Twelve years ago during the month of August I fractured/broke my lower back while mountain biking in Redwood National Park. The crash was the most traumatic physical experience of my life. Seven hours passed between the time of the crash and the time I arrived at Mad River Hospital in Arcata California. During those seven hours I often wondered if this serious injury would end my teaching career or disable me for the rest of my life. At the time of the injury I knew it was serious because I couldn’t get myself up. I remained on the ground while the mosquitoes took turns snacking on me until a passerby found me about a half an hour after the crash.
Since that never to be forgotten day filled with a lot of angst and fear I have experienced ongoing levels of depression due in large part to my limited ability to do many of the outdoor activities I once loved to do. I also gained about thirty pounds within the first three months of the accident and have struggled with being overweight until recently. I attributed the weight gain to the numerous two pound bags of peanut M&M’s I consumed along with large glasses of whole milk. For the record, I no longer suggest trying to soothe ones depression by eating peanut M&M’s as good as they may taste. It just causes more depression in the long run.
Last summer I hit rock bottom regarding my weight and my back. I ballooned to about 230 pounds and was forced to abandon my annual camping trip after 36 hours due to the and the inability to barely get up off the ground in the morning. I had to use a cane to lift my body up and one morning I didn’t think I was going to be able to get up at all. During the day all I could do was hobble around the campground and take a few pictures as I drove around. I was unable to hike and could barely ride my bike. I threw in the towel on the second day and I still remember the flowing tears from my eyes as I wondered if I would ever be able to revisit this spectacular beautiful outdoor wonderland that has brought me so much peace and joy over the years. As I packed up my camping gear for what I feared might be the last time I said goodbye to the jagged Minaret Peaks and Mammoth Mountain which dominate the skyline of the Mammoth Lakes basin and wondered if I would ever set my eyes on such incredible beauty again.
Fast forward to the present. Earlier this week I weighed in at 151 pounds which is almost 80 pounds lighter than last year at this time. Ten months ago after I came home from Mammoth I struggled with the use of a cane to walk around the block. Today I work out six days a week for an average of about two to three hours a day. Four days a week I either hike or ride my mountain bike up and down the local foothills which are steep in my neck of the woods. I also swim three to four days a week, sometime five times. When I first started swimming last August I really didn’t swim much. For the most part, I just walked back and forth in my swimming lane and I occasionally might swim a couple of laps on my back and one lap while doing the breast stroke. I was generally out of the pool in fifteen or twenty minutes. Today I swim for at least an hour and I now swim 63 laps doing the breast stroke. You should see my chest! No more man boobs. I do the breast stroke because I can longer lift weights due to potential back spasms which are triggered by lifting weights and I do need to something to maintain some upper body strength.
So, what happened? I believe there is often more than one way to describe or interpret an event. On one level, one could say my personal physical transformation is best described as a miracle. I wouldn’t quibble with that. I still frequently look at myself in the mirror and ask who is that guy, good looking mind you, who is staring at you in the mirror? From another perspective, one can attribute the change to a lot of hard work, perseverance and discipline Personally, I embrace both perspectives but would add the element of mystery. I don’t know why I was able to break through at this particular time in my life. I wasn’t particularly motivated anymore than any other time in my life and I didn’t really do anything new I hadn’t tried before. It’s a mystery to me.
So, what did I specifically do? I hesitate to offer any suggestions because we all are susceptible to chasing holy grails and formulas to success, particularly when we are hurting, depressed, or in despair. But, I do want to share a few particulars because “some” of what I did “may” resonate or be encouraging to others. I offer the following not as a formula for success. Major transformation often comes when we least expect it and is not simply the by product of human individual effort alone. After I came home from my camping trip my goal was simple. Get up every morning and do whatever I could which at the time meant doing stretching exercises before walking down the street with my cane by my side in case my back went out. I also went to the pool where I walked mostly for about 15 to 20 minutes three times a week. This was my routine six days a week. As the days passed I would push myself to do a little bit more at least once a week and within about a month I added a day here and a day there to ride my bike or go for a longer walk near my house.
Eating habits: Prior to my new exercise routine I was eating fairly well except for an occasional sweet tooth binge which included eating large amounts of cookies and cream ice cream after midnight or a huge bowl of Grape nuts covered in honey. I cut out the binging and added more fruit, vegetables, and soy burgers to my regular diet. Along the way I noticed if you can go cold turkey on the sweets for three weeks your body seems to adjust and you loose the craving for sweets, at least that was my experience. Today, I’m no longer tempted by the sight of ice cream, cookies, cake, chips, or any other forms of junk food. I would like to add that a critically important part of my new eating habits is salads. I eat a salad “every day”, usually, for dinner. Salads in my opinion are an effective way to loose and potentially keep the weight off because salads provide an endless “variety” of combinations. A lot of people eventually get bored with many of the diet food suggestions offered today or go back to eating what they did before but with salads you can mix and match and add this and add any combinations of vegetables, meats, nuts, etc. according to ones personal preferences. There are also a wide variety of low fat dressings on the market today to spice things up. My favorites include raspberry walnut, Asian toasted sesame, poppy seed, and blueberry pomegranate.
Final thoughts: At this time in my life I feel very grateful to God and all those along the way who have supported and encouraged me in the last ten months of my physical transformation. If you are still reading this blog entry I want to encourage you do whatever you can to move in the direction of improving your own health. I can’t promise you the kind of success I have experienced over the past ten months but our goals should always be based on doing what “we” can do to improve ourselves while taking into account our own individual limitations. I acknowledge I am fortunate because I have a job which allows me the time and means to pursue the kind of physical activities which have contributed to my transformation. I am also fortunate because I have an internal motivation because of my serious back problems, that is, my quality of life is directly tied to my eating habits and exercise routine. In other words, if I do not get up every day and stretch, walk, ride my bike, and swim the quality of my life “will” be poor. So, in conclusion, I want to encourage everyone to do what “you” can do and don’t worry about comparing yourself to others. If you do what you can do on a regular basis I suspect you will eventually see results and you will feel better about yourself and you will enjoy life more. I believe this to be true. Good luck!