Where To Let Them Age…

With coffee at my side and my dog on my lap this morning, I lightly run my hand over his graying head. I tell him that I love him and assure him that he’s safe in my home. This is the most important part of my morning routine. If there’s going to be any peace in my day, then holding my dog and reassuring him is the down payment for that peace.

At 13, I accept that he probably has just a few years left with me, so I do my best to make each day for him count and to ensure his comfort and safety.

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My house is not a veterinary hospital nor a kennel. I don’t have all the medicines at my disposal which he might need for the illnesses that come with age. I don’t have any technicians or assistants on staff checking on him throughout the day. In an emergency, I would have to get him to a hospital as quickly as possible. Despite this absence of medication, trained help, and facilities, nobody tells me that as he ages he should be living in a veterinary hospital or in a kennel.

People accept that this is his home, and that despite me not being set up with as a pet care facility, this is where he belongs. Still, rarely a week goes by that a well-intended client or friend doesn’t suggest that my mother might be better off in assisted-living.

On one hand, that may not be a fair comparison. As people age, their need for care can be more complex and more far-reaching and that of an aging pet.

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On a more visceral level though, I have to question why it is so easy to put older human beings in care facilities, yet this is never done with our pets. Is it strictly a matter of health, hygiene, or safety…? Or is it a matter of convenience…?

The answer to that, of course, is probably somewhere in the middle.

Though it’s true that my mother might be better off with trained professionals in her proximity in case of emergency, a little red knob she can push if she needs help, or a cafeteria, none of those people or facilities will hold her hand each day and thank her for all that she’s done. Nobody will be there to tell her that they love her and actually mean it.

She might be in a safe room, but she wouldn’t be in a home. From that perspective, I see a little difference between taking an aging pet and putting him in a cage 3 miles from here, and doing the same thing with my mother, despite that the cage might have a sofa, a TV, and bingo on Tuesday nights.

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What I am willing to do for my dog, at the very least, I should be willing to do for my mother, including putting a pill in a piece of cheese and throwing it quickly to the back of her throat, and rubbing her neck to ensure it goes down. That’s a joke, kind of…  Jhciacb

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Unfinished Business…

I think that most aging athletes are little balls of unfinished business. I am, anyway. I always feel like there’s a little more to be done — that there is no endpoint. Death, perhaps.

I stepped into the weight room for the first time nearly 43 years ago. Although there have been some workouts skipped, a few weeks taken off here and there to rest, and a couple years missed after s skydiving accident in 1993 when I could not work out at all, I have stepped into the weight room nearly 13,500 times.

Do anything 13,500 times, and you’re bound to struggle with motivation on occasion. I’m going through a very unmotivated phase these days. I’ve been unmotivated before, so I know it will pass, but this one seems to be lingering — to the point where it has me questioning why I am still doing this after 43 years…? It takes less than a minute each evening, as I step into my weight room, for the lyrics of the Eagles song, After The Thrill Is Gone, to start doing gymnastics in my head…

“You don’t like winning, but you don’t want to lose, after the thrill is gone…”

As recently as August, I was enjoying a motivated uptick with my training. I had been training hard, and messing with my diet too. My physique was filling out a little bit, and I had been getting a little leaner. Though I had no aspirations to step on a bodybuilding stage anytime soon, I always feel like I’m six weeks away from being in the best shape of my life. And in the summer of 2017, I felt like I was approaching the best shape of my life, yet again.

Then, on August 2nd, I came off my bike at nearly 25 mph. I suffered one small fracture in my upper left temple, another one on my left jaw, and the third one on my left collarbone. Despite these, I only missed a half-dozen or so workouts, and I was on my bike again within a week. But the workouts were more stressful than meditative, due to the negotiations between any kind of movement at all, and the pain in my collarbone.

The wave of momentum I was riding prior to my accident disappeared beneath my feet. I haven’t seen it since. Though I have stepped into the weight room approximately 120 times since my accident in August, my workouts have been less than inspired. I don’t like winning, but I don’t want to lose…

My eating…? I feel more like the late comedian, John Pinette, than an athlete making a personal comeback. Still, I keep stepping back into the weight room at night, and getting on my bike each morning, for that feeling of unfinished business…

Certain things you retire from, recreational bodybuilding — fitness, whatever you want to call it, has no end point. So long as I am living, it will be a work in progress – – unfinished business.

So I will ride out this wave of unmotivation, in hopes I get my mojo back. Motivation lacks, but I have unfinished business. Same dances in them same old shoes… Jhciacb

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The Me I once was, Once Again, Maybe…

Last night I stepped into my weight room with all the fire of a teenage boy.  I approached my workout with wide eyes and wonder.  Energy was high and possibilities were endless. The consistency of both my eating and training over the past few weeks helped me to see edges and curves in my frame that have been hiding recently due to the stresses and time constraints of higher priorities.

Rather than stick to my usual workout soundtrack of books on religion and philosophy while I trained, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass filled the room.  It was a measured, but serious 60-minute session of gravity management – a golden moment at the end of a challenging week.  I was completely dialed in to the moment.

