I grew up in a small town. Very small. I shared a community of 300 people until the age of 14. Yes- 300 in the entire town. Growing up in that environment was difficult, especially for an overweight nerdy kid who tried way too hard to belong. My family was large and very supportive. I had a fantastic relationship with my great-grandparents. I was very close to my cousins and aunts and uncles. We grew up in Appalachian Pennsylvania. Right in the heart of Amish country, with a healthy mix of Mennonites and German Baptists thrown in. Why do I mention this? The FOOD! It was so good; and so plentiful. And so unhealthy. Fats (the bad kind) and sugar were prevalent, with a huge dose of a sedentary lifestyle.
There are two ways to get out of, “escape” if you will, that type of community. One is college, the other is the military. I chose the military. After my time in service, I settled down and got married, and returned to my sedentary lifestyle, returning to my overweight, nerdy comfort zone.
Through all of this, I found my way to Minnesota. Fast forward to today.
Some people feel that I am obsessed with fitness. Or obsessed with health. Or both. That’s fine. I don’t mind. It is, in fact, my favorite subject to talk about. My health. Your health. The random person at the grocery store? I’ll talk to them about their health and how much fun it is to improve it. What usually happens is that we talk about what I do and how I do it to remain healthy. I go to the gym. I eat right most of the time. Even the days that I don’t eat right help me be healthy. Tonight, I am going to talk about my “why.” Why do I do what I do?
I used to think it was because I was scared of death. Most of you have heard about my cousin who was my catalyst to start on this journey of health, fitness, and strength. He is the reason I searched out the gym I adore so much. But the reason I continue; the reason I work so hard is not that I am scared of death, but rather because I want to live forever.
Let me explain.
As I walk around our city, in all of its glory, I see people who exist. They are in a hurry. Eating “food,” (yes, the quotes are intentional) they should not eat, drink things they should not drink, and smoke things they should not. These are all things I used to do right next to them. I see anger and stress etched into their faces. Much like it was on mine. I see people who have difficulty walking or standing upright; things we take for granted. Much like I did. I also see how these people live in denial. Much like I did.
I woke up one day and said: “F$ck this; I want to live forever.” And it was more recent than you might think.
I have no delusions of grandeur. I know I am not immortal and I know that I never will be. That’s the stuff of fantasies. Living forever, to me, means that I want to live every moment that I have on this earth to its fullest. I want to enjoy every second I have left with my wife, my dogs, even my cat (he really is a pretty cool cat). I am surrounded by people who make my days fun, and others who make them challenging. I am constantly finding new ways to push myself to new boundaries of my threshold of what my body and mind can tolerate. And I love it. Every time I interact with an animal or the jokesters I am blessed to know or the people who make me think or the random stranger who just wants to be told “good morning,” I feel alive. I feel strong. I feel confident. I feel comfortable.
All of these things are not directly related to health and fitness. But the indirect correlation is unmistakable. Going to the gym and working out, whether alone or in a class, relieves my stress, which makes me smile. Finding new thresholds of both strength and endurance make me feel untouchable. I feel stronger, faster, more fit. I feel more capable. The people I see while at the gym understand why I am there, as I understand why they are there. We are connected and we are bonded. And that bond is strong. Eating well and avoiding the things I know I should not eat and drink makes me feel satisfied. It also makes me feel confident. Confident that I can accomplish anything.