Monday, May 23, 2011

Comparison vs. Inspiration

I know you’re not supposed to compare yourself to other people. We’re all individuals, worthy in our own way, and all that.

But we all do it. I do it. I know you do it. The trick is letting the comparisons motivate you, not tear you down.

I went to elementary school with a girl named Paige. Actually we went through all twelve years of school together. But we were the closest friends in elementary school. Twenty years after graduation, I found her again. On Facebook, of course. It was fun to catch up on what paths she’d taken and where she’d ended up. She got the journalism degree that I’m now wondering if I should have gone for, instead of elementary education. It was interesting to me, to hear about her adult life history.

Then a few months ago she started posting on Facebook that she had started an exercise program. I could respect that. People our age need to stay on top of the health thing. I kept seeing her consistent efforts, displayed on my Facebook newsfeed every few days. Every time I saw one I thought to myself, “good for her!”

Then a week ago she posted an update. It went something like this - “13 weeks: 15 pounds, 13 inches, 5% less body fat. Half of those inches came off in the last four weeks!” Wow! Fifteen pounds! In the weeks that had clipped by so quickly as I watched her exercise updates. She then reported that her clothes are all falling off of her and she feels better than she has in years. Talk about inspirational.

She didn’t have a surgery. She didn’t join anything more than a gym. She just started being much more careful about her food choices and she showed up at the appointed time to exercise every day.

And she showed that it can be done. As a matter of fact, she’s still doing it. I can’t wait to see what she looks like in 13 more weeks.

And her motivation got my butt out of the office chair. Sure, life has been crazy in my world lately. For six weeks we spent every spare minute renovating and fixing up the house so we could get it on the market. I was weary from painting and running move related errands.

But then the day came when the lists stopped. Aside from some small projects, the house was done. Ready to go on the market. Cleaned out, cleaned up, and ready to go. That coincided with my last day at work. I might fill in some, in the weeks to come, but I am no longer on the schedule at work. My whole day now revolves around waiting for calls for a showing, getting the dog out of the house for showings, keeping the family organized, and keeping up with some small writing assignments.

So there is basically no excuse not to exercise anymore. I’d been doing pretty well, when it came to exercise, after the first of the year, but once the news of moving hit, it all came to a screeching halt. And boy was I feeling it. It became harder to get out of chairs. It’s not easy for amputees to stand, from a seated position, in regular life. But when muscles are not strong, it’s even harder.

The lumpy tummy returned around my middle. It is not pretty. And the only cure for it is diet and exercise. My gait began to suffer too. When my legs are not strong, my gait is not strong. I could feel my need for exercise as much as I could sense it.

So, with Paige’s inspiration pushing me, I started back. And I’m lovin’ it. I love laying on that mat and stretching my body long, reaching above my head as I feel my back muscles stretch and loosen. I love doing a set of arm or leg weights, to build more muscle and supplement my opportunities for fat burning. I love about minute seven on the bike, when I am totally warmed up and ready to hit the resistance up a notch and ride away.

I feel good afterward and it makes me want to come back again, as soon as possible. If it weren’t for the frustration of showers being a big deal with prosthetic legs (see earlier posts) I would go twice a day.

And on the topic of comparisons, I have to include this story. I was in a conversation with my favorite inspirations, my brother in law and his amazing wife, and we were discussing the Kenyans who run marathons in unbelievable times. Kurt, who just finished in 11th place overall in a marathon a few weeks ago, commented that he could never even run one mile at the pace the Kenyans run in marathons. His wife, Terry, who finished that same marathon with her husband, at her best time ever, with a sub five hour time, said, “Well, that’s nothing. I can’t run one mile at the pace you run in marathons.”

I couldn’t resist. I had to chime in. ‘Well, I can’t even run one mile. So there!”

We all have our goals, our desires, and our abilities to juggle when it comes to exercise. My marathon crazy relatives are on my mind when I hit a wall. And so is my friend Paige. I think of them, and how they’re out there, pushing through their own walls. Succeeding. And feeling great in the process.

I’m pretty sure I want to have that kind of life.

Like Everyone Else

I realized something on Friday. Just before my epiphany, I had lifted the arm weights, done my sit ups, set the bike up to all my adjustments, and crawled on. I set my music and began to pedal. Just as I was getting into the rhythm of the music and the ride, a guy got on the bike next to me.

He was a young guy. Much younger than the usual middle aged people who normally ride next to me. Most of the younger folks use the treadmills or the elliptical machines. They occasionally use the bikes for a quick warm up, but they’re just not as sexy as the upright equipment.

So when this young, really fit guy crawled on next to me, I took notice. Trying not to seem too stalker-ish, I noticed a few things about him. He was obviously familiar with the weight lifting equipment. But there was something more than that. He seemed really well rounded. Like one of those super athletes you see on TV, completing ironman races.

But as I pedaled along next to him I realized he was no better than me. With his perfect physical condition and his two fit flesh and bone legs, he was not that different from me. He was getting a good work out on that bike. So was I. My resistance levels might have been different than his, but I was full into my work out, just like him.

My heart was getting stronger, my lungs were gaining efficiency. My leg muscles, although wobbly when I stepped off at the end of my ride, were gaining muscle and endurance, every time I climbed on that bike. Just like his.

At no time in my life have I felt competent when it comes to athletics. Most of the time it seems like everyone is better than I am at things requiring athletic ability. Good grief, I’ve never known how to run. I’ve never been able to do something as basic as run, with my gimpy old foot. So any three year old who can run down the driveway has me beat.

When I climb on a bike, and can ride just like anyone else, it makes me feel great. I blend in with every other person working out. My metal leg pumps along and the disability aspect of my life evaporates. Sure, people notice my metal, as they walk by, but it doesn’t affect how hard I can push myself.

That’s not the case on just about any other piece of aerobic equipment. I can do a bit of work on the treadmill, but it’s purely walking, for a short period of time, until my leg fatigues or fills with so much sweat that my gait’s ruined. And it’s not good to walk on a soggy leg. Just like a shoe that doesn’t fit right, a leg that doesn’t fit right can cause a nightmare of rashes and blisters.

Ellipticals, Stairmasters, treadmills….they all require two fully functioning, non water logged, lower limbs. I don’t have that. So the bike is my hero. It allows me to work out, in a normal way, with everyone else. Challenging my abilities and pushing myself makes me feel athletic.

Just like everyone else.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two Reasons

There are two reasons I'm excited about getting back to my gym schedule. One has to do with a phone call from an Endocrine specialist.

Before we left for our house hunting trip in Colorado, I had some biopsies done on my thyroid. Since we've moved to NY it has started to grow and expand. So far I've had few symptoms, but the ultrasounds show it is 'showing it's nature' (as my endocrine guy says). It wants to grow, and soon that will be a problem.

For now the samples came back clean. I can move ahead with moving details, and not worry about thyroid cancer treatments. But there is a good chance, if it continues to grow, that I'll need it taken out in the next few years.