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Throughout the workout though, as always, the cynicism of an old man was trying to douse that fire.  It was another epic battle between the me I once was, the me that I am, and the me I wish to be.  The me I wish to be, by the way, has always been the me I once was, only better.  Funny how that works.

Cynicism is like witchcraft in the wind.  It finds its way through the smallest of cracks.  Youthful ambitions be dammed, they are as porous as a picket fence.  In-between sets and exercises, I chuckled at the ridiculousness of it all – of the very act of lifting weights, and condemned myself repeatedly for my childish play.

How foolish this all is, I thought.  One hour at a time, 6 days per week and over a 43-year period in the gym, I could have earned a dozen college degrees with that time.  I could have done amazing work on behalf of the poor.   I could have volunteered in my community.  I could have.  I could have.  I could have.  Always bubbling under the surface when I am working out, are those thoughts of what else I could be doing with that time and energy.

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I reflected though, if only for a moment.  I do volunteer in my community, though I could do more.  I do give to the poor, though I could give more.  And through all the hundreds of books I have listened to during my workouts through the years, I have cultivated and customized an intelligence that no college program could have offered me.

In that moment – at least for that moment, I got good with my passion for iron, though I know I will question it again before day’s end.

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Spot me, Bro…?

Last night I stepped into my weight room with all the fire of a teenage boy.  I walked out with all the fire of a teenage man.  And perhaps that is another evolutionary step in becoming the me I once was once again, but only better this time…  Jhciacb

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Landmines And Moments…

On Landmines…

My mother, in her late 80s, has lived with me for just over a year.  Though she’s largely independent, she requires some regular assistance.  Most of that, comes from me.  It’s no secret that being a caregiver for an aging parent presents many challenges.  Each day can be like a walk across a minefield.  I know they’re there.  I have no choice but to step forward.  I know I’ll hit one eventually.  I just never know when or where they will be.

The good news is, that stepping on one of mom’s landmines won’t harm me physically.  They will though, concuss my emotions and tend to blow me far off course from whatever I might be involved with at a given moment.  From my work, to my leisure, to my good moods and even the act of me trying to assist my mom herself, I am thrown to the other side of the day, a half-dozen times per day.  It’s hard to live like this, and still enjoy a day to its core as I have always attempted to do.  I try to be my childish self most of the time, but a more serious tenor underlies any good mood or any good day.

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Landmines in this instance, can range from the dropping of dishes, to forgetting medical appointments, abrupt mood swings or the failure to understand a simple question or statement.  A landmine can also be that paralyzing feeling I get when I see her watching TV with the volume completely off and a blank stare on her face.  This can last for an hour.  One recent landmine involved me smelling something funny, subsequently opening the oven and seeing a plastic dish melting away inside.

One landmine comes with regularity – her awakening each morning, usually between 5:30am and 6:00am.  The sound of her bedroom door opening sends a shudder through me.  She raises her hand, offers a weak wave as she ambles her way to the bathroom, her trembling voice whispering “good morning”.   I say good morning back, but with the knowledge that my early morning quiet time has come to an end.  This is the calling to order of all other landmines for the day.

That Which Ails Her…

My mother lives with two conditions which are the sole sources of her landmines.  The first being dementia, which has only recently manifest, but is on the increase.  The landmines of dementia aren’t terribly concerning.  They can throw me off course, but the recovery is usually quick and without incident.

The second condition she lives with is acute paranoia.  The paranoia can go dormant for days or weeks, but when it arises, the landmines are caustic.

A friend once told me…

“Dementia isn’t losing your car keys.  It’s finding them, and not knowing what they do…”

I have found that to be a useful metaphor.

Paranoia on the other hand, isn’t forgetting something that actually happened or what the function of an object is.  Paranoia is remembering things that never happened at all.  Most of these false memories involve blaming bad things that never happened on good people who truly exist.  I try hard to remind myself that no matter how ridiculous her paranoia seems at a given moment, these things that she is remembering – these things which never happened, are very real to her.

The latest example:  A live-in helper that I brought into our house has been either drugging or poisoning my mother for weeks, and systematically stealing everything from jewelry to cheap Corelle Ware.  Of course, the helper isn’t really doing this, but with mom believing she is, I go along with it.  The helper understands the situation and has been very gracious in dealing with it.  Still, the helper will be moving out next week.

Funny Bone…

Whether it’s been dementia or paranoia chipping away at our days, I have depended on humor as my primary shield of protection.  Mom has daily concerns about many potential threats, but the ones she mentions most often are rattlesnakes and the would-be killers in our neighborhood.   When we go to bed at night, she reminds me to lock my door…

I tease her, “How else will the killers and the snakes get in…?”

“Oh Roy…!”

She also worries excessively about the dog…

“Have you seen Stroodle…?” is a question she asks 8-10 times per day.

“Shit!  I left him out front.  If the snakes don’t get him, the killers surely will…!”

Again, “Oh Roy…!”

There is no using logic when confronted with dementia or paranoia.  There is simply the demonstration of false agreement in the attempt to lessen the impact.  What I lack in patience, I hope to make up for with humor.  Each evening before she retires, I always check her bedroom for rattlesnakes and killers.

“All clