My Athletic Background
For me athletic interests and fitness have always gone hand in hand. The activity is both a method and a motivation for general health. I have a very, very hard time convincing myself to go to the gym or watch my diet on the basis of appearance alone, and Iíve been fortunate in that carrying a few extra pounds around has never seriously impacted my day-to-day. If Iím going to put all the work into maintaining fitness I want to do
something with it - because for me it really wonít happen on its own. I will never be Ďnaturally thiní or Ďnaturally fití. Itís a lot of constant work and small sacrifices if I want to keep myself healthy. Nothing besides the joy of an activity I love and am passionate about has been enough to motivate me for that.
Iíve found - and lost - that motivation many times over my life.
As a youth it was gymnastics. I was never very good, but I loved it. Beam and vault were my best events, and I would attend two or three days a week right after school before finding someone to drop me off back home.
That died in sixth grade with an ugly episode of not-well-handled cellulitis
of the leg. Without going into too many details I didnít end up going to the hospital for it until it became a full-blown medical emergency (I was running a 105 fever and delirious), spent two weeks inpatient during which I almost lost the limb, and then was never taken for any follow-up care after I was released. It would be two years
before I could walk again without a limp, and another few after that before my leg stopped periodically giving out on me and sending me sprawling. With proper medical care I should have been fully healed up in a matter of months - but thatís not how things were to be.
Trapped in the house with a walker I became depressed, reclusive, and gained a tremendous amount of weight. In the very long run this would actually end up benefiting me (I learned how to program computers at this time, which would drive my later career) but those were some incredibly dark years.
If youíre wondering where I first developed an interest in horses - it was actually right around this time. I even went so far as to try to join the schoolís pony club, but bullying and lack of opportunity to actually get anywhere near a horse killed my interest in it. Attending a club in which I could only talk
about riding and hear other people tell stories about their recent events as it turns out wasnít much fun at all.
The next time I would do anything athletic would be in college. There I discovered SCA rapier (specifically heavy rapier) - which in very simple terms is mostly semi-competitive sword dueling.
Note: I am not in that video - I do not have any good videos of any of my events and all of this was over ten years ago.
I had found a social group I loved and my interest in rapier led to a renewed interest in fitness in general. To be honest, my group probably took it all far too seriously - three two-hour sessions a week of practice, two weekly cross-training sessions lifting at the gym (with an ex-military guy as a group trainer), and then an unofficial private training session with just the experienced folks at someoneís house. This was the height of my athletic focus and the only period in my life where I genuinely managed a 6-day-a-week gym schedule. For about two years I genuinely considered myself an athlete.
I also dabbled in martial arts at this time - doing a year of Tae Kwon Do and a year of Tai Chi Chuan. I took a few lessons in modern combat knife-fighting. I learned archery. I took a few sport shooting classes. I learned to swing dance and swim in open water. None of this was in any way intended to be practical - but I thrived on the camaraderie and the culture.
This ended with more a whimper than a bang. In my senior year of undergrad a combination of group politics and simple lack of time led me to the decision to step away from rapier and instead focus 100% of my energy towards my studies. The rest of my time until finishing my graduate degree I stepped foot inside a gym perhaps twice. I gained weight - but I had other things I was worrying about.
After graduating I moved states and tried to pick rapier back up again, but I was never able to find a group I felt comfortable with. Mind you, I donít exactly consider myself a wilting violet when it comes to taking physical risks - but when several members of the local group were practicing without gorgets (neck protectors) because they found them uncomfortable I noped out in a single session. That was a fatal accident waiting to happen and I didnít want to be responsible for killing someone.
I should have reported them. I didnít.
The next few years were spent in a search to find something that motivated me. I tried Hapkido but other than my first formal lessons in falling properly I didnít get much out of it. I moved to American Kenpo, which I loved and went through some belts in but which work scheduling made attending there and keeping up with my increasingly intense career near impossible.
As a few years passed my weight officially crept up solidly into the obese category and I finally decided I needed to reverse course and just do something
for the sake of my health. During this period I tried ballroom dancing, weight lifting with a personal trainer, spin classes, aerobics and yoga. Most of my hours though were spent on an elliptical or in half-hearted attempts to learn to hate running less. I woke up in the mornings to go out and jog (I hate both jogging and mornings). I dieted aggressively to the point where it was bordering on unhealthy - counting every calorie in a spreadsheet and working to hit macro targets daily. In the end I lost 65 lbs and almost ten dress sizes in a little under ten months.