I've done some reading on that option and one of the things that scares me is weight gain. Quite a few online articles pointed out that struggling with weight gain tends to be a problem for people who have their thyroids removed. I need to get serious about being the right weight before I start any process like that. The way I see it, this time next year might be the very earliest that I'd have to consider the surgery. I should be in peak physical condition by then, so I can make smart decisions.

The second reason is much more fun. I want to go back to being my Utah Self. Six months after we moved to Utah I got rid of my foot and clicked on my new titanium leg. I hit the gym and worked out like crazy. It was so freeing, to have mobility again, especially after spending three months on crutches after the amputation surgery.

I got strong. I didn't appreciate it at the time (always wanting to lose 'just a bit more' weight) but I was in a good place. We were active. We spent a lot of time outside. We explored Utah from top to bottom. I learned to ski by the next winter and for two years I skied every Friday, through lessons at an Ability Center. Friday nights I was exhausted, but happy to my core.

Then we decided to get back to the East coast, to be closer to hubby's wonderful family. The job opened up and he grabbed it. For three months we once again lived in temporary housing while we looked for our NY home. We lived on fast food, and I rarely got consistent exercise. I not only gained ten pounds, I got soft to boot.

Then our first year turned out to be a rough one. The NY schools were much more challenging and a couple of our kids struggled. It had a ripple effect at home, stirring up problems at every turn. We did a major renovation on the house we'd bought. It was educational and enjoyable, some of the time. But some of the time it was stressful and marriage bending.

When times are stressful, I don't turn to fitness and health foods to get myself through. I turn to chocolate and soda. It was a quick band-aid, but didn't help my health in the long term.

By the end of that year the reality set in that I needed to go back to work. The cost of living in NY just started swallowing us up. I had to take the first thing I could find, to keep us afloat. There was no chance to use my education degree. I ended up working the overnight shift at an Alzheimer's Unit.

I loved the people I met that year. I learned so much about the elderly and came to deeply appreciate the way a well functioning brain works. I have files of stories I hope to write out some day, about the amazing residents I came to know in my long overnight shifts.

But honestly, that schedule was hard. I was tired a lot. We were making ends meet but I didn't have peace. Again, I didn't eat right. Didn't exercise. I chose catching up on sleep over working out.

Then an amazing job at our local library opened up. It fit me, and my education, much better. But it was full time. I have not worked full time since the kids were born. I didn't know if I could juggle it all.

But for a year I did. I worked 40 hours a week and Hubby and the kids stepped up to keep the house running. I loved the padded bank accounts, but hated the unrest I still felt. That went on for another year.

Through all of that time I did small starts and stops with exercise. I made vows to myself, to my husband, to my little guy, who loved being my coach. But I could never stick with it. I could never find my Utah Self in there.

For the past two years I've worked part time at that same library. It's a job I love and a schedule that worked better for my inner sanity. I started writing a parenting column for our local paper, which helped me to redefine myself as a 'real' writer. Then I got a great gig writing for the blog. I've come to learn a lot about myself in the past two years.

So now it's time for the next step. I got a vision for it when we were in Colorado last week, on the house hunting trip. After a long day of driving neighborhoods, we were all ready to stretch our legs. So we got out at one of our new favorite spots.

Together we walked out a long path, across a field, and the kids scampered up some huge boulders. I climbed halfway up, then stopped to watch my boys in their glory. The breeze was refreshing. The view was astonishing. It reminded me of our Utah life.

I'm ready to be that outdoor, active Utah Self again. I guess I should call her the Colorado Self. I have a vision for her. I have a vision for what she'll be like, what she'll look like, this time next year.

There's nothing like a move across the country, to a fresh new state, to give you optimism about starting over - again. I'm starting that new life now, this week. I want a good base, strong legs to get me up those hiking trails, and a toned core to get me onto those ski slopes when the snow starts to fly. It will be a gift to myself if I can be a more fit version of my current self, on the day we drive into Colorado for good.

So that's why I'm excited to get back to the gym. My new Colorado self is hiding in there somewhere. And by golly, I'm gonna find her.

It Feels Good

I got a bit sidetracked on my first day 'back' after my long hiatus from the gym. I had the day all planned out. I would work all morning on house/writing stuff, then in the mid afternoon, I'd go to the gym and be home and showered in time to make dinner.

Yeah, well, that didn't exactly work out. An hour before I was supposed to leave for the gym I got an email from hubby. My senior boy had a track meet, it was a home meet, and it might be one of the last I'd seen him participate in before his high school career ended. Okay, so that's a decent excuse, right?

My window of time literally closed, once I decided to make my son's track meet a priority (And I'm glad I did. He pole vaulted 10'6", his personal best, and I was there to tape it).

So I got up the next morning, determined to not give up on my start over. I got the kids off to school then headed right for the gym. It felt so good. And then this morning, I got there again. Two days in a row. Go me.

I'm afraid to admit it, but a lot of the time I'm exercising, I'm actually enjoying it. I hate finding the time to get there. I hate the sweaty drive home and the cumbersome shower process. But I love the 'being in the thick of it' time in the actual gym.

I feel strong when I'm lifting weights, even if I'm not lifting as much as the bulky guy next to me. I love laying on the floor and stretching my hands above my head, feeling my whole body lengthen. I love getting the bike set up for my specs, getting my ipod ready, and clicking my feet into the pedal straps.

Then, when I've gotten warmed up, I love the first rush of sweat, the first time I have to wipe my face with my hand towel. I'm usually really in the zone by then. I'm feeling flushed and raw. The music is pounding in my ears, and I'm settled into my rhythm.

Maybe part of the reason I love being at the gym so much is that it makes me feel normal. It makes me feel able bodied. Athletic people go to gyms. When I was a teenager, the kids who played sports hung out in the gyms. That wasn't me. I was just the wanna be.

Now I'm there too. It's a place for me too.

And as I saw today, even when I'm feeling ragged, if I get myself to that gym, it always, always makes me feel better afterward. Always.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I'm Back - I Promise.

Wow. It is hard to believe that February 12 was the last time I posted. I'm sitting here, on the cusp of turning my calendar to the page that says "MAY" and I haven't posted here since the beginning of February.

That doesn't mean I haven't written a dozen (or more) posts in my head in the past three months. Honestly, I have. They all ran along the apology theme. "I'm sorry I dropped off the face of the earth" and "I'm sorry I've temporarily abandoned my fitness goals".

I have good excuses. You've gotta give me that much. Just after the last post we found out we were moving to Colorado. Hubby got a great job transfer and we're now going to live amongst the pines in the mountains of a beautiful state. But before that can happen there are a few details to take care of. A house to fix up, then sell. Last follow up doc visits. Last teeth cleanings. Last car tune ups. Oh, and a house to fix up and sell...did I mention that?

For many weeks we've been painting and doing minor (although time consuming) renovations. We need top dollar out of this house, to open up our options in CO. We've had relatives come help, and the weeks have flown by.

