I had been riding my bike for over an hour. I was tired, using the last of my energy to get back home, and I was almost there...just around the corner. I'm sure I looked exhausted. I know I wasn't moving very fast by then, every push of the pedal a struggle. That's when he stopped dead in the middle of the road, half a block away from me, stuck his head out the driver's side window of his car and yelled, "Pedal, Fat-Ass!"
I admit it, it stung. How could it not? At the same time, I was perplexed. Why? I mean, he could have just driven across the street, he was nowhere near me. Even if he felt the need to shout insults, he could have done it without stopping. But this guy, this young guy in the old car, he felt so strongly about the sight of me pedaling my fat ass down the street that he was compelled to stop dead in the middle of an intersection and yell at me. Pedal, Fat-Ass.
And I did. I continued to pedal, or to walk, almost every day since then. There were days in the beginning when I had to bribe myself with promises of ice cream to get me out there, but I did it. I got out there. Over and over again. For the past two months I have walked or biked for about an hour and a half to two hours per day, for at least five days a week. I decided to make a change in my life, and then I went out there and started to make it happen.
Obviously, I had already begun to make this change before I was heckled, or I wouldn't have been there to be shouted at in the first place. This whole thing of trying to get in shape didn't happen over night. In some ways, it's been happening for years.
I was a smoker for twenty years. After many attempts, I finally succeeded at quitting that particularly bad habit almost seven years ago. I think about it now and don't know how I did it. How did I even function as a smoker? I have asthma, for Pete's sake. If I walk past a heavy smoker, one who isn't even currently puffing on a cigarette, I gag. When I'm out walking and pass smokers on the sidewalk I hold my breath until I'm clear of them. I think it's safe to say that I'll never start smoking again. No interest. I like breathing too much.
But smoking wasn't my only bad habit and when I quit I gave in to the urge to snack far more often than I should have. I was a couch potato. I love books and movies and TV. I love writing and daydreaming and laying on the couch with my dog. I love chocolate and pot roast dinners and bread. But all of that was taking its toll on me. I was far too sedentary and my diet was terrible.
A doctor's visit a couple years ago revealed that continuing on the path I was on would lead me to diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, and a host of other problems I didn't want to deal with. I started trying to improve my diet.
Over the past couple of years, I have started experimenting with vegetables. Don't laugh, until that point in my life the only veggies I would eat were corn, potatoes, and canned green beans. Since then, I've learned that roasting vegetables can transform them into something not only edible but, (dare I say it), delicious. I've learned to like broccoli and even brussels sprouts when they're roasted. I've cut out most red meat and stick to mainly poultry and fish. I started a garden and made countless stir fries using my fresh pea pods and green beans along with the red peppers that have become one of my favorite foods. I eat more beans, and less processed foods than I ever have before. Okay, I admit it, I'm still a chocoholic and that will probably never change, but who wants to live a life without chocolate anyway?
I've had my ups and downs. Lost some weight, gained it back plus some when I fell off the wagon and started eating too much junk again. At one point, my doctor told me that I'm not using the bottom of my lungs at all. My blood pressure was also getting high enough that she was pressuring me to go on medication to manage it. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to go down that path. I didn't want to write myself off as a fat middle aged ex-smoker who couldn't be anything but a couch potato because walking and talking at the same time was enough to make me wheeze. I didn't want to follow in my father's footsteps and end up having a heart attack and a stroke.
At that point, I had to decide who I wanted to be. I started slow. I had to. At first it was a struggle just to go for a half hour walk three times a week. But I started to feel something. I started to feel the seed of possibility. I came to the realization that I was changing. That with every step I was quite literally changing who I was and making myself into who I wanted to be.
I stepped up my game. I started walking more. I set goals, and then exceeded them. I walked over six miles one night because I was determined to walk for at least two full hours. I came up with a couple of regular routes I walk, one takes an hour, the other an hour and a half. I very seldom use the hour route. If I do, it's because I'm pairing it with a bike ride. I've lost about fifteen pounds in two months.
Right now, I seem to have plateaued. I haven't lost any more weight in a while. I was starting to get frustrated. The little voice in the back of my mind was saying, "Screw this. Let's sit on the couch and eat ice cream for a few days." So, I did what I didn't want to do. I told the voice to shove it. I went outside and I walked, and I walked harder. I pushed myself to walk faster. Tonight, for the first time since possibly High School, I even jogged. Not for very long at a stretch, after a couple of minutes I start wheezing and have to go back to walking, but I did it nonetheless. And I did it at least a half dozen times during tonight's walk.
I finally figured something out. When I quit smoking, I had to come up with a better argument than the voice of addiction that whispered in my ear and told me how great a cigarette would be and how I could just have one more and that would be it. I had to come up with a voice stronger and louder than that one. I had to come up with a more persuasive argument. And that's what I've done again. Sometimes, the argument is simple. I want to look better. Sometimes that's not enough and I have to think about the health consequences of not getting into better shape. And sometimes, I just have to listen to my body. To feel my lungs engaging all the way down to the very bottom when I jog for a block or ride my bike up a hill. I like that feeling. I like feeling my body coming back to life. And I like the ridiculously baggy asses of all of my pants now.
I have a long way to go, but I'm on the right path now and nothing is going to stop me. Which brings me back to the guy who felt the need to stop his car to let me know how ridiculous I am. I've had ample time to consider that one shouted sentence while walking and biking for the past several weeks. What I've come to realize is this. That guy obviously has issues that have nothing to do with me. For some reason, the only way he could come up with to make himself feel better was to try to make someone else feel worse. His only power would have been to make me give up, to pedal my fat ass home and console myself with an ice cream sundae. I didn't do that. I got my fat ass back out there, day after day after day and I will continue to do so, especially on the days that I don't want to. That guy is not my problem. He never was.
In the end, we are all our own worst enemies. The only way to defeat the enemy without defeating yourself is to get out there and do it. Push through it. Take the first step, the first spin of the wheel, the first row of the oar, whatever it takes. Just get moving. Every step is a step in the right direction. Every time you push yourself forward you change who you are. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. You increase your sense of worth by increasing your resolve. You sculpt your mind while you sculpt your body. You can be anyone you want, you just have to make it happen. And you make it begin to happen with the act of beginning. Sometimes, when you don't feel like doing it, you just have to Do It Anyway.