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.