I know. I know. There should be no excuse for not taking care of your body. All of the health problems that come from lack of exercise don't kindly go away just because "I was busy". My blood sugar levels don't come down when I don't put in the work. And no, rolling paint on a wall (many walls) didn't really work up that much of a sweat.

Then, over a week ago, we hit the road for Colorado, to go neighborhood hunting. For ten days we drove, and drove, and drove, then explored our new state. We also ate every meal 'out'. I tried to be careful, especially considering I only got one work out in the entire ten day period.

At a hotel in Ohio I rode the exercise bike while I watched my family swim through the glass window. It made my body feel good, at that moment, and for a day afterward. You'd think I'd learn. Exercise = good for mind and body. But somehow, I never found time for another work out, even though almost every hotel we stayed in had a bike of some kind.

I have not given up. I told my fitness guru (also my sister in law) Terry that I haven't forgotten. We will hike together this summer, before I leave the East coast, and I will be strong. She inspires me and I want to have that hike with her before I go.

So today I am back. We literally arrived back in NY one day ago. We unpacked and returned the rental car last night, then collapsed into bed. The kids shuffled off to school today and I dove into getting caught up at home. Emails scoured and answered. Answering machine cleared of its 25 messages. Lists made for the things I need to review and write in the next few days and weeks. It's time to jump back into real life.

Which also means new patterns. There is no reason I can't find time to get to the gym in the 10 weeks I have left in NY. NO reason. NO excuse. It's time to build it into my life for good.

I realized on our trip, as I had hours and hours to day dream as I stared out the windows and watched the states roll by, that there is a goal I need to claim on this blog. I've thought it for years, since the day I decided to have my foot cut off. I've shared it with a few people along the way. But I need to set it up and announce it here, to make it real.

I want to be more graceful. The word I would choose for how I am now is 'clunky'. I can walk with an almost normal gait if I try really hard. But it doesn't come naturally and it doesn't come often.

I don't mind that I limp. I am deeply grateful to just be walking, mostly pain free. I love my new foot that has energy return and pushes me forward. It surely beats my old, 'real' foot, that had no participation in my gait and forced me to drag it around for way too many years.

But I have not reached my full potential with this new leg. I have the potential to be graceful now. I don't have dreams of becoming a ballerina. I just want to be lighter on my feet, not have to think about balance so much. I want to be balanced naturally, using muscles that others use without thinking. I want to rise from a chair smoothly.

I really, really want to not dread staircases some day. That's a goal for later, after I've built a better base of muscles in my legs and hips. For now, stairs are still tricky and take a lot of thought. It was very noticeable as we looked at houses in Colorado. It will be a shame if we have to pass on a really great house, because it has too many stairs and 'mama' can't do stairs well.

I know it would be excusable. Any halfway compassionate person would say, "Oh, she has an artificial leg. No wonder she can't do stairs well...." I could easily live behind that credit I'm given. But I know my situation, and there's no reason I can't be stronger. There's no reason I can't tackle stairs more confidently. I have the bionics. Now it's time to use them.

So I'm back. I'm off to the gym. I'll start weight lifting again. I'll do the 30 minute circuit, then I'll move on to the bike. I'll do it today. And tomorrow. And the next day after that. If I commit to the next ten weeks I have left in NY, I'll have a chance to retain my fitness level as we make our move across the country.

Because once we leave NY, we will once again be living out of hotels and fast food restaurants. I gained 10 pounds in the 3 months we lived in temporary housing when we moved to NY. I'm still fighting to lose that ten pounds. This time around, things will be different. The closer we get to moving into our new home in CO, the stronger I'll be.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How I Do It.

First I go to the locker room. It only takes a few minutes to shed the sweat pants I wear over my work out shorts. When the temperature outside rises above forty I will stop taking this extra step. I'll wear only shorts to the gym.

I only really have one leg that risks getting cold anyway. The other is mostly covered with prosthetics, protected from the bitter wind and cold of winter by silicone and plastics. But when the thermometer says 12, I wear the extra layer, for the sake of my one exposed leg.

I slip off my sweatpants and hang them on the hook under my heavy coat. I pull the ipod out of my coat pocket, grab my small towel and water bottle, and head out the locker room door. I'm very aware, even after seven years of being an amputee, that I walk into the locker room with a secret. Long pants cover the fact I don't have two real feet. Once I take them off, I know there will be looks.

But I don't really care. In fact, it makes me walk taller and stronger. I have valid reasons for being there. I know every person in that gym is there on purpose. Every person has a reason they make the effort to show up. Some want to lose weight. Many young men spend their time pushing and pulling weights to build their masculine physiques. The retired folks are trying to stay fit and active. Then there's me.

I want to be able to walk right. I want to have better balance. I want to do what comes easily to most people, walk fluidly. I want to have a healthy heart, and not die at age fifty, like my own mother did. And of course, I'd like to once again get down to my ideal body weight. But mostly I want to be strong and able. I want the decision to have my leg cut off to be worth it. And to make that happen, I need to spend a lot of time at the gym.

Some days I briskly walk over to the weight machines. I'm slowly working more strength training into my fitness plan. I know it helps my metabolism. It makes me feel better. It builds the muscles I need to have better gait. I don't mind lifting weights. But my true joy is that bike.

There are five stationary bikes at my gym. I love them all because they are heavy and stable, with wide seats to support my wide seat. I am lucky that they're not the most popular machines at the gym. The treadmills are where the cool kids go. And the ellipticals. The bikes are mostly ignored, which is good for me.

I pick whichever one has straps on the pedals. Usually it's the one nearest the wall. I have to have foot straps or my metal foot wants to wander. I've come close to falling off a stationary bike before, when I got caught up in the momentum and my foot slipped off. There's no need to repeat that experience.

Most people wipe down the equipment after they're finished. I do that. But I also wipe it down before I start, just in case the person before me forgot. Then I set the seat height to 12, throw my leg up and over, then bounce a few times to get used to the seat. A click on 'quick start', a push of the up arrow to level three, and I start pumping. Ear plugs are inserted, a playlist selected. Then it's time to go.

Slow at first, to warm up my muscles. When my legs start to feel loose, after just a few minutes, the resistance gets clicked up to four. Five more minutes of warm up, then it's time to get serious. I wait for the clock to come up to an even minute mark, then quickly push the resistance up to 9.

For a full minute I ride hard. Leaning forward, I stare at the control board in front of me and zone out. Pump, pump, pump. My quads start burning. Sometimes I count to ten, over and over. I learned this trick in childbirth. It's the one part of all those Lamaze classes that really worked. Focus on something else. Even if it's just numbers. One. Two. Three. Four. Five...

Soon the minute is up. It's not that hard to push hard, when I know it will be over in a minute. Once the :59 clicks back to :00, I allow myself to push the down arrow, back to five. Then I get three full minutes of a more reasonable pace. I chant the number I'm waiting for, the number I'll see when it's time to crank that resistance up for another minute. If I ended my hard minute at eight minutes, I start to chant, in my head, eleven...eleven...eleven. And when 10:59 clicks over to 11:00, I crank it up again. I do these circuits over and over.

