Downward And Upward…

I hear this assertion every so often,

  “Roy, you just don’t know what it’s like to be overweight or out of shape!”

 A decade ago when I decided to assign a name to my fitness endeavor, I had no choice but to place the word emerge within my trade name; Emerge Fitness. To my way of thinking, emerge, is the most important word in a fitness program, just ahead of relentless and commitment.

 Onward And Downward

 On Father’s Day of 1993, rather than spend the day being a father, I chose to spend it being a brother. It was also near the occasion of my 31st birthday. To serve as both gift and celebration for this birthday, my older brother gave me the gift of skydiving lessons and my first jump from an airplane.

 I was pretty excited about skydiving from the beginning. My instincts had told me that to place 3,000 feet between myself and the Earth’s surface was not consistent with common sense. But those were my marital instincts.  My inner hairy-man instincts had rationalized that as a former student pilot, there was no more danger involved in skydiving than there had ever been in floating a few thousand feet above the ground flying a Cessna.   A funny thing happened on the way to the Earth.

 Fortune was in a whimsical mood that day, and placed a small air bump on the trail between me and my first successful jump from an airplane. As I released myself from the wing strut of the aircraft, I flipped over backwards as my parachute deployed. During my flip, a portion of the rectangular airfoil became tangled in the nylon cords attaching it to my back.  My trip down, I then realized, was going to be quicker than expected. Spinning, and scarcely in control for 3200 feet, I hit the ground like a just clobbered Floyd Paterson, and rebounded with the approximate coherency of Floyd the barber.

 Damage was done.  I would spend the next year or so of my life in a back brace, and confined mostly to my house and to my bed. Though I was fit, and in excellent physical shape at the time of my accident, my injuries had disposed me that I was no longer able to engage in exercise of any kind. And then,

 …depression set in.

 I would not enter a gym again for nearly three years. Three years of eating out of boredom and eating out of depression, which ultimately lead to eating out of addiction.  Something I still battle each day of my life. Confined to a stagnant life in recovery, my daily lunch time scenario was like this:

 Each day around noon, during the transition from Jenny Jones to Judge Wapner, I would make the following call,

 “Hello, Dominos? It’s me, Roy.  I’ll have the usual, and ah, there’s an extra $5 in it for your driver if he stops to pick me up a pint of Haagen Dazs on his way!”  Click.

 And so it went for the next few years of my life. 

 I had been told by the specialist whose care I had been under that I was to never lift weights again, and that challenging exercise of any kind would be doubtful. With no exercising, there was no incentive for me to change the poor eating habits I had developed.

 Onward And Upward

 One day as I scurried about a shopping mall seeking a last minute fix to appease a Mother’s Day mess up, something in a store window caught my eye; a round man with a bloated face. He appeared as wide as he was tall. Within his swollen expression I could see the eyes of a fit man trapped inside and calling to get out. He was me.

 No bend in the glass; truly, I did not recognize who I was for just a moment. I looked at the man in the reflection with a prejudice I was no longer entitled to; that of a fit man. I had seen myself, really seen myself as fat for the first time. Three years in the making, my masterpiece was apparently complete; Roy “Lardass” Cohen had been unveiled to my own eyes. Never again, I thought to myself, NEVER AGAIN.

 It’s been said that it’s better to have never had money, than to have had money and lost it. I can’t say, I’ve only been on one side of that equation. Relating to health and fitness though, I concur. I drove home from the mall that day repeating “never again” to myself over and over.  And though I knew I could eventually get myself back into shape, looking so bloated I was too embarrassed to join a gym.   I would spend what savings I had, and build a crude, but comprehensive weight room in the basement of my home.

 For two years I spent many evenings in that weight room – many more not. For two years I hid behind baggy clothing. For two years I battled junk food as junk food battled back. For two years I experienced a series of failures in the weight room, ands failures in the kitchen – frustrations born that the change I sought would not come soon enough.  For two years there would be more failures than successes. Some fat was lost. Some fat was gained back again. Regular exercise took place, and took protracted layoffs due to frustration also took place. But then I would think and remember the man in the reflection; never again.

