A Personal Discourse On Fitness…


I wrote this three years ago and it has been resonating in my head this week.  In this holiday season,  food is a huge topic of discussion — for all it’s enjoyment, all that accompanies its ritual, and all the collateral damage it does.  Fitness bloggers and pundits in particular have very strong opinions here.  I’m not one of them. 

Yes, in life we should strive to be healthy and work to be fit.  At the end of the day, it’s all about moments — and relationships. 

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Who Is The Fit One

My daughter was 9 years old.  Chelsea had swimming pool hair, golden skin, and she had a best friend named Holly.  We lived down the street from Holly, on a greenbelt loaded with greenbelt things; swings, slides, those rocky-horse things on thick springs, tennis courts and more.  Chelsea loved the green belt, and often asked when I walked her home from school, if we could stop and play there.  I don’t ever recall saying “no”, because I loved the greenbelt too.

On occasion, we would walk home from school with her friend Holly, and Holly’s father Derek.  Holly was like Chelsea, young, full of energy, and always ready to play.  Derek – not as much.  He was perhaps 100 lbs. overweight, and though he was a few years younger than me, he was doing well just to walk his daughter home from school without sweating excessively.

One afternoon while Derek and I navigated the girls through the greenbelt, amidst the sea of red ceramic roof tops, we decided to stop and let the girls play at the playground for a while – and they did.  Derek and I sat on a bench beside the jungle gym and watched while Chelsea and Holly participated in a kids’ life.  Eventually, I was called upon to participate as a swing pusher.  Pushing swings soon merged into playing on the jungle gym and I thought nothing of it.  I was willing, I was able, and I was having fun.

Eventually, even a guy in good shape has to concede to the exceptional fitness level of 9-year old girls, and I did that also, exhaustedly rejoining Derek on the park bench.  As I approached him, I saw a small tear run from one of his eyes, and heard a sniffle accompany the tear. That’s when I recognized the impact of what I had just done – that I could do with Derek’s daughter what he could not do; physically play. 

No words were spoke between Derek and I when I sat back down beside him, nothing could really be said.  I had it, and he wanted what I had; physical ability. For me, the moment  was humbling and gratifying – simultaneously.  Humbling that my friend was not fit enough to slide down a slide with his own daughter.  Gratifying, that I was.  How does one reconcile such a moment?  Internally. 

If the story ended there it would be a great example of the value of exercise and living a fit life – a testament to the virtues of discipline in regular exercise and healthy eating. A man cries because he’s unable to play with his own child, but an older man is fit enough for the job.  Hooray, fitness wins!!!

But the story does not end there.  Later that evening, Chelsea and I settled in to our evening routine together – she doing her homework, me exercising in our garage gym.   When I came in from the workout, she asked me why Derek had been crying on the park  bench that afternoon.

Pretentiously, I explained to her that Derek had been saddened by seeing me playing and enjoying moments on the jungle gym with his daughter – something he could not do, though his heart clearly desired to participate.  I told her that seeing this made me sad too, but also made me feel good about my ability to be a participant dad.

Astute to a fault even at the age of 9, Chelsea immediately asked me if I ever cried –  when she’s with Holly and Derek at Baskin Robins or Hometown Buffet, enjoying wonderful treats and the laughter and the moments that go with them,  Moments, she reminded me, that I was never willing to participate in.  She knew that in my heart I wanted to share such moments, but I regularly chose not to participate in them due to my fitness values.

And that is where this story really ends; at the point where I was reminded by a 9-year old that there are two sides to every story – even the story of fitness.  I have not been able to wholly embrace the concept, nor even the term fitness since that moment.

Fitness is my livelihood.  I regularly attempt to make the case that living fit, and eating healthy are important for every man, woman, and child in America.  Still, I reflect on that moment daily – and the moment still haunts me; the day fitness was exposed to me as just another sacrifice in the name of non-sacrifice. It’s been 12 years since Chelsea asked me that question, and I still wonder what fitness is or, if it even is. 