It feels good. It makes me feel strong. It makes me feel like a real athlete. Like a person who can run. I've never been able to run, and it fascinates me. When I'm on that bike, pushing and counting and clicking the resistance levels up and down, I stare out the window. I focus on the cars in the parking lot and forget where I am (another trick I learned at Lamaze). I think about the people I know who run. I think about two in particular.

My brother in law, Kurt, is an amazing runner. He wasn't the fastest kid on the high school track team. But he was dedicated. He ran casually through his twenties but at some point in his thirties he got serious again. He started training every day. He now runs 5Ks just about every weekend. He runs half marathons and full marathons. He's a running beast. He has about 2% body fat. But I'm not nearly as jealous of that as I am the fact he has a beautiful running gait.

We've gone to races to cheer him on. He is amazing to watch. One foot in front of the other, stride after stride. Pat, pat, pat, his feet hit the ground so rhythmically. Mile after mile after mile. He makes it look so easy. So fluid.

Sometimes when I'm on the bike I think of Kurt. I imagine what that feels like, to run so smoothly. With each pedal stroke I can imagine a running stride. Up, down, up, down. I imagine I'm him, at the 18 mile mark of a marathon. Wanting to stop but knowing I still have something left. I have a few miles left in me. Pushing on, imagining people lining the street next to me, cheering and clapping. I pedal on, in my mental marathon.

And sometimes I think of Kurt's wife. She's become my sister through the years, as the 'in-law' part fell away with shared respect and affection. She's also a runner. She runs those 5Ks with her gifted husband. She runs the half marathons and has done her own full marathons. But she doesn't get the benefit of fluidity like Kurt does. She has asthma and other health issues. She fights for her miles.

She plugs away and gets the job done. Mile after mile she doesn't give up. When it's hard to breathe, she slows to a walk to get control, then she picks it back up again. She's always smiling. Even when it's hard. Even when it hurts. Sometimes I think about Terry when I run.

I feel the air filling my lungs easily. I take deep breaths, in and out, and am consciously thankful that they come so painlessly. I imagine being Terry, and pushing ahead even when it would be so much easier to call it a day and go home. I think about all the days she spends on the country roads by their house, running and running and running. I look down at the mile marker on my bike and set a goal. If it says I've ridden for 12.3 miles I decide to ride at least until I hit 13. It's the kind of thing Terry would do. Hit a wall and keep going.

After about twenty minutes on the bike my body is in a full sweat. A cleansing sweat. If my legs are going too fast it means the resistance level is too easy. I need to crank it up. I need to feel just a bit of burn. If doesn't take some mental effort, it's not worth it. It's not making me strong. I think about the rhythm of the song in my ears. I match the up and down of my legs with the beat of the music.

I concentrate on pushing a bit more with my left leg, the one with the plastic foot at the bottom. With each stroke I push a bit harder on that side. I wait for that thigh to burn a bit extra. Then I switch my focus to the other side. Pushing down harder with each rotation to the right. Then back to an even stroke, left, right, left, right.

After almost an hour on the bike it's time to slow things down. I look at my numbers and decide which goal is my ending goal. I can either end at a specific mile mark or a time mark. Or I can wait until the song on my ipod finishes. When it's finally time to stop, it's like stepping out of one body and into another. Everything slows down.

I exhale deeply and release my feet from the pedal straps. I let them hang loose, wiggling them back and forth, trying to shake the burn out of them. Then I crawl off. I take a few steps away from the bike and shake out my legs again. It feels good to have asked so much of them and gotten a response. Once I'm acclimated back to being on the ground I do my duty and wipe the bike off. I collect my towel, water bottle and ipod and slowly make my way back to the locker room.

My leg socket is full of sweat. I don't feel it as much when I'm on the bike, but as I try to walk away it's hard to ignore. Squish, squish, squish. Every step is like walking in a shoe full of water. I limp back to the other side of the gym, very aware that many might imagine I'm in pain, by watching my gait. But nine times out of ten, I'm not. It doesn't hurt to have sweat fill my leg. It's just annoying.

In fact, I'm usually just the opposite. I'm high. I'm exhausted and spent. My body is damp and smells bad. But I'm feeling good. Really, really good. Because I'm strong. My muscles have worked hard and done their job. My body has done what it was created to do, and done it in a very efficient way. I'm happy and grateful to be healthy. I'm thrilled to be smelly and tired.

This is why I had that foot cut off. This. Very. Reason. So I could squish back to a locker room and feel good about my fitness progress. So I could sit on that bench and wipe out that sweat, and emerge a few minutes later, able to walk tall and strong, back to my car. So I can be just like everyone else at that gym, and be the best that I can be.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Weight Matters

Well, I made it. I walked away from the piles of laundry and dust bunnies that were calling to me, urging to me to stay home and interact with them. I put on the work out clothes and headed to the gym.

It's been about five days since I've been there. Not a good way to stick to a fitness plan. But every day is a chance to start again, right?

It was bitterly cold. The thermometer says 12, and I would guess the wind chill would be much lower. There was a biting wind as I skated across the parking lot. Finding a spot to park was tricky. There are huge snow banks everywhere, from our endless snow storms, and they take up half the parking lot spaces. The spots that are left are used inefficiently, as most people seem to be unable to park in a straight row unless there are little painted lines to show them where to go.

I found a spot a long way from the door and stepped out onto a sheet of ice. Ice is one of the few things that truly scares me. I am not a well balanced person. I'm not nimble. I have sketchy balancing skills when the parking lot is perfectly dry. Add a sheet of unpredictable ice and my heart rate literally increases.

Because my metal foot is set for the exact height of my tennis shoe, wearing snow boots is not a good option for me. I would have traction if I changed into boots, but then be fighting my leg with every step. I'd rather be in control of my leg and deal with the lack of traction.

So I literally baby stepped, teeny tiny steps, cautiously and carefully, for the entire 50 yards of parking lot I had to cross. By the time I got to the door I felt like I'd already done my work out for the day.

But the blessing of working so hard to get to the gym...fighting the urge to stay home and get caught up, bracing against a bitter wind when you walk out the door, skating across a sea of that, once you're there, you feel like you'd better make it worth the effort.

So today I got brave and started doing the weights before I rode the bike.

I've been meaning to put the weights in my routine. I do some minor lifting at home, with some free weights, but I really need to start doing the full circuit at the gym. My sister, Terry, keeps reminding me that having more muscle mass revs up metabolism. I'm all over that idea. I know it will also make me walk better, to have stronger leg muscles. There are more than enough reasons to start lifting weights again.

I knew I'd have to do them before I rode the bike, for two reasons. One, I'm exhausted after the bike and totally out of energy. And two, my leg is full of sweat when I'm done with the bike and it's a pain to go into the locker room to dump the sweat out.

