When my kids were young, we had a trampoline. One afternoon, I was jumping on it and my son looked underneath it and asked, "Dad, how old are you?" I answered, “33.” He took another look under the trampoline, then proclaimed, "If you were 34, you would hit the ground."
It's a funny story, but it’s sad because it was a trend I started after high school and progressed as I transitioned into a sedentary job, ate fast food and never exercised. My young son noticed, and I continued to gain weight. Fifteen years later, at 48, I was nearly 340 pounds.
That weight put pressure on my back, and dealing with the pain often made it hard to walk. I wasn’t even 50 and I had two canes, a fatty liver, plus high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. My doctor told me I’d never stop taking prescriptions. Ever. I was taking so many different prescriptions that my body was starting to experience negative side effects, which would lead to more prescriptions.
In early 2012, I tweaked my back and needed a cane again. After finally getting tired of using canes to get around, I decided to join my wife and son in a “21-day cleanse.” Essentially, I started each day with a protein smoothie and fruit. I cut out dairy, pork, red meats, sugars, and processed foods. Eating better helped me lose some weight, but I noticed that my vision was starting to blur. Strangely enough, I found myself taking off my bifocals to read. I went to my eye doctor, who told me that my vision was actually getting better, not worse! He explained that high blood sugar adversely impacted nearsighted vision, and since my numbers had been improving, so had my vision.
My doctor also found a brown spot on my eye when he photographed them and showed me a photo of an eye with a darker spot on another individual he couldn't treat. He said the only treatment to prevent blindness for this guy would be monthly injections into his eye. Well, I decided that I didn’t like cheeseburgers enough to sacrifice my sight for them, so I continued my “cleanse” far past the 21 days.
Encouraged by my weight loss, in July I started walking. I'd walk for 15 minutes, turn around and walk back. I went a little longer each day until I eventually built up to one hour. I promised myself that if I got to four miles in one hour, I would clean up my old bike and try to ride. On August 22, I rode 11 miles in 1 hour. That day, I was under 300 pounds, had eaten right, and rode my bike. I decided that was a good day, so I did it again the next day. And the next.
I also had friends who started to ride with me. They were cycling veterans who rode much slower than normal just to encourage me. I started to mentally compete with other cyclists who used apps to post their times and speeds online. Over time, I got better and rode faster. Almost exactly one year later, I rode in the Hotter than Hell Hundred in Texas: 100 miles in 100-degree heat. I was at 225 pounds at the time. As I’m writing this, I still plan to get down to my target rate of 188 by July of 2014 for my next big ride.
But before I get to my next big ride, I haven’t told you about my biggest achievement. Remember how I was on all those prescriptions? Right before last year’s 100-mile ride, I did what my first doctor said was impossible: I was taken off all my prescriptions.
In 2012, if someone suggested a weight loss plan that required me to rework my diet, start exercising, and try to cycle more than 7,000 miles in 2013, I would have never started. That’s the thing; I never tried to do it all at once. I just ate right today. I rode today. This isn’t a long-term diet, either. When I wake up in the morning, I simply ask God for strength for today, that I might make decisions on what I eat and drink and that I’d be safe on my ride. If that works out today, I can try it again tomorrow.
The “Today I Can” method has worked for me and I think it might work for others. With the love and support of friends and family, I did something I never thought possible.
This year, my good friend Doug Walker and I started the “Today I Can Foundation” to encourage others to do something. To get moving today. To promote that, I have decided to make the first annual “Today I Can” ride in July 2014. I am now 50, and it’s been two years since I committed to walking for 15 minutes. Now, to demonstrate just how far you can come, regardless of age or weight, I am going to ride my bike over 1,800 miles from Vancouver to Tijuana, Mexico. That’s my big ride.
We’re not asking for money; we’re just hoping that a couple of people hear this message and will go for a walk while I ride. When I finish, I'd like to help them find a bike and start riding. Maybe we start a weekly “Today I Can” ride. Maybe we make a “Today I Can” an annual event, where people with stories like mine spread out and ride on some crazy cross-country tour. Or maybe I will ride 1,800 miles and nothing will happen. Still, I owe it to the next person to encourage them in any way possible to give it a try — just today. And if that works out, then maybe they can try it again tomorrow.