A few months ago, my friend Cameron came up to me at church with a proposal.
“I want to train you. I’ll prepare a workout schedule, and you can come a few times a week to my dojo to use the weights. We’ll keep track of your progress from month to month– this will be a way for me to hone my skills and build my resume as a personal trainer, and a chance for you to get in shape. What do you say?”
A quick word on Cameron: He’s a bear of a man, broad and burly, with a thick, black beard. He looks like he could fit in quite comfortably swinging a scimitar as a bad guy in an Indiana Jones movie. He is an MMA expert, the owner and sensei of Tribe-K Martial Arts in North Fort Myers, and knows dozens of ways to cause pain and injury, if not death, in an opponent. He teaches self-defense and NRA handgun certification courses and, in short, would appear at first glance to be everything that I’m not– my complete opposite. On the flipside, though, he is soft-spoken and gentle, earning a large portion of his living by running after-school clubs and summer camps for kids. He is a die-hard fan of both Star Wars and Pokemon. He and I share an affinity for puns and lame pop culture jokes as well as a love of theology and a desire to lead others to Jesus. He’s a good dude.
Now, I’ve never thought of myself as an athlete. I’m a (seemingly perpetual) student, an English teacher, and an indie science fiction author. Guys like me aren’t generally known for our impressive physicality. My brother, Kenny and I lifted weights some when we were in high school, but team sports never interested me; when he went out for football and became a star player, I was more interested in hanging out in my room, listening to music and drawing cartoons. I was fairly strong when I was working blue-collar jobs, hauling boxes of weed killer and loading trucks with lumber and concrete at Lowe’s, but I’ve never really loved working out. Over the past handful of years since becoming a teacher, I’ve been pretty sedentary. I also love good food. I have grown squishy.
So I said yes. For the past few months, I’ve been hitting the gym three times a week, lifting weights and running on the treadmill and drinking sludgy protein shakes. It’s painful and time-consuming and sometimes boring. Each time I go I wind up drenched in sweat. I’ve been sore and exhausted. It’s difficult– but somewhere I read that most worthwhile things are.
And somewhere along the way, exercise became fun. I don’t mean that I go skipping to the weight room, giggling with glee over the work before me, but there is real satisfaction in seeing progress. It’s cool to be able to lift more (significantly more) than I could when I first started just a few months ago. Rachel tells me I’m not snoring as bad as I used to. It’s nice to take my shirt off and look in the mirror; although I still rock a pretty serious dad-bod, I can see some slimming in the belly and definition in the muscles. My body fat percentage has dropped by 30% in the past few months. That’s huge. For the first time in years, I feel good about my body– not just indifferent, but actually good. Within a couple weeks, I should be able to run a twelve minute mile, which I know isn’t a big deal for a lot of you maniacs who go out for marathons and “fun runs” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one), but trust me– it’s a big deal for me. Having some accountability and motivation, not to mention advice from someone who knows what he’s talking about, has made all the difference for me.
It’s also been fun to learn some of the science behind exercise– a whole world of knowledge I had never encountered. I’ve pitched the idea of co-writing a book to Cameron– something along the lines of “The Geek’s Guide to Personal Fitness”– peppered with sarcasm and humor and practical tips in order to help demystify some of this stuff for guys like me who don’t generally think of themselves as being interested in athletic activity. I don’t know how big an audience such a book would have, but I think it would be fun to put together. I am living proof that being healthy is for everyone; if I can begin this journey, anyone can.