 After a couple of years of trying unsuccessfully, I strung together a series of three months when I did not miss a single workout – not one. During this period I did not skip a single healthy meal, or indulge in junk – not once.  Those would be the most important three months of my adult life. Those three months of eating healthy and not missing workouts offered but a few physical changes. However the feeling of accomplishment for not missing workouts and not eating junk was a feeling of elation magnified. So I lowered my shoulder into another three months and met elation again – exponentially. And so it went, and so it still goes.                                                                                     

It’s been years now since I worked myself back into shape despite the injuries from my skydiving accident. Each day I still think to eat all the things which once made me fat. I still think to skip workouts because there is something important to watch on television, though Judge Wapner and Jenny Jones are long gone.  I also still think of the fat man in the mirror and then I say to myself, “never again”.

 The ongoing sum of consistent chicken breasts, broccoli, strength training, and cardio may be not be so glamorous, but they have added up to never again.  I’ll take never again over Roy “Lardass” Cohen any day.

 The name Emerge Fitness was born of this story; that as I stepped from out of the blubbery shell which once held me hostage, and into a more reasonable form, I truly did emerge. In seeing that round face in the reflection, I also saw the eyes of the healthier man calling to me to throw him a line. Look carefully at your reflection today.  Your own eyes will tell you everything you need to know.   Be well.  rc

20 responses

  1. That is such a powerful story, Roy!

    In a conversation with my long time friend, the multi-millionaire owner of our local fitness center empire (GHFC), who started as a towel boy and worked hard as the embodiment of the American dream to reach that lofty level, he said, “Circumstances do not make the man. Circumstances reveal the man to himself!” So it was on that day, Roy Cohen, when that special man saw his image in the glass, and went on to claim what he truly was made of. Thank you for sharing that man with the rest of us!

    When the day comes that you and I go flying together, you are staying in the plane 🙂

  2. Thanks, Roy, I needed to read that story In a Robert Frost poem, there is the line that says “Say something that I can repeat by heart”….Your ‘never again’ is that combination of
    profound meaning and direction…Thanks again. Laurie

  3. I know that I have heard this story before, but I will never tire of hearing about your strength and conviction to change your life. You will inspire anyone who has the opportunity to read this. You inspire me. God Bless you my friend…eva

  4. Dr. J: You are too kind, but I already knew that. On the day we fly together, I not only stay in the plane, but let you do the flying.

    Laurie: I live that “never again” moment nearly every day — each time I pass a pizza place, walk the candy isle of a grocery store, or think to not exercise because something good is on TV.

    Willie, ehr, Mom: Thank you. You started this by signing me up “for weightlifting lessons” when I was 12, at the Denver Police Department. Sgt. John Bingham had no idea what he was going to create.

    Eva: Yes, a few reconstituted paragraphs from an unpublished book, applied to a newer theme. My inspiration comes from those who I call friend — you among them.

  5. Roy, OMG is all I can say! I actually started to read this the other day & saw I needed more time so I postponed the reading of it. This is one of the most powerful posts I have read to date! You are amazing & an inspiration to all!

    I am so going to share this post on my blog this coming week!!! People need to hear this! I loved Dr. J’s response & quote along with Laurie too!

    AMAZING!!!! Thank you soooooooooooooo much for sharing!

    I think I might share this Tuesday or Wednesday – bigger reader days so check it out one of those days!


  6. What a great story Roy! It really hit home with me. I work out regularly and really watch what I eat…before 10:00 PM…then out or bordom, depression and maybe addiction (wow, I said it)I can hit the fridge and erase all that hard work. Starting today that is going to change. Thanks for the eye opener!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Jody: Thank you for the high praise. I know how hard you work on your blog,, and I am honored that you would give me some space there! I appreciate what you post, and all of your efforts to help people.

    Betsy: “boredom, depression and addiction” is there anyone alive who does not come face to face with these daily…? We just strive to win more battles than we lose, and that is how we stay ahead of the game. Thanks!

  8. Roy I wanted to let you know I shared your story with my trainer (whom is also similar to you in the fact he owns a small gym) in the hopes he can share it with some of his male gym patrons to inspire them. Thanks again. 🙂

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