Remember when you were a kid and your mom told you to “go outside and play.” And you knew exactly what she meant. You went out and rode your bike, played tag, raced your friends. I remember playing outside. Until I became a teenager, when I became too cool to play outside.
At 13 I started smoking cigarettes and became very inactive. My mother smoked and when I was 16 she allowed me to smoke in the house, so before I knew it I was smoking two packs of Marlboro a day. I developed a bad smoker’s cough and at 18 I decided to quit smoking – which was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I was successful at quitting but I ended up gaining 60 pounds. And everything fell apart. One day I looked in the mirror and saw a person who was 100 pounds overweight staring back at me. I was 36 years old.
It was not that I didn’t try to lose weight all those years. Oh, I tried. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Optifast, the Cottage Cheese diet, the Tuna Fish diet, Atkins, South Beach. I even tried throwing up, but that was disgusting. I would lose and then gain over and over again. I joined so many gyms and tried so many exercises: aerobics, step aerobics, the treadmill, walking, running. But I just hated myself more and more. I cried. I yelled. I was miserable. And I knew it was all my fault. I was a weak person – maybe even a bad person. So I gave up.
In 2004 my dad had a heart attack and I decided to try this whole weight loss thing one more time. I joined a gym. Again. The first thing I did was get on the elliptical machine; I had never used one before. Unfortunately, that machine requires the user to move at a certain speed for the machine’s digital readout to work. As it turned out, that speed was faster than I could go.
I made a deal with myself. I would go the gym seven days a week and stand on the elliptical machine. If at that point, I wanted to go home, I could. I just had to get to the gym. I did go to the gym every single day, and once I got on the elliptical machine I stuck around to work out. I would work out as long as I could on the elliptical, which wasn’t very long, and then walk on the treadmill for about a half hour.
After a few weeks I decided it might be helpful to hire a trainer. I thought long and hard about the qualifications I wanted my trainer to have, and after doing so I hired the cutest trainer at the gym, Tim. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, Tim helped me start a process that changed my life – maybe even save my life.
Tim never said the word dieting. Ever. He said I could make “better choices.” Which sounded so easy – even I could do that. He taught me to appreciate my fitness. To him, fitness was not about weight loss. Fitness was about stamina, an increase in muscle and a decrease in your resting heart rate. Tim never described any new exercise as being “hard”; he said it was “challenging.” He treated me like I belonged at the gym – with all those “in shape” people. He introduced me to them and I am still friends with some of them to this day. Finally, he taught me something so important that I want to tell everyone I meet: Nothing good ever comes from hating yourself. Not fitness, not weight loss, not happiness.
Tim also helped me show that elliptical machine that it wasn’t “all that.”
Once I mastered the elliptical machine, Tim suggested I take a spinning class; he said it would be fun.
Spinning is group fitness class where people wearing spandex sit on stationary bikes listening to loud music in a dark room and bike as fast as they can without throwing up. At least that’s what I thought it was, but it wasn’t like that at all. OK, that’s a lie – it was exactly like that – but I didn’t puke. And it was fun.
It wasn’t long before I got a road bike. And that is when my transformation began, from a normal person into a cyclist.
If you don’t know any cyclists you probably don’t know just how strange we are. Cyclists like to talk about their bikes and biking to anyone who will listen. I’ve posted all my rides on Facebook despite my friends telling me they don’t care. I’ve taken photos of my bike in different states, at famous landmarks, in front of covered bridges, with farm animals, in front of waterfalls, and by the ocean. I get genuinely excited when someone tells me they are going to buy a bike. I have jewelry made out of recycled bike chains. I have artwork of bicycles in my office. I keep two extra pairs of cycling shoes in my car – you can never be too prepared.
Cycling for me is not exercise; cycling is fun; sure, it helped me lose 70 pounds and keep it off; but it also made me feel like an athlete for the first time in my life; it changed my whole way of thinking about my health. I went from a person who couldn’t keep the elliptical machine on to a person who rode over 3,000 miles last year, which is more miles than it is from PA to California (just in case you were wondering). Am I “thin”? Nope. Am I happy? Absolutely.
When we are kids we don’t think of playing outside as exercise; we just think of it as fun. I think we forget that experience as we grow older and physical activity becomes a chore. All those times I tried desperately to lose weight I came at it from a place of anger which never worked. When I changed my perspective it took so much pressure off of me and everything fell into place. I was not a person trying to lose weight; I was an athlete trying to get better at my sport. Cycling was not a means to an end; cycling was the end.
Even after all these years, there are times when I am on my bike, with an open road ahead of me, and with the wind at my back in that perfect gear, and I remember that day on the elliptical machine and can’t help but laugh – cause I never, ever saw this coming.