I might die tomorrow.  If I do, what moments will I have missed of sharing ice cream and cake with a side order of smiles?  What flavors and accompanying moments might I have I passed upon, in favor of a cardio-session or a plate of broccoli in the name of living well and looking good?  Like questions of politics, philosophy, and faith, there are no clear answers here.  But there should be some thought, a bit of discourse, some compromise and some understanding – in my case anyway.

In hind-sight I reflect that on that day, Derek had shed tears for his inability to play with his daughter on the jungle gym.  In further exploration, I reflect that I had never shed a tear for my unwillingness to enjoy a cake or a buffet with my daughter.  For that, I am ashamed.  So now tell me, who the fit one is…?  Be well.  rc

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That’s it.  I’m out till next year.  Enjoy the holidays.  It matters much more what you eat between New Years and Thanksgiving, than what you eat between Thanksgiving and New Years.  Peace to you all.

Oh, and there is this little nugget from Puddle Of Mudd.  Enjoy…

28 responses

  1. RC, I love your articles. You have such a knack for seeing both sides of every issue. I love how you see the opportunities for fitness in varying shades of gray; not just in throwing 315 pounds up off your chest during a bench press. You rule. Wanna go to Shoney’s with me?

  2. Well, “we’ve looked fitness from both sides now, from win and lose, and still somehow, it’s fitness’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know fitness, at all.”

    Forgive me, Joni, and Roy.

    Yes, in their innocence, the young can open our eyes to visions we have missed. Just as one day, theirs will be opened as well by those younger. Funny how with clouds, the hardest place to be is inside them, where there is no vision. Below, beside, or on top, they are a sight to behold.

    Thank you as always!

  3. Roy, I saw your comment today & thx for that! You do look awesome! This post today really hit me! As you can guess, I have missed out on some things because of my exercise & wanting to do that. It is so true! We have all the get togethers & out to eat things & I go & enjoy the people & company but I just don’t eat food I don’t want to.. and if I know there will be nothing I will like, I bring my own. Family.friends are so used to this from me! BUT, I do enjoy the time with all. AND, I do enjoy treats when I want them & plan for them & I don’t eat something just because I am there. I may take a bite of one of the kids or grandkids bday cake, I just don’t eat a whole piece.

    But I digress…. I have given up a lot for my fitness, you are right. This post gives me a lot to think about moving forward & just how “lean” I need to be…. I have been thinking about that lately as it keeps getting harder & harder with the women hormones fighting me. I give up a lot already & not really sure I am willing to give up any more than that. Time will tell. I will try to find a way to make it work!

    Thx so much again for visiting me & getting me here to your blog! Amazing post!

  4. VDB: Thank you for the kind words. I will go to Shoney’s with you any day and eat my weight in biscuits and gravy. Or, I can just wait for your seafood boil in June! Yes, I’ll do that.

    Dr J: Spoken like a true pilot. Clouds always amazed me, until I had to navigate within them. Better you than me.

    Jody: Thank you for dropping in, and for the nice words. I have lived my life consumed by physical culture since I was 12 or so, and its all I know. On the day my daughter asked me that question 10 years ago, it occurred to me for the first time that, in the end, we won’t be judged by the size of our jeans, or the shape of our abs. If we are to be judged, it will likely be based on a more complex value set. Sounds like you do moderation pretty well. Much harder for me 🙂

  5. Roy, another great one. Maintaining balance in life is hard work and your thoughts always make it a bit easier to maintain perspective. Example – I just caught my son trying to eat leftover halloween candy for breakfast. If we didn’t have problems with keeping the kids from eating carrots right from the garden, dirt and all, and stealing tomatos off the vine before we can get to them for dinner, I might be worried (or mad). “Put it away and eat an apple and your cereal.” “Ok, dad.” Off to basketball!

