30 September 2006

Time for a Change in Life!!

I can easily recall the exact moment when my life was changed forever!

It was a very nice day in May 2005 sitting on a lounge, basking in the hot Greek sun. Leigh had asked me if I wanted to accompany her and her family on their trip to Halkidiki. For those who don’t know, northern Greece has three peninsulas sticking into the blue Aegean which resemble fingers. People identify which finger they intend to visit. Those who want action - lots of hotels and tourists – will go to the first finger called Kassandra. Those who prefer the quiet and far less developed atmosphere will go to the middle finger called Sithonia. The last finger is reserved for religious believers in the Orthodoxy and within that group they must be male.

Kassandra is very windy on the western side but I was sitting on a lounge located on the non-windy eastern side of the finger and it was heaven as far as I could tell. I woke up early and made my way to the beach to read a book and relax. I hadn’t been to the sea for a few months and I do love the beach, even if it is just a sea without waves – basically a huge lake. After a while Leigh and her daughter came down and join me. Leigh had a camera and took my picture.

About two weeks later is that exact moment when my life changed. Leigh handed me a picture. It was of me that day on the beach in Halkidiki. I looked at the image in the picture and immediately realized that I had to change my life. I had become a middle aged over weight white male. I was shocked. From that moment I set a course towards getting back to a reasonable weight – 175 pounds. For the official record, I weighed 209 pounds.

I set forth with a plan – or should I say a concept of what I would do. I decided to RUN. I was playing European football at the Army stadium in Skopje and it was surrounded by a track. I also decided to drink diet sodas instead of sugared ones. I made a plan to eat better and to cook more food at home instead of eating at the many restaurants of Skopje. I also resolved to take vitamins and simply lead a healthier life.

Two days after seeing the picture I went to the track to start running. What a laugh that was. I ran half way around the track and then walked the remainder of the lap. I could feel the loose fat and atrophied muscles moving up and down as I lumbered my way stride by painful stride. I actually wondered in my head whether I was so far gone that a heart attack was just around the corner. That first day I ran a total of two laps and I was a complete wreck.

I returned the next day determined to make a go of this change in my life. I resolved to go further everyday, if only a tiny bit. I also decided to do sit-ups. I would do 100 sit ups every day I ran. After two months of running I could tell there was a difference in my body but I also began to find that running was incredibly boring. Before running I would resolve to think about a certain thing and work it out. I would think about Macedonia Connects and the work that needed to be done. I would process the hell out of one subject each day I ran.

I went back to the USA in August and I bought an Apple iPod. I thought it would help me run. When I returned to Macedonia I ran with the iPod and it revolutionized the entire experience. I started to download technology-oriented podcasts and I would listen to them as I ran. The laps became easier by September but I had to run through knee pains, shin splints and blisters to get where I was. I was now running nearly 4 miles when I ran. I found that I couldn’t do it everyday so I adjusted my schedule to every other day and both days of the weekend. I also decided that I would set aside time for me and make certain that I left work by 4:30 so I could run. I told my staff and I told Washington that between 4:30 and 6:00 I was unavailable. I was actually taking care of myself.

My running maxed out at 5 miles per day which took me almost exactly one hour to complete. Instead of doing sit-ups I was doing crunches – 1,000 of them at a time. I saw a profile of a 78 year old golfer who was doing 1,000 crunches a day and I figured that if he could do it I could do it.

I ran no matter what the weather was doing. I ran in the rain. I ran in the snow. I ran on the snow. I ran when the temperature was -29C. I ran every other day for 16 months. I got used to drinking diet soda. I continue to wrestle with eating the right foods. I do try. I do eat junk food, but I limit myself when doing so. My body is different. The fat is gone from my face, my legs and my arms. I am stilling taking vitamins. I have that picture and when I look at it, or other pictures of me from that time, I am always a little shocked. As of the point when I am writing this I am down to 170 pounds which is 77kg for Europeans who might be reading this. I lost 39 pounds over those 16 months. I never tried to lose it all in one week, one month, or some short term period of time. I knew this was a long term project and my life, to some degree, was in the balance.

The funny side of this has been the fact that I am able to wear clothes which were tailored for me exactly 23 years ago. I haven’t been able to fit into them for the past 13 years. It is as if I had a whole new set of clothes waiting for me.

The best side is that I love to run. It makes me happy. I find peace in doing it. I look forward to hearing This Week in Tech, Car Talk or the Don and Mike Show – which are just a portion of the podcasts I download each day.

I am no poster boy for weight loss, but the lesson I have learned from all of this appears to be that one must think about doing a little bit over a long period of time. It took years to put on the weight and it took time to take it off. I am also no poster boy because I am a sucker for Cherry-Vanilla ice cream and can finish off a half gallon in two days. When I do, I make certain that I run extra long the next couple of days.

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