The Seed That Started The Athletes Cloud

While my kids were growing up, I was also growing… but I wasn’t growing in athleticism, just the opposite, I was growing in girth. It was a time when life was moving at light speed. The kids were toddlers and were a handful at every moment they were awake. Work was a handful as the division I started had grown close to $4million in revenue, had a staff of 70+ health professionals and technicians, and had grown from the Niagara region to a territory spanning Hamilton, K-W, Burlington to Mississauga. It was shortly after the time we moved out of Toronto, in search of a neighbourhood which reminded Aimee and I of Bloor West Village when we were growing up. We ended up in south east Burlington where the kids could walk to school, play on the street.

It was during this time that one of my staff, out of nowhere, approached me and to this day I can still recall them saying to my face, “Mark, you are fat!” I remember that moment perfectly, and later that day the moment when I weighed myself.

What? 196lbs. How did I not see it? Where did it come from (as if I didn’t know)?

Long story short… that was the start to my journey towards regaining my health, but the path has not been simple and straight. My journey started no different than that of almost anyone who believes that their overweight-ness is limited to just 5 or 10lbs or perhaps an unimagineable 15lbs. I decided to get into ‘shape’ believing (incorrectly) that my issue was simply that I was out of shape.

Within the month I signed up with the Burlington Masters Swim Club (BMSC).  Again, like almost everyone realizing that they need to get ‘back into shape’, I looked back to a time that I was in shape… it was when I was swimming on the UofT Varsity Team (and it was the body that landed Aimee my wife, so I must have been awesome)!

Did I lose some weight swimming? Absolutely. I dropped down to 170lbs. Did I start to look like I was getting back into shape? Absolutely. I wasn’t sporting a paper suit like those I used to race in, but the jammers were definitely looking better on me. Within 6 months of being back in the pool, swimming 1:02 for 100m FR at EOMACs Semi Serious meet made me feel I was on track. Since swimming a bit worked, I figured that swimming a lot should work even better.  A few more lbs would be great to lose and why not break a minute for the 100?

After 4 more years of swimming, I may have managed to get down to 165lbs, and after committing the last full year to training in the pool 4x/week, plus additional dryland strength training sessions, plus additional hour long vertical kick sets I was ready to challenge the minute for the 100FR.  If I broke a minute, I figured that I was back!  Back in shape, healthy, in the form I was a decade or more ago (i.e. pre-kids, pre-marriage, pre-mortgage,…), proving that I could do it all, and all at once.

I swam 1:01.02 for the 100FR.

After what I believed to be an all out effort – to just shave a second – was painful. If that’s how hard I had to work to cut a second, then the effort to try and take off another second was unthinkable. The linear progression of a little giving small results, a little more giving bigger results, and all out giving max results… fell apart. It was a déjà vu moment running into the exact dead end I experienced training as a Varsity swimmer and as a triathlete, but now I wasn’t alone as my kids were running into the identical obstacle in their own pursuit of sport. If that wasn’t enough, the correlation with the lifestyles and histories of medically compromised patients I met working as a physiotherapist was far to similar to be sheer coincidence.

There had to be an alternative. I took to finding it. I believe I have.

Now, my training weight seems to be optimal in the mid to high 130s, and after a taper, a weight of 143 lbs felt just right at a recent competition.  Most importantly Aimee marvels at a six pack (on me, not in the fridge) that remains even while seated.

Now, pursuing a personal best does not demand a near death experience. It requires a relaxed effort, a focus on fun, on enjoying the moment, the effort of training that has been put in, the other athletes, the day of the event, and on digging deep inside in an healthy way to explore my potential, to experience a peak performance.

Before, there was no way I would have believed anyone if they had told me I was 50-60lbs overweight when I weighed in at 196. I would have laughed off risks of hypertension, heart disease, a stroke, or cancer because… well, come on… wouldn’t you, haven’t we all?

Before, there was no way I would have believed anyone if they told me that peak performance didn’t require an “PR or ER” effort, that there was an healthy way to train and to compete.

Today my journey is nowhere close to being over, and I don’t want it to be over any time soon.

My hope is to share my journey, sharing that “getting into shape” is not the solution, its just a dead end street, that pursuing fitness does not equate to nor necessarily lead to health. I want to share that being healthy requires the specific pursuit of health, and pursing health in an healthy manner.

P.S.  Thank you Alma. Not sure where I would be if I didn’t stop and feel your concern for my well being; if all I did was get angry and resentful at your words.