But here's my issue with starting the weights...I've lifted weights in several gyms. But every gym is different and I don't like that feeling of not knowing how to work a machine. And of course I'm too chicken to go ask for help. I feel like since I know how to use most of them, I'd be embarrassed to have the staff explain them all to me. I know, I know. It's stupid. And I have every intention of getting past my irrationality and asking for help the next time I'm there.

I had my first experience with weight lifting when I took a unit for college P.E. When you've got a bum foot that you're pretty successful at hiding, there are a very limited number of P.E. classes you can sign up for. Weight lifting seemed like an easy way to keep my deformed foot hidden. And I found that I loved it. I liked feeling strong. I didn't become Schwarzenegger that semester, but I did walk around a lot more fit. (side note: who knew that Schwarzenegger was in spell check??)

Then, through the years, we were members of the YMCA a few times. When three of my kids were in elementary school I put baby Sam in the Y child care room and rode a bike almost every week day. In Utah, right after my surgery, I joined a gym and spent long hours there, lifting weights and riding, until I finally claimed my new mobility. And since we've lived in New York, I've spent some hours at our local YMCA, riding and lifting, and sometimes even rowing.

But then the Y raised their family rates, and I was not able to justify the cost, when Meredith and I were really the only ones using the facility. So we canceled our membership and she and I joined the new gym around the corner, for a tiny fraction of what we had been paying. But with a new gym came new equipment.

It's all very similar, but I had finally learned all the ones at the Y and now I have new stuff to figure out. It's why I've not started lifting weights sooner. I've been at this gym for almost a year and I'm just now forcing myself to figure it out.

So today I bravely walked over to the equipment. I did the four machines I knew how to do. One of them I figured out because a guy had gone before me and once he sat down on it, I remembered how to use it. Then I made my way over to my familiar bike and jumped on. I'm 100% at home on the bike. Set my pedal straps, adjust the seat height, and I'm ready to ride.

I tried a new thing on the bike today too. I'd read that interval training helps with fat burning. So I did as the Runner's World article suggested (yes, I read Runners World, even though I don't know how to run, it motivates me to see people in such great shape!) With my hard core work-out songs going in the ipod, I rode hard for one full minute, then rode a normal pace for three minutes. I kept that pattern up for a half an hour, then rode at regular pace for 20 more minutes.

I liked it. I didn't mind pushing myself hard when I knew it was just for one minute. Then I felt like I was 'resting', when I got to ride at a regular pace for three whole minutes. I really felt the difference when I got off the bike, and it made the time go much faster. I think I'll try that again.

So now I'm ready to be committed again. No more putting it off. The work out today felt great. Even as I skated across the parking lot, back to the car, I knew it was worth it. The next time I go I'll be ready to ask for some instruction, so I can use all the weight machines that will help me reach my fitness goals. I'll give myself the pep talk that my health is worth pushing my comfort level a bit. No one cares that I have to ask how to use a machine. No one. Time to grow up and stop living in junior high.

Now I'm home again. The laundry is still there. It waited patiently for my return. The dust bunnies are still tucked in the corners of our wooden stairs, twitching their noses at me. And whaddaya know, my two teenage sons just barreled in the back door. Time to get back to real life.

My new, fit life.

Digging Deep (Again)

What I'm realizing, as I start this process of 'getting healthier' once again, is something I've come to understand about myself as I've gotten older. I'm your classic 'all or nothing' girl. I either do something all the time, every day, or I drop it out of my life completely. It's almost like I have to have a force greater than myself, something pushing me, to make me change my comfortable life pattern.

Two years ago I started writing a weekly parenting column for the local paper. It was thrilling to get the gig, and the first few weeks I coasted on stuff I'd written in the past. Then suddenly I ran out of 'old stuff' and every week I was forced to come up with something new and fresh. I had signed up for this thing, I had to make it work. It wasn't always easy. Sometimes I had to dig deep.

But no matter what, no matter how many sick kids I might have draped over the couch, no matter how many days I'd been away for a holiday weekend with the in-laws in New Hampshire, I had to sit down at that computer on Monday and come up with a column.

The benefit of the whole thing is, it makes me more in tune with what's going on in my life. I know I'll need a topic to write about when Monday rolls around. I've written about little things that happen to our family, pondering their implications and long term effects. These are musings I would have never captured, had it not been for that Monday deadline. I look forward to having this archive of our family, in the years to come.

So as I head into my second week of not doing so great at being committed to my fitness plan, I think about this personality trait and how it's holding me back, and how I can tweak it to make it push me forward.

I've lost twenty five pounds once in my life. Two years after my second child was born we started talking about having a third. I had gained a bit of weight, having had two pregnancies back to back, and really didn't want to head into a third pregnancy until I was back to my 'fighting weight'. My mom had five babies in a row, put on over ten pounds with each pregnancy, and then carried that extra sixty pounds around through all of my childhood. I didn't want to repeat her history.

It didn't hurt my weight loss goals that my ten year high school reunion was six months away. It was a goal on the calendar, to be back to 'myself' by June.

I was committed. I rode the rag tag exercise bike we got at the goodwill every single day. I watched what I ate and drank a ton of water. I did sit ups every day. Every day. Even with a couple of toddlers crawling all over me, I did daily sit ups.

And slowly the weight came off. I felt strong and capable. I fit into my 'skinny jean shorts', which for a person of my height, is a size 10-12. I cherish pictures of that time in my life because I remember how pleased I was with myself, for setting a goal and making it happen.

I didn't let anything stand in my way. Not even the fact that, with an archeologist husband who often traveled for a week at a time, digging in far off fields, I was a single mom, 24/7, to two needy little people. Not even the fact that I was living with a pretty crummy foot, that hurt a lot and kept me from being as active as I wanted to be. A simple trip to the grocery store would make it ache the rest of the day. But I didn't let that stop me.

So now I need to go back and find that drive so I can channel it once again. In my mind I see Easter as a good goal. We always head to the in laws for Easter, and take lots of family pictures. I'd love to love my reflection in those pictures.

When I see pictures of myself right now, I see a full face. It's much rounder than it is when I'm at my ideal weight. When I'm at my strongest, I have a definite jaw line. I want my jaw line back. And it's mine to get back. That's the crazy part of this equation.

In six months I can look totally different in pictures. It's all within my power. I have the ability to make the choices that will make my goals happen.

I have no intention of modeling bikinis. I just want to put on a pair of shorts this June, that are a size 12, and have them fit me comfortably. So I can go out and take a hike with my kids and feel strong and fit again.

And look good, look like myself, in pictures again. (insert smiley face here...)

There's a whole post brewing about how I look in pictures. I'll write that another day. Today is about making a promise to myself to do what I CAN do, what I'm capable of doing, to reach my goals. I've found that inner push before. I know it's in there. I last saw it fifteen years ago, when my house and my children were much smaller. But I am going to make friends with it again. Today.

I'm off to the gym right now. I would love to stay home, on this, one of my rare days of no work, and putter. There is thick dust on my bookcases that I could truly justify staying home to wipe down. There is a file cabinet next to me, full of writing ideas I want to tackle. But my priority has to be setting up new patterns of living. Making fitness a priority.

