Wake up, eat, sit for 6 hours, eat, sit for 6 hours, eat, sit for 4 hours, sleep. Repeat.
That was my routine throughout college. Sure there was some walking to class and some sparse activity here and there, but the above routine was my reality for years. I had been more active in high school, playing football and volleyball, but college and its demands slowly stripped away my motivation because of “everything else going on” in my life. My priorities had shifted from “having fun” to “get through college” and along with that shift came the slow descent into inactivity.
The move into grad school anchored me even more firmly into my chair. Suddenly I was bogged down with more difficult classes, more difficult homework assignments, research projects, and the stress that comes with answering to advisors. On top of this, I was asked to teach a 200 level course and the associated workload with having 110 students. The final layer of the constant stress was getting a full time job. Having classes, homework, research, teaching, and a job meant I had little drive to do anything else. My only reprieve from the stress was to come home and sit on the sofa for a few moments of relaxation while watching some favorite shows with soon to be my fiancee’ (Danelle Clarke). It was she who eventually woke me up to the reality of my routine.
We had gone on vacation in June of 2001 and taken hundreds of pictures with our then-state-of-the-art digital camera. When we returned home, I was anxious to go through all of our pictures to see what we captured. There were some good shots of the sights and of us, but what stood out to me was, well, me. I looked tired and was covered in sweat in almost every picture. I was a lot bigger than I had been a few years before. It was a hard reality to face, but as I always had done, I pushed it aside because doing something about it would require change, and I didn’t have time for change. Not with “everything else going on.”
Two months after that vacation my (now) wife asked me if I would be interested in trying martial arts. I had done some tae kwon do as a kid, but it had only been for a few months. I was a reluctant at first because, again, it was change, and I had no time for that with “everything else going on.” She then said the words that I had never heard before from anyone: “I’m worried about your health.” I was 25 years old and 310 pounds. My health had never been a concern to me because of my age and, to be honest, my lack of thought about it in general. That moment paired with the pictures from vacation managed to force a meek “I’ll try it” out of my mouth. We were taking our first lesson 2 days later.
Finding time for martial arts was difficult at first because it required breaking my routine and rethinking priorities. I was incredibly stubborn and resistant to change because it required energy I didn’t want to exert. After much hemming and hawing on my part, we did an hour of training at night twice a week (giving up some television) and sometimes a Saturday morning (giving up some sleep). The interesting thing is that I soon found training to be relaxing; I was less stressed and felt better after a training session than I did when I sat on the sofa for the same amount of time. I slept better at night and had more energy during the day. We found time to fit in some more training. “Everything else going on” suddenly didn’t feel so heavy because I was able to better manage it.
After 6 months of martial arts, I took part in the FIRST FREESTYLE FITNESS CHALLENGE. I should mention that my wife was, again, the person to give me a nudge in that direction. She made it so it didn’t matter that I was the only guy participating in the 10 week course. She did it with me; she was my workout buddy. We went to resistance classes, cardio classes, and our regular martial arts classes. I kept a journal and watched my resistance bands progress from yellow, to green, to red, to blue, and finally to the coveted black band. I watched my weight drop as well. Over the course of 9 months, from my first martial arts class to the completion of the Freestyle Fitness Challenge, I had lost 85 pounds. The funny thing though is that measurement had begun to fade in meaning and importance. I was so focused on how I was feeling and how I was coping with stress that the number on the scale meant less and less to me. I was in a better place mentally which was helping me get into a better place physically.
So, here I am 13 years later. I’ve continued to train and subsequently teach martial arts; I earned my Third Degree Freestyle Black Belt in 2009 and my Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 2012. But what about my fitness? I’ve kept the weight off and have maintained strength gains, but more importantly I’m still in a good mental place. I’m still able to handle what life throws my way without letting it drag me down. I’m able to find relief from stress every time I step on the mat. I’m able to prioritize what is important and what isn’t. “Everything else going on” is no longer the overwhelming weight it used to be. Fitness is as much mental as it is physical. For that, I am thankful for everything Freestyle has given me in the past, present, and especially in the future.