This joyless fitness could only last so long. Work stress began to heat up and as I spent later and later nights at the office I could only convince myself to go so often. I would be up by 6:30 am, out the door by 7, in the office by 7:45 am, leave the office around 7:00-7:30 pm, then be back home by 9 pm having picked dinner up on the way back.
I tried skipping dinner and going to the gym - it was a very bad idea.
I ended up getting into rock climbing the way most people do - you befriend someone who climbs who needs a climbing partner and they manage to talk you into it. A friend of mine - a med student with the same crazy schedule I had - had tried it a few times and loved it. This wouldnít be the only time she talked me into things, but it would be the most successful.
Now itís worth noting that I am almost humorously afraid of heights. This is far more common than youíd think
among rock climbers and even though Iíve now been climbing for about nine years it still hasnít really abated - though two fairly major falls during this time certainly havenít helped.
Working through this has been difficult and not always successful. I could write a long post on all the methods and techniques Iíve employed. But in the end most days I end up being able to climb without too many issues, and on those I canít bring myself to get more than halfway up the wall I just focus on routes that are at the absolute edge of my skill - so that getting even that far is a serious accomplishment.
Iíve been talked into trying a few other things during the years - notably one (hilarious) attempt at cross-country skiing, several somewhat more successful hiking trips, and to be honest Iím probably forgetting a few here. Iím one of those people whoís usually up for trying new things. Depending on how dedicated Iíve been at any given time I may or may not have been going to the gym somewhat regularly to cross-train with both targeted weightlifting and whatever sort of cardio I hate least at the moment.
Eventually the insanity of my career caught up with me. Travel made me an unreliable partner, and even trying to squeeze out one night a week and a weekend afternoon reliably became tough. This was sort of the Ďpaying duesí stage of my career. I even tried to find a way to mix climbing and networking by seeing if I could talk any of my peers out to the wall but I never pulled it off. Likewise, I was never talked into golf - though in retrospect I regret that.
Once again I sacrificed the short term for the long and decided to focus fully on my career. I ended up gaining weight (no surprise) and to be honest pretty seriously compromised my health in general - usually by not having time to have minor issues looked at until they became serious ones. This was a distressing cultural norm for the place I was in and all my time was spent either working or trying to deal with the fact I was working. I gave up all pretense of trying to be healthy.
Fortunately I ended up getting poached (targeted recruiting). They offered me significantly more money, saner working conditions, and a whole slew of high-value perks. I got to work 100% remote+travel. I moved into that rarified air where recruiters tend to call me rather than the other way around. I finally had free time again. While this new job would hardly be called Ďlow stressí it was still nice compared to what I was used to.
I moved again, this time purely because I liked the area better and had friends locally. During all this I had gotten almost back to my high weight from college and honestly in far worse actual health due to the various medical concerns. I started to rectify that and was able to get back to climbing again - though the weight was dropping much more slowly this time than it had during my dedicated weight-loss days.
Then I had my one and only serious climbing injury - a freak accident from hardly 10 feet up. I was bouldering (climbing low heights without any rope) and jumped down after completing a route. My toe caught in a divot in my catch mat and I ended up with my rear end landing on my heel while it was trapped point-down and my other leg had sprawled forward. I hyperextended the ankle, did significant soft tissue damage to my toes, and fractured the big-toe metatarsal in my foot. Climbing shoes are a wonderful thing because that could have been much worse. As it was everything stayed more or less compressed into place. Healing from the injury took about 4 months without being able to climb at all and another 2 months of being gentle and regaining strength.
Almost as soon as I got back my climbing partner pulled a tendon in her arm which would prove to be a persistent injury despite very regular medical care and PT, followed by two other similarly frustrating strain-injuries. She had sat through my serious injury and now I endeavored to prevail through hers. She wasnít off the wall nearly as long as I was but it was a lot spottier - sheíd recover only to re-injure after a few climbs. This type of injury is miserably frustrating and I endeavored to be flexible while she endeavored to push herself to climb whenever she could.