Off I go....

Friday, February 4, 2011


Wow. Who knew I could so easily be derailed? All it took was a crazy Monday, then a series of snowstorms, and suddenly I've tumbled back into old patterns.

I know this about myself. I like my old patterns. It's why I chug along so comfortably in them. It's easy to 'not find time' to go to the gym. Monday was my oldest son's 18th birthday. It was also the day my youngest son got to be principal for the day at his school. And it was the day before a blizzard was due to hit. I had a cake to make, groceries to stock up on, pictures to take at an elementary school, and normal Monday stuff to do (writing deadlines fall on Monday).

So there was no time for the gym. It shouldn't have been enough to throw the train completely off the track. But it did.

Tuesday I had work in the morning. I barely got there, through that previously mentioned blizzard. When I got home I knew there was no way I was going back out, to the gym.

But I could have ridden my health rider. I could have lifted the free weights I have here at home. I could have done a kazillion sit ups. But I didn't. The most I can claim is that I threw the weighted ball back and forth with Sam during a TV show. Oh, and helped the kids shovel the driveway a few times. Whoopee...

So when I don't exercise, suddenly I'm not accountable to the food side of things. I didn't do terribly. I just didn't pay attention. I pretended like it didn't matter what I ate. I had three sodas one day this week. Three. Yikes.

I'm not proud of it. It's probably why I didn't come back to this blog for the whole week. I didn't have great things to report.

But that's really the purpose of this blog - to report the journey. The good, bad and the naughty. I was pretty naughty this week.

I'm pretty lucky that I didn't gain this week. I weigh in at work every Thursday. We're having a "Biggest Loser" competition and I like the accountability of the weigh in. I had hoped to lose at least one pound a week. But this week I was lucky that I stayed the same, considering how little effort I gave.

So I am now back on track. I've signed up for a Spark People account, which has a place where I can type in everything I eat and every time I exercise. It tallies up my goals and tells me if I'm staying on track. More accountability. I need accountability.

Just doing what I want is much easier. Just eating whatever feels good is so much more fun. Not going to the gym gives me lots more time to get other things done. But it's not moving me forward, the the place I want to be. It's not making me healthy. I need to change my patterns long term.

So the next time a snow storm hits, or a birthday rolls around, or life just gets a bit extra crazy, I don't completely turn into that old person I used to be. I'm ready to be the new person I dream of being. But first I need to start acting like it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Head Games

A visitor to this blog made a comment this week that really touched me. First, because I'm thrilled that anyone is patient enough to read my ramblings, but also because she was so gut honest.

She wrote about feeling like she was being judged when she went to the gym, because she's pretty overweight. My post was about how much I respected the very overweight man I had been next to at the gym that day. I'm glad she could see that not everyone thinks negatively about an overweight person who's brave enough to exercise in public.

So I decided I'm going to share my philosophy about 'what people think'.

I've had many years to feel like I was being watched in public. For most of my childhood I had a twisted foot that hid in my shoe. As long as I didn't get crazy, and try to wear sandals, or walk barefoot, it wasn't too hard to hide it.

Once I got married to a man who judged me on the 'content of my character' and not the deformity in my shoe, I was able to relax a bit. He loved and accepted me. What the people in public might think didn't seem to matter so much.

Then, in my third pregnancy I was fitted for a leg brace. My wise midwife suspected my intense fatigue was caused by hauling my uncooperative foot around, not so much by hauling the baby belly around. She was right. I welcomed the support that came with the ugly plastic brace.

But it meant I could no longer hide my disability, especially in spring and summer months. I refused to wear long pants, just so people wouldn't see my brace. I'm a very warm bodied person and I don't like to be hot. I get crabby when I'm hot. So I wear shorts whenever I have the chance. To make it more interesting, I happened to be working part time at a Joanns Fabric store, smack dab in the middle of 'the public'.

I had to learn how to battle the stares and suspected stares that came my way when I was on such public display.

That's when I came up with my own, custom made 'public judgment philosophy'. It goes something like this:

People are going to look. For whatever reason you might be different, people will look. Some will be subtle. Some will not. Kids don't even know what subtle means. So the ball's basically in your court.

Ironically, very few of the people who look, or those who try to hide their looks, will ever have a verbal exchange with you. Most will walk on, thinking whatever they're thinking. And you won't ever really know what they're thinking.

So this is where you get to choose. You can choose to think the very worst. You can imagine they are ridiculing you, pitying you, thanking God they aren't you. Or you can choose to think the opposite.

Now that I have a prosthetic leg, people have even more reason to stare. My kids love walking ten feet behind me in crowded public places (like county fairs) and counting the number of people who do their double take after I've walked by. They think I won't know. They don't know I have my own posse, watching them.

So I do what works best for my mental health. I assume they are intrigued by my leg. I assume they are curious, as I still am when I see someone with a prosthetic arm or leg. I assume they respect me, for my journey, whatever it might be. And I assume they are indeed thanking God that they are not 'like' me, which means they are being grateful for the blessings they've been given.

I walk on, head held high, knowing I'm doing the best I can with what I've been given. And unless they give me specific evidence to assume otherwise, I instill only encouraging, caring thoughts into the heads of those who stare.

To my friend who battles the feeling of being judged for her weight, especially in an athletic setting, like a gym, I offer a challenge. The next time you go, play the mind game I play. Assume that every person who looks your way is on your team. They are all people who feel for you, and respect your struggle.

Assume they all hope the best for you.

I know that's what I was thinking, the other day, when I was riding my stationary bike next to the overweight man. And if I'm thinking it, I'd bet that many others are too.

I know for a fact my sister Terry would be cheering you on in her head, if she saw you. And she's a really fit person, who runs marathons. There are many of us out there. People who respect another man's (or woman's) journey and wish them well.

And let me share just one more mind game I play, that might help you out a bit. It doesn't apply to what others think of you. It applies to what you think of yourself.

Many times when I'm on the bike and feeling pretty soft and pathetic, I make a decision to sit up tall. I roll my shoulders back a few times and reboot my mental picture.

I'm 100% sure a fit woman lives inside of me. I've seen her before. I've lived in her body before. So I do a mental picture of her, still there in my core. She just happens to have a little extra insulation that's keeping her from coming out. So I sit up tall and pretend she's already busted out.

I pull in my abs, roll back my shoulders, take a deep breath, and pedal even harder, feeling that other me from the inside out. Sometimes I even close my eyes. It's easier to imagine myself as the person I will be, once I reach my fitness goals, when I'm not distracted by gym mirrors. I imagine that strong me, that 30 pounds lighter me, riding tall on the bike, and for a small bit of time, I can be that me. It's all in my head. I'm telling you, it works for me.

Take it from a one legged woman who's not the skinniest girl in the gym. People are going to look. And they are going to have opinions. As a gift to yourself, always imagine that those opinions are the most positive kind possible. It doesn't hurt. And sometimes it helps a whole lot.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I got to the gym today. I really, really wanted to stay home and 'get stuff done' but I had to do the pep talk that goes like this, "the highest priority is your health...get moving!"

