wardrobe for spring at Lulus.com.
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