Now, we both share the same sort of drive and tendency to push ourselves, and in some ways I think she may be more competitive and determined than I am. But as the months went on it was becoming clear that she needed more than a few weeks off at a time. To her credit she seemed to realize that too. Meanwhile my other partner was starting to have trouble with scheduling and then eventually moved. On one hand I didn't want to abandon my friend and try to find another person to climb with entirely (if I could even manage it) but on the other the literal year and a half of not being able to reliably get on the wall was weighing on me in just about every sense of the term.
I decided I needed a new focus.
Somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to seriously try ballet. In my opinion this is probably the craziest fitness idea I ever followed through on. Here I am, overweight at 31, standing in a leotard in an Ďadult balletí class filled mostly with sevette 18-22 year olds. There are a lot of different types of Ďadult balletí ranging from gentle and technical to brutal and fast - this was the later. We were doing various little jumps to releve and saute exercies within the first week. Now, I had done enough prep work (... about two months worth) that I at least could in fact stand in a good releve in the various ballet positions, follow the instructions being given, and fake my way through visible turnout - but most classes still left me barely able to walk down the studio stairs at the end without my legs threatening to give out. I was getting stronger fast - but not fast enough to keep up.
Also around this time I had a client who required frequent travel and the classes were a serious challenge for me to get to after work due to scheduling. Maybe
I could have kept up if I hadnít missed so many classes, and maybe some day I will even return. I know we were doing all those jumps because that instructor seriously intended to help let any student dedicated enough eventually get to pointe - which means strengthening the ankles, calves and feet to the point that it would be safe. She started early because she was treating us like serious students who shouldnít be stopped from achieving that most common ballet dream just because we started after age fourteen - which I loved. She frankly was a great instructor - but my own inadequacies in comparison to the rest of the class caught up to me. I was the weakest link.
My ballet adventure ended after about three months. At the absolute least I have gained a new love of and appreciation for the art. I now look forward to getting shipped to London for work trips, where the Royal Ballet performs. The process has enriched my life even if I never go back to another class.
That was my most recent attempt to find a passion - ending in July. Iíve gained a couple pounds since then, as the cycle tends to go. But only a couple - because it really hadnít been that long.
The rest of this story is continued in my introductory post to the forum.
A few other notes of possible general interest:
- While I usually count myself firmly on the academic/scientific side Iíve also done meditation practices in a variety of forms on and off since middle school. So Iím fairly familiar with a lot of the mindset and techniques involved in a couple of different style. I actually kind of intend to avoid talking about this as I donít want to get into what can quickly turn into a spiritual discussion (or worse, debate) on an unrelated board - but as it relates to horses the whole Ďcenteredí or Ďempathyí approach to things isnít at all an absurd idea to me.
- Iíve been vegetarian since I was 14 - lacto ovo but strict. When given an option I will opt to avoid any materials that involve killing an animal (so no leather, but wool is fine). I have had to break this rule many times where I couldnít reasonably avoid it - but when given the choice I go for synthetic even if it means replacing things more often.
- As mentioned previously, I have an issue with some type of inflammatory arthritis - suspected (but not confirmed) to be rheumatoid arthritis. We can confirm the swelling but itís not quite typical (specifically itís asymmetrical and the pattern of joints affected is a little weird for how RA most commonly starts). This started about three years ago and has been progressing very slowly (thankfully). At its worst itís caused full joint immobility and exhaustion to the point of having a hard time getting out of bed - but usually itís either dormant or a few annoying achy joints, a bit of fatigue, and stiffness in the morning. There is some very minor permanent damage to my joints that can only be seen when comparing x-rays but at this point itís functionally ignorable when not flared up. Paradoxically, exercising on a sore joint tends to make them clear up faster. This makes zero intuitive sense to me, but itís reliable. So I will push myself through joint pain and flare-ups to some extent and this isnít me being irresponsible. I am encouraged not to let myself get sedentary or limit my range of motion due to soreness as that can apparently have worse long term effects. I am cleared by my doctor for all sports/activities I can tolerate the pain of, even when actively flaring up.
Thank you to anyone who bothered to read this whole text block.