Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dave's Journey

My story, as it relates to fitness, began around 1980.  I had practiced martial arts for about 10 years prior, that was during the time of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.  I didn’t relate that training to fitness but to being a better warrior.  Since I was in the military, I had an additional interest in learning and training in martial skills.  No running or walking for fitness but worked out in the gym regularly.  Then I decided to change career fields and was transferred first to 6 months of schooling and then to Las Vegas.  During my schooling, which was pretty intense classroom work, I had stopped fitness training. When it was time for my annual fitness test, a mile and a half timed run, I wasn’t ready for it.
Never having been a runner, except just to gut it through the fitness tests, I had no running skill.  I had lost a lot of my fitness, since I hadn’t trained for nearly a year.  Once you break the exercise habit, each day it’s easier to forget about it completely.  I decided to start running in the afternoons after work.  I would put on my cotton tube socks, my gym shorts, T shirt, and my canvas deck shoes and head out to run as far as I could.  That first run was about a block.  I ran on my toes because that was how I had always ran.  After a couple of weeks, I could make it a mile and walk back.  When I made a mile, I decided to reward myself with some new running shoes.  I went to K-Mart and bought some bright blue track shoes with little padding and a waffle sole which was an improvement over my deck shoes.  Soon after, I was at the base hospital for my annual check up, and in the waiting room was a Runner’s World Magazine.  The annual shoe issue!  After the check up, I went right to the BX and bought a pair of Brooks Vantage, the number one shoe in the country.  I thought I was running on pillows.  Should have bought one size larger, because my feet swelled from running and toes went numb.  From the readings, I also found out I shouldn’t be running on my toes.  Finding that magazine was a life changing experience for me.  I realized that their must be a lot more people out there that know nothing about running, so I became a student of running, as well as, health and fitness.  I went to college.
I majored in psychology.  My elective classes were fitness related.  I also read volumes of books on the subjects of health and fitness.  This was during the running boom, so there were several books that were just about running. 
I also became interested in helping people lose weight.  I started the first official aerobics class on the base.  It was called the Super Sgt Weight Control Class, and it was mandatory for anyone on the over weight roster.  I learned a lot from that experience.
This lasted another 2 years and then I was transferred to Okinawa for 5 years.  My interest in martial arts was rekindled, and I eventually started teaching classes over there.  I never lost my interest in running and fitness and continued to take classes in health sciences as well.
Fast forward to 1989, I was transferred back to Vegas as a new First Sgt.  I was assigned to the Comptroller Squadron.  This unit, at the time, was a mess.  It was the lowest rated Comptroller Squadron in the Air Force. The unit had the highest percent of failures on the fitness test and the highest percentage of Airmen on the over weight program.  I hadn’t planned to have a unit like that, but I jumped right in.  Part of the problem was the Squadron was made up of small working units, Pay, Travel, Budget, Analysis, Accounts receivable, and Accounts payable.  The sections didn’t get along. You could feel the tension when you walked down the hall.  So here I was in a unit that needed just what I had to offer; a new First Sgt with a degree in psychology and years worth of knowledge in exercise and fitness.  After 3 years with this Squadron, we won the Commanders Cup for most fit Squadron on the Base, The Title Squadron Elite for winning the base Sports Challenge, (like a mini Olympics), and we were the highest rated Comptroller Squadron in the Air Force.  This resulted in my promotion to First Sgt of the Medical Group, a large military hospital.
This new job with the hospital was a dream come true for a person who loved health and fitness.  I had a free hand in developing fitness and weight control programs for the base.  Because of what I accomplished at the Comptroller Squadron, I already had a reputation, so it was easy to get things done.  I had a complete hospital full of knowledge to draw and learn from.  I had the PT department, 2 nutritionists, and almost every specialty of doctor.
Best of all, I had access to the human performance lab in Dallas that was under contract with the Air Force as advisors on fitness and exercise.  It was during this time that we were changing the fitness testing from a mile and a half run to a test where you get your heart rate up into a training range for a specific length of time.  I was able to learn volumes, and I was also able to contribute as well.  Then in 1994, I retired form the USAF.
Retirement, I wasn’t going to have anymore fitness tests to pass, so I stopped exercising completely.  Again, I learned how easy it is to get out of the habit.  Over the next 7 years, my once 30 inch waist went to where 38 pants were cutting into me, I had lost all my hard earned fitness.  I got good at not seeing my reflection in the mirror when I got out of the shower.  On the day I turned 50, I stopped at the gas station and while the tank was filling, I got the squeegee and started cleaning my windshield.  I was out of breath from just cleaning my windshield.  Turning 50 gets you thinking about your own mortality, and when I realized how out of shape I had become, I decided to do something about it.
The very next morning I went to the mall and walked.  I made one slow lap, but it was a beginning.  I kept that up all winter, and in the spring, walked outside.  Then I started running again.  I ran for the next 2 years and got better and stronger.  One morning, I was running fast down a steep hill at WKU and over strided which tore my Achilles tendon.  Running was never comfortable after that.  It became chronic the longer I tried.  Since I loved racing and the endurance events, I decided to try my hand at race walking which was easier on my sore tendon.  Our town has good race walkers for competition.  I trained as a race walker just as I had trained as a runner with track work and distance.  In June of 2006, I competed in my first walk race and did better than I had expected.  One of the walkers told me that since I was over 50 and a pretty good walker, I should go to the State Senior Games which were the trials for the National Senior Olympics.  The games were in Sept that year, so I had plenty of time to train for State.
September, I went to Lexington to compete in the race walking event.  On the morning of the games, I was wondering around the track area waiting before my event, and I heard some people talking about race walking.  I went over and introduced myself.  This was a race walking instructor from Louisville and some of his students.  He asked me how long I’d been race walking and who trained me.  I said “I had been training for 6 months and self taught“.  The instructor said I needed to just watch and learn, because I didn’t belong out on the track with this level of competition.  I did not come all this way to be a spectator, so I stayed.  We finally lined up, about 40 of us all together ranging in age from 50s to 60s.  I was 55 at the time, so my competition was the 55 to 59 age category.  The gun sounded.  We were off.  I was dead last and feeling like a loser, but then “snap”, I decided that either I belonged here or I didn’t, and I took off in the race walk equivalent of a sprint.  I was going to go just as hard as I could go for as long as I could.  When it was over I was third, with a bronze metal and a chance to represent Kentucky at the National Senior Olympics.  I went the next year and was 9th in the 1500m and 8th in the 5K.  I accomplished what I had dreamed of a top 10 finish in both events.
I qualified twice for the nationals, but wasn’t able to make the trips.  In 2012, I qualified again, and I’m going to go this year to the National Games in Cleveland. They will be held in late July 2013. 
I began writing on the subject of health and fitness while I was in the Air Force, contributing to the base newspaper and doing a weekly Squadron news letter.  When I was training for the first Nationals, I started writing for an informational web site called Disney Running.  I also started working on a book about the same time. I’m calling the book Panda Endurance.  The title comes from the fact that pandas are going extinct and there is nothing they can do about it, but people often make a conscious decision to personally shorten their own lives by not exercising, over eating, smoking, and ingesting chemicals from processed food and soft drinks.
To keep my thoughts flowing, I write short articles now and post them on several web pages that are health and fitness oriented.  I hope to eventually finish the book.  Writing these articles help me keep that dream alive.
Thanks for reading.

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