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Guest post: My Fitness Journey

Whatever your approach to health and fitness, you may find yourself changing things up over time to improve results or simply to maintain interest. After observing an active winter biking community for a while, I attended the Winter Bike Fashion Show, with very cautious interest. It was fun to see so many different kinds of people share varied methods and reasons for winter cycling, and as you’ll see in my story, it provided me that “next thing” to keep me rolling on my fitness journey.

When I tell this story, listeners nearly always ask questions. I hope that by sharing this, I can make it less surprising, or unique. I want you to know, and to share with others, that it’s never too late to become fit.

In the mid-2000’s, my doctor recommended that I begin taking cholesterol-reducing statin drugs due to my high cholesterol count and family history of heart disease. At the time, I carried 250 lbs. on my 5’2″ frame, but my doctor had not yet talked with me about how diet and exercise would reduce my risk. Here I am, about that time, at age 40:

For the first time in my life, I started paying attention to what I ate. I focused on what I could sustain – there was little that I eliminated from my diet, but ALL of the proportions changed in favor of healthier foods.

I was fortunate to have my partner Susan in my life. She had been active throughout her life, and helped me introduce regular physical activity gradually, safely, and sustainably. I still have vivid recollections of my exhaustion after a few short minutes of cardio exercise in those early days. I started weight training too, excited about the prospect of making muscles that would help burn the fat. Here, too, my limited abilities were simultaneously frustrating, and motivating.

I worked hard, with few visible results for months on end. But my cholesterol was improving, and I kept at it. At one point, maybe 18 months into my new lifestyle of exercising more and eating healthier/less, my body started changing, and rapidly. I think maybe my body just finally figured out that I wasn’t starving, and could let the reserves fall off.

By the time we moved to Madison in 2006 I had lost more than 50 lbs. My cholesterol ratio was reduced to high normal, eliminating the need for drug therapies. Susan was excited about Madison’s bike friendliness, but the compact, walkable, bikeable city was just one of many things that brought us here. Very soon after our move, I traded the little-used, poorly-fitting bike I’d had for a comfy, laid-back cruiser:

I still remember our first ride along the Capital City Trail… we got a couple of miles, to Monona Bay, when I told Susan we’d better turn around to make sure I had the energy to make it home.

The weeks went by. I rode.

And walked.

And went to the gym.

And rode.

I rode for fun. I rode for basic transportation. I rode in conditions that I wouldn’t have before.

I rode with people who faced much more significant obstacles than my own.

I bought a new bike better suited for longer, fast, harder riding and kept my cruiser as a spare. I rode confidently on the street, and happily on Dane County’s amazing network of trails.

By 2011, I was riding to work about 13 miles round trip per day, 2-3 days a week, and was riding hundreds of miles per year. When I got a new job downtown in 2014, about the same 2 miles that challenged me when I first arrived in Madison, I rode every day, and started biking in early and late winter as well. I broke the 1000-mile mark in 2015.

Last winter, I bought a mountain bike so I can ride more safely in the snow, and gradually acquired winter gear – better lights, good layers, head and neck coverings, gloves.

Today, I have lost a total of 90 lbs. and have maintained my current weight, while adding muscle, for a few years now. While I am still overweight, I am fit and able to do everything I want to do. Walking and hiking and biking are an essential part of my life. Although I am not naturally inclined to want to be active for hours on end, when circumstances don’t allow me to do those things, I miss them.

Now, I can bike several miles and then hike to the top of a tower…

and then do a little of this…

…and walk for miles and see awesome stuff like this…

…and I will keep doing it, to stay healthy and enjoy as much of THIS as I can.

But this is MY story, not yours, and if you are struggling with fitness I want to encourage you to write your own. If biking isn’t your thing, figure out what is. If moving isn’t your thing… well, I hear you, but you need to find the most sustainable way to do more of it. Trust that the dividends will be worth the effort; adjust your diet and exercise levels and keep at it until you see – and more importantly – feel the results. You don’t have to be thin, but I hope that you will find a way to feel fit and comfortable in your body.

You have the tools.  Reach out if I can help you figure out how to engage them.