When I undertook the task of re-inventing myself as a fit person, I had no idea what was involved. No high-minded principles guided me, nor did I adopt any particular program. Nor were my motives practical, for example, to improve my health.
Quite the opposite, my motives were shallow--I looked in the mirror and was too vain to accept the pudgy reflection. Only retrospectively can I figure out what happened.
First, I made an unconditional decision to change my lifestyle permanently. Second, I got help--from professionals (a personal trainer and lifestyle counselor) as well as from family and friends.
Next, I managed my thinking, especially about food. Instead of being grim, I explored new ways of cooking, challenging myself to eat well within caloric limitations.
The last step was discovering my latent athleticism. Somewhere along the exercise path, I stopped exercising to achieve its by-products--improved health, more energy, lower weight and a shapely figure. Instead, I just wanted to get better.
Practicing yoga, I wanted to improve my form. Working with weights, I wanted increased strength. Playing tennis, I wanted more consistency and an effective serve. Before I knew it, I was "in training."
Drs. Harvey Simon and Steven Levisohn, in their book The Athlete Within, say that "all of you can become athletes. Each of you has surprising potentials; most of you will never be sports stars, but all of you can greatly extend your horizons through careful planning and diligent training."
Initially, I was self-conscious in tennis clinics where many students were half my age. But the lure of becoming an athlete was irresistible--I surrendered. Today, instead of having to exercise, I have to limit activity so my body can rest, especially when I have a sports injury, like the back pain that's currently plaguing me. Taking a longer perspective, I reassure myself that I'll be back on the courts in a few weeks and more ambitious than ever.
Imagine my delight when I read that Clarence Chaffee, the tennis coach at Williams College, did not begin competing nationally until age 70. Since then, he's collected 48 national Super Senior' tennis titles. Or Albert Gordon, a well-known businessman and philanthropist, who entered his first marathon at 80, at which time he completed the difficult London Marathon in an excellent 6 hours and 30 minutes.
I'm not aiming this high, but I do want to become the best tennis player, gym-rat and yoga student I can be, independent of external recognition. Seeing the improvement in my athleticism, after 40 years of being out of shape, is its own reward.
Drs. Simon and Levisohn confirm, "If you exercise regularly and develop your potentials to their fullest, you will be a true athlete, even if you never win a race or compete on center court."
Lest you think you don't have time to exercise, as I once did, listen to Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, 1873, who observed, "Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness."
His perspective is confirmed by medical research coming at us from all directions. The way we live accounts in large part for how long we will live and how well we will live. The good news is that we are free to make choices about the way we live. Even better, if we've made poor lifestyle choices in the past, we're free to make adjustments today. If it isn't too late, our bodies will respond magnificently. Best of all, there's an athlete residing in each of us just waiting to come out and play.