  6. Joe: Thanks for taking the time and the comment. Hey, that you even have “leftover Halloween candy” puts you ahead of the game as parents. That your kids eat, not just vegetables, but homegrown ones, NICE! Thanks again.

  7. Thanks Buckaroo 2.0, or is that me? I’m currently struggling that Judy Collins and Shoney’s have been used in the same sentence. A theme for Mancation next year….?

  8. What’s the old saying? “Everything in moderation including moderation.” Great article; can’t wait to have you autograph my copy of your first book when it comes out!

    Doug

    • Doug: Agreed. I’m a big fan of moderation, and practice it as often as I can — even more than that. Thank you, by the way, for offering to underwrite and publish my book. I accept your very generous offer Sir, when do we begin….?

  9. So often we focus on fitness because it is one of our high values and very tangible. Then there are core values, family for example, and the tangible high values get in the way. All I know is that a moderate amount of ice cream or a small piece of cake really isn’t going to kill me. Honestly. 😀

  10. That was amazing and something I never really thought about. I’ve been your friend Derek before – not crying in front of my friends, but sitting on the park bench at 300 pounds silently crying that I couldn’t sit on the swing with my child. I’ve also been you (but less fit of course) watching friends who could not do what they most wanted to do. I too regularly abstain from eating too many sweets and think it can send a good message to people when done from the right perspective.

  11. Thanks for a very thoughtful, heart felt perspective on this topic. That’s a wise statement also..”it matters much more what you eat between New Years and Thanksgiving than Thanksgiving and New Years.” I will remember that! Glad you reposted this as I had no found your blog yet when it was first published. 🙂

    • Thank you Julie. My basic philosophy is this; if you win more battles than you lose — relative to the size of the battle, you should win the war. I think I said this to you last year when we spoke; just try and win the day, knowing that you won’t win every day. It’s all we can do…

  12. Interesting thoughts and comments here. In the end, I doubt your daughter will need therapy one day because you didn’t take her to the endless buffet place. We are all driven by various things. It is a glorious thing to be able to see more than one side of a situation, but I don’t see anything wrong with having restraint to have “just a bite”. So much of our food source today is chemicals, etc. I will never feel bad for educating my kids that meals consisting of high fat, high sugar, etc are passports to a host of diseases hard on the body. When I was at my heaviest I couldn’t even walk my damn dog around the blog without getting breathless….I remain adamant, after losing the weight, that there is no food that tastes better than how it feels to be able to put on my kicks and run 13 miles on any given day. Nothing! well maybe an occasional shot of Don Patron Silver….

    • Again it goes back to moderation. I’m not going to lie Lori, there are times when buffet owners see me coming and cringe. There are times when the box of Cheese-Its should say, Serving size = 1 box — for Roy Cohen that is. And I do enjoy those times and try not to beat myself up for them. But that represents less than 1% of my eating. I think, based on modern grading, I still get an “A”, yes…?

  13. Have to admit. I don’t think I missed very much with son Doug growing up. For example: HE turned me on to coffee at age 50…never had a cup till then. I tried almost everything with him. Tae kwon Do to baseball to computers and him attending my lectures at U of M in Ann Arbor. All I can say now is: I MISS him so much. Maybe after he sews his wild oats, he’ll find more room for me again…he works out most of the time…

  14. Wow – SUCH an unexpected turn…. I was not expecting this twist… Such wonderful thoughts to breathe through… Sacrifice? Loss? Grief? It’s a beautiful reminder of the little choices we have every day. Lots of gray area… Very little black and white…

    • Kris — thank you so much for dropping in. I genuinely appreciate it. If the world were black and white, there would be no need to think. How unfun would that be….? Gray looks good on humanity 🙂

  15. Great blog Roy. I like the comment “everything in moderation…even moderation”. Enjoy every aspect of this
    holiday season! See ya in 2012!

  16. Pingback: Fear & Loathing in Diet&Exercise

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