I took a book, which I never do. My usual M.O. is to put in the iPod and ride hard. I think I feel like if I'm not sweating like crazy, I'm not doing any good. I have a play list called "Mom's Work Out" and another called "Mom's Mellow Work Out". The second one is the one I pull up to get the warm up going. Slower songs I love. Then, about six minutes in, when my muscles feel looser and warmer, I switch over and dial up the serious work out songs.

A good rhythm is so inspirational to me. My current favorites are Her Diamonds, by Rob Thomas and Nothing Better to Do by Leann Rhymes. I love the beat on those two songs and I find I can push harder when I'm matching their beat.

But today I put on the mellow list and opened my book. I rarely read fiction because I love reading about real things, things that really happened. Memoirs are my favorite category. But every now and then I find a fiction book that intrigues me and I have to dive in. I thought maybe taking the latest one to the gym might help my hour on the bike go by faster.

I have practically memorized the chart on the bike for heart rates. I know that if I'm in the 120s I'm at 'fat burning' and when I get up to the 140s I'm into the cardio zone. To really sweat, I need to be in that cardio zone. That's where I feel like I'm doing something. I'm making a dent. If I'm not dumping sweat out of my artificial leg in the locker room after my ride (seriously, I do that, and hope it doesn't offend anyone)then I haven't really worked out.

But the fat burning zone kind of intrigues me now. I was able to read quite a few chapters of my new book, keeping my heart at that 65% today. And the hour flew by.

I've consulted with my fitness guru, my sister Terri, to see if it still 'counts' if I dont go home dripping with sweat. If so, I might alternate my work out days. Every other day I'll do the hard core, full on ride. The other days I'll read my book and do an hour of what I truly hope is 'fat burning'.

This is an important distinction to me because of the whole shower thing. For girls in general I think it's harder to do the shower ordeal. We have hair to worry about. It's why I never took to swimming. Re-doing the hair is a hassle. And I have simple hair. I brush it out and it dries. But the whole drying it part takes time.

In the past I've justified not exercising because it meant I would have to allow an extra half hour for a shower. An hour on the bike was really two hours, when you add in drive time to gym, then shower time.

Showering with one leg is a pain. I do it because I personally like to be clean. It also helps with the marital relationship, to not smell like a hot camel when you go to bed at night. But honestly, it's labor intensive.

First of all I have to sit down. I have a great shower stool, but I have to have everything set up before I sit down and take off my leg. The handheld shower has to be taken down so I can reach it. The towel and clean clothes have to be positioned correctly so I can reach them from my stool when I'm done. The soaps have to be in reach, if a husband or child has used them and put them on high shelves. The shower curtain sometimes doesn't want to close smoothly, and I can't reach the top, while seated on my stool, to fix it.

You get the idea. It's a pain in the neck. So showering once a day is enough for me. Going to the gym and walking out soaking wet with sweat, means I have to go through the ordeal twice. Kind of makes smelling like a camel more appealing.

But if I can ride at the lower pace some days, and get a decent work out without the gallons of sweat, I could be more optimistic that this fitness thing might stick.

Now I'm off to watch a movie with my kiddos. Fortunately they are all healthy, fit and active. I've started a new family habit, that part of the time we're watching TV we have to play catch with the weighted ball. I feel like every little bit of muscle building helps. The more muscle I build, the higher I can get my metabolism.

My ten year old loves that something as fun as 'playing ball' with me is helping me with my fitness goals. He's standing by right now, ball in hand, ready to play. Guess I'll be going now.

Once again, it's time to start.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Huge Inspiration

I rode the bike next to a large man today. A very large man. He was there when I walked up to the bikes at the gym and I was forced to take the bike right next to him because it was the only one that had straps on the pedals. I have to have straps or my plastic foot gets nutty and flies off the pedal at random intervals.

I didn't want to crowd him. But it really was inspiring to be next to him. It wasn't long before he was working up a sweat. I didn't peek at his difficulty settings or his time, but it was obvious he was working hard. It reminded me of one of my favorite shows. I don't watch The Biggest Loser every season. I rarely see it consistently in any season. But when I do watch, I get inspired.

Those people have a lot of weight to lose. Minimally they need to shed twice what I do right now. Some need to sweat away a couple hundred pounds. I can't even comprehend that.

I would love to only have ten pounds to lose. But the reality is I need to be thirty to forty pounds lighter by summer. Sometimes it seems like a lot. If I look at thirty pounds worth of flour, or rice, I can see that it is a lot. Relatively.

Because once I work hard for a week or two, I will be able to lose five pounds. And my clothes will start to feel different. It will inspire me to keep going, and lose another five. Then my clothes will feel great, even right out of the dryer.

But if I had eighty, or a hundred pounds to lose, it would be hard. The guy on the bike next to me can work like a dog, like he was today, for a full hour, every single day, and when he loses five pounds, he won't really feel it. I would suspect that when he loses ten, even fifteen pounds, he won't feel a difference in his clothes.

He has to trust that it's working. He has to cling to the little changes he might be seeing. Maybe he stands a bit longer without feeling fatigue. Maybe he feels stronger as he hauls himself in and out of his car. But the immediate, as in within weeks, results, he won't have the luxury of enjoying.

It really motivates me at the gym, to be next to such a fitness warrior. I'm sure he doesn't feel like a warrior, but that's how I see him. He's doing all the same stuff I am, and his road will go on months longer than mine. Maybe even years.

I think everyone is inspired by different things. I've had people approach me and verbally pat me on the back for 'doing so well'. They see a woman at the gym who's hobbling around on one bionic leg, and they assume a lot. I've learned through the years that people put me in the box they know.

If they've had experience with an amputee who had cancer, they assume that's how my story goes. If they've seen a recent news story about a lost leg caused by a car accident, that becomes what they assume of me. I've even been mistaken for a military vet amputee (To be fair, I was wearing my favorite work-out shirt,from the Marines. I love the saying on the back - "Pain is just weakness leaving the body").

Somehow I get assigned points of courage, or honor, or valor, that I really didn't earn. I dragged around a withered foot for way too long, then chose to have it cut off so I could upgrade to bionics. When you put it that way, I don't sound so amazing.

I'm aware that some people might look at me, pedaling away on my stationary bike, or sloshing back to the dressing rooms after a good work out, my leg socket full of sweat, and be inspired. They might have the same thoughts I do when I ride next to the extra large man. "Boy, if he can push that hard, you'd better bet that I can!"

I know the truth. I know that the metal foot that scares them so much, as they can't imagine living with one leg, is the reason I'm able to work out. It's the powerful limb I yearned for. But if it helps them push harder in their work out, more power to 'em.

I get my inspiration from the people who have huge mountains to climb, but start the journey anyway.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Start

Seven years ago last week I was wheeled into an operating room and, three hours later, I was wheeled out with one less foot. It was all my choice. Even my doctor wasn't sure he wanted to do this radical sugery. But I was ready for that foot to be gone.

