If I were to make a guess, I'd say he looked to be about in his late 50's. He had on a plain white t-shirt and gray sweatpants, the kind that, 20 years ago, were the only sweatpants you could buy. The "N" on the side of his shoes told me that they were New Balance, so at least part of his workout wardrobe came from this decade. He was taller than me, about 6' 5" or so, and, like me, he carried a paunch that was definitely not of the washboard variety.
I couldn't believe my eyes. I sat on my recumbent exercise bike in the weight-machine section of the Tallmadge Recreation Center, the area that looked down over the indoor-track that circled the inside of this expansive complex. The tall man in the plain white shirt and Soviet-bloc-style gray sweatpants was an absolute blur! Five times around this track equals one mile, and he consistently stayed in the outside lane and routinely passed the walkers and joggers time and time again. As I rolled along on my ride, I kept telling myself that he'll probably start slowing down and walking. Surely he couldn't keep up this kind of pace, not at his age. I stoppped counting at 30 laps, while he continued at his break-neck pace. Depression set in almost instantaneously.
It just seems like last month that my twin brother, Mark, and I walked into Esber's Restaurant on a delightfully warm Spring evening on a Saturday with our wives, thinking we were going to enjoy a peaceful dinner. As we opened the door, little did we know that a hundred or so people stood waiting for us to help celebrate our 40th birthday. "Tempus fugit," Fr. Kallaher used to say, at the seminary. Indeed. Now, as number "50" looms a mere six weeks away, I, like Mark, probably, take stock in what has transpired, not only in the last 10 years but also since that day at Aultman Hospital on May 2nd at 6:54 p.m. when Mark made his presence known, followed by me a quick 4 minutes later.
As I plodded along on the recumbent bike with the first Dire Straits album pulsating through my iPod, I stared down at my own paunch and wondered where I should be, health-wise, in light of my impending Golden Anniversary here on planet Earth. I know damned well that I couldn't keep up with the tall guy in the plain white t-shirt down there on the track, so what does that say about me?
I've always been fat. As a kid, buying clothes for school was always pretty easy. My mother would take Mark and I shopping and we'd start off with my wardrobe by going directly to the "Husky" section of Sears and Roebuck. Most of my pants had that elastic band in the waistline, for added comfort. For the ones that didn't, my mother, a pretty good seamstress, would always make sure that adjustments could be made later on in case "they had to be let out". But I wasn't obese. Sure, I was made fun of by other kids but it was never enough to prohibit me from participating with them. I played sports. In fact, as I look at some of the old picturs from my Mighty-Mite baseball teams, I looked quite svelte. But it didn't last long. I loved to eat. I operated under the dictum that you ate until you were full.
Even though I've always carried weight, I never espoused to the sedentary lifestyle. Throughout college and over the last 20 years, I've joined exercise facilities on several occasions. We've even purchased home-gyms a couple of times, even though they eventually became merely something that was used to drape damp towels over when they came out of the washer. And since the early 90's, I've been a fairly regular jogger. When we didn't have money for a gym membership, running became an inexpensive way to soothe the guilty feelings of knowing that I'd have Donna's lasagna a couple of hours later. But over the last year, jogging has really caused me a good deal of pain in my hips, for some reason, so much so that it's been sometimes difficult to walk the next day. So, this past year, I switched to a stationary bicycle and then, later, a recumbent bike.
I've never really been in-shape. My barometer for measurement has laways been the Shirt Tuck-In Rule: if I tuck in my shirt and nothing extreme is hanging over my belt, then I'm golden. Sure, we'd all like to be skinny, but transforming your body takes effort and will. For most of my life, I've danced around the workout-routine. I know where I should be as far as "weight" goes, but I can't imagine ever being at the weight-level that the pundits say I should be. Me, 185? Hell, I haven't weighed 185 since the 7th grade. It would be a major milestone if I could approach the 200-mark. If that ever happened, I might do something ludicrous, like take off my shirt outside while I mow the lawn. The skin on my torso hasn't seen sunshine, either, since 7th grade.
When I can break away during the workday to squeeze in my workout, I watch some of the other people in the gym and wonder where I should be. Pedaling along with reckless abandon, I catch a glimpse of the young college kids spotting each other on the barbells, trying to get buffed for their upcoming trips to Daytona for Spring Break. There's the young girl with the pony-tail and the skin-tight "Kent State" shirt, consistently looking at her watch to check her heart-rate while she does her laps on the track below. There are those dumbells that have the number "85" on them, and I can't imagine anyone actually lifting them, until the guy with the red board-shorts, the Harley scarf wrapped around his head, and the biceps bigger than my thigh hoists one with each hand, repeatedly. And then I wonder if he's looking at me, thinking, "There's that short, chubby, husky dude with the Wal-Mart workout clothes. Keep pedaling, brother. You got a long way to go". I can only imagine what he's thinking when he spots me coming out of the shower.
How far should I go? I'm an overweight almost 50-year-old asthmatic who has sleep apnea and recurring GERD. Should I do more reps on the military press? Should I try to do 500 calories instead of 400 on the bike? Should I hire a personal trainer so that I can feel good about taking off my shirt while I mow the lawn or should I keep doing what I'm doing because at least it makes me feel less guilty about the Sierra Nevada Glissade Golden Bock that I'm going to have later? I'm certainly not interested in having a heart attack, but I'm not sure how interested I am in achieving my optimum physical capability. Is doing just enough...enough?
I'm heading to the gym again today to do my bike-ride, lift a few weights, and maybe shoot a few basketballs. I'll more than likely see the guy in the white t-shirt and the gray sweat-pants there, too. I told myself that I won't count his laps, though. I've already broken my Lenten promise already so I feel bad enough. Maybe I'll just do an extra 50 calories on the bike today. It's Friday, and I think Donna's making lasagna tonight.
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