Back to Fitness: Flame On

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John Andersen

I recently recalled a powerful experience I had as a teenager. After graduating from high school, I got a job working at a landscaping company in northern Virginia. I did whatever they needed me to do in the nursery.

My boss told me to help a woman get some plants out to her car. She was in her 40s or 50s and my first impression was that she seemed like an extremely nice person.  When I was done, she looked me right in the eye and said, “Thank you so much. You have a really wonderful smile. I hope you don’t mind me saying that. I’ve recently been diagnosed with brain cancer and don’t have much time left, so I don’t waste time anymore and I just tell people what I think. Have a wonderful day.”

An immature 18-year-old, I didn’t know how to respond, except to say thanks. But her words stuck with me. Or, really, how she so quickly shared such a personal thing with the nursery “yard boy.”  When I got home that evening, I shared this experience with my mother, who, through our church, has had a lot of experience with people who are dying. She told me that when people know they are dying and have accepted it, they often live their remaining days with a completely new perspective on life, one that would make you not hesitate to give random strangers compliments that over 20 years later are still remembered.

This memory bubbled back up during a recent solo long run I was on in the mountains. As I’ve shared in this column recently, I have the opportunity to compete in the most prestigious trail race in the U.S. this month, the Western States 100-mile endurance run. This is an opportunity of a lifetime, coming at just the right time in my life.

I set some pretty big goals for this race and, to be honest, I regularly vacillate from having a small glimmer of hope in recognizing my goals, to having very little confidence that I could achieve them.  It is the conflict of the dreamer vs. the realist, playing out in real time.

As the race draws near, the intensity of this hope/no-hope vacillation has increased dramatically and affects my training. On runs where doubt is running deep, I am much less likely to push myself.  I find myself content in the realization of “this is where I am right now.” I’ll finish the run and keep up the effort, but there is not as much sense of purpose.

On runs where hope flickers brightly, there are purpose and energy. I am no longer content in “where I am right now.” I know that the flicker will never turn into a flame unless I breathe into it all that I have. Flickering hope will blow out unless commitment, hard work, and passion transform it into something else, something steady.  So, with a fire starting to burn, I work the climbs and push the miles, transforming into something else.

From contemplation of these thoughts the memory of the dying woman came into my head.

How many of us are content with where we are right now?  Don’t get me wrong. I hope that every person reading this has joy in his or her heart. What I mean is, how many of us have simply stopped looking forward because we feel like we have arrived where we’re supposed to be?  And in relevance to “Back to Fitness,” how many of us have simply settled with where we are in our health and fitness?

I am by no means suggesting that everyone should aspire to run 100 miles, or bike across the country, or do ultra-feats of strength and endurance. But to those who do need a little boost to get “Back to Fitness”–you know who you are–are you still searching? Transforming? Or simply flickering?

Let’s go back to the woman with brain cancer. The reality is it could be ANY of us, any day. Would you live your life a bit differently? Would you look back with regrets? Ideally, we would answer no to both questions, but the truth is we’d probably need to say yes.

Through the past 3½ years of owning the running store with Michelle, I regularly hear stories of how people were fired up to reclaim their health and fitness, only to be derailed by something.

“I just couldn’t find the time. We are just so crazy busy.”

“I have tried so many times to lose weight but it just never works for me.”

“I’ve got so many issues that I just don’t know where to start.”

Forgive me for some hard talk here (I’m going to sound like a jerk for a minute) but these are all just excuses for not committing to yourself. I am not saying there is some ideal measure of fitness that everyone should strive for, but if you are telling yourself, and telling other people that you are wanting to improve your health and fitness, then commit to it. Transform.

You shouldn’t be asking yourself “how am I going to do this?” You need to tell yourself, “I am going to do this.”  You shouldn’t ask yourself, “how will I make time?” Tell yourself, “I am going to make this happen.”

Again, the woman. She was transformed. I could see it in her eyes. She knew something that most of us don’t.  She saw things differently. Her flickering light had roared into a huge flame, only, sadly, it was about to burn out too soon.

We have one life to live, and this is it. If you need a transformation, do it now. It won’t be easy, but the roaring flame is most definitely worth it. Once you have committed and convinces yourself to transform, the rest will indeed come.   

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