For most of my life I had fought it. It would be years before I knew why, but when I was ten or eleven my left foot stopped working. It continued to grow crookedly through my elementary, then middle school, then high school years. From fourth grade on, I could not run. I could only jump using my right foot. I got very skilled at hiding, not only its deformity, but my deteriorating mobility.

Then, in my mid 30s, with the help of a wonderful thing called the internet, I was able to see for sure that I could have a better life without my left foot. The field of prosthetics had advanced to a place where a bionic limb would give me the active life I yearned for. But first I had to go through the mental and physical journey of having the foot literally sawed off.

I was not scared of the surgery. I had no doubts it was what I wanted. I was 99% sure I would like the life I found on the other side. But when that 1% started to chew at my confidence I pulled up one of my many internal pep talks.

I had a whole slew of them.

One centered on all the sports I might be able to try. One focused on the way my kids would see me - able instead of disabled - once I had a limb that worked right. And one of the most exciting to me was the fitness pep talk.

I'd never known what it was like to be athletic. There aren't many sports you can participate in when you can't run or jump, and have a withered foot hiding in your sneaker. I signed up to be the basketball team manager. Then the track and field team manager. But taking down stats and hauling equipment to the bus is not even close to being on the team.

I would have given anything, finished last in every race, if it meant I could be on the team.

But in college I accidentally found fitness. A friend who lived next door to me in the dorm invited me on a bike ride and on a borrowed bike I realized that this was something I could do. My sorry excuse for a foot could make this motion. I felt a freedom like no other when I was on that bike.

I bought my own bike and started to ride every day. Soon I felt strong and able. I learned how to push myself physically and get to the top of that steep hill, digging deep as my muscles burned. I felt athletic for the first time in my life.

At the end of that semester my bike was stolen. I never replaced it. School, and friends, and life got in the way and I never really found my way back to that place. For years after I graduated, got married, and had a handful of kids, I'd go to the gym. The stationary bike was my equipment of choice. It was what I could do.

As I grew older, and put more stress on my tired limb, my foot deteriorated more and more. I limped a lot. In my early thirties I started wearing a plastic leg brace that gave me much needed support, but it was a wake up call to how little time I had left with that limb.

Because of many surgeries and long spells on crutches, my left calf was also deteriorated and no matter what exercises the physical therapist assigned, I could never get those muscles back. When you have a bum foot, you don't walk right. And when you don't walk right, you don't use your leg muscles the way you're supposed to. So my bum foot really translated into a bum leg, from the knee down.

And when you have a bum leg it tends to dictate your life. It's hard to get motivated to get off the couch and go to the park with your preschoolers. It's not enjoyable to walk the mall with other stroller pushing moms. Even a simple walk around the block after dinner has bigger implications.

One of the main things that drove me to having my foot taken off was the thought of being more active. The videos I received from prosthetic companies showed people in bionic legs playing golf, and walking across the golf course, not riding in carts. It showed regular people, not just super athletes. I wanted what the people on the video had found.

So I had the surgery, then I waited (sometimes patiently) as my stitches healed and swelling went down. In six weeks I was fitted with my first leg. It was love at first step.

It had energy return. My left side participated when I walked. I no longer had to drag that foot around. It was exhilarating. I was ready to get back to the gym so I could find my inner athlete again.

I hit the gym hard. I pushed myself on that bike until I could hardly breathe. I stepped on a treadmill for the first time. (when you don't walk correctly to begin with, you don't walk for exercise) I played with the range of motion with my amazing new leg. The stiff, awkward flesh and bone ankle was gone. In it's place was titanium that moved exactly how I needed it to.

That spring I lost about fifteen pounds. But more than that, I got strong. I felt stable for the first time. I enjoyed going outside and joining into the adventures that my archaeologist husband drummed up. I loved wearing shorts because it showed off my new hardware on one side, and my strong, stable real leg on the other.

That was seven years ago. As much as I dreamed about that surgery, and knew it would offer me a chance to be the fit person I always wanted to be, I have come to a place I'm not happy with. I'm soft again. I'm not stable anymore. I have a roll around my middle that I have no excuse for.

We made a huge cross country move a few years after my new life began. It was fun, but stressful, as we settled into a new state. We took on huge renovations to our house, doing the work ourselves. We had new teens in the house, who were trying to find their way and introducing a new kind of stress to our household.

I did what I always do when life gets complicated and hard. I ate. Not big stuff. But little stuff adds up. An extra soda here. A quick zip through the drive through there. A candy bar at the check out. I justified them all with the excuse of reward. It was a reward for making it through an exceptionally hard day. It was a treat for getting the check book balanced (finally).

And I stopped exercising. I gained back that fifteen pounds I'd lost after my surgery and then some. I got soft and found myself at the weight I was in the ninth month of every pregnancy. Except this time there was no baby to blame. Every pound was my own.

It's just more fun to be lazy. It's more fun to eat what you want and not worry about how many chips you dip in the complimentary dip at the Mexican restaurant. There's always an excuse. The big game's on TV, we have to have chips and soda. My throat hurts, a cold soda makes it feel better as it goes down. And it was easy to just not pay attention.

But a few months ago I realized I'm cheating myself. Not just because it's dangerous to be carrying around this extra 30 pounds. I'm very aware that I carry it in the worst place possible, around my middle. I don't need any more news reports telling me I'm at a higher risk for a heart attack because I have a fat stomach, not a big butt. I know, I know.

My mom died at 50, of a stroke. She was overweight most of her adult life. She lost 60 pounds in her mid forties and finally began to enjoy her life. But the stress of decades of obesity had already taken their toll. Her blood vessels were weak. It only took one bursting to take her out of my life at a time I really needed her still. I don't want my kids to live that story too.

I'm cheating myself out of health, and possibly a longer life, but I'm also selling myself short by not taking full advantage of this new technology I click on every day. I have no more mobility excuses. I can snap on that leg and I'm a regular person. I'm a person with two working legs. I can't hide behind a withered foot anymore.

It's time for me to step up, literally, and get in the best shape of my life.

So I'm starting this blog spot to keep myself motivated. It's not a journal of what I've eaten or how many miles I've biked. It's a place to explore this issue of weight and fitness, and why it matters so much to me. I've never been a vain person. I couldn't afford to be. To care about what people thought put me at too much of a risk. If what they thought mattered, I didn't have a prayer. I'd never measure up, so why try?

But I do care about my fitness. For myself I care. For my kids and for my best friend, who I happen to be married to, I care. So today I start.

It was literally twenty degrees below zero this morning in our mud room. I wanted to skip the gym today. I actually planned to 'just wait till tomorrow'. But then my 19 year old daughter came downstairs and said she was headed to the gym at eleven, did I want to come? This beautiful girl who happens to already be my height, and walks around at my ideal body weight, motivated me to change into gym clothes and get moving.

It's time to take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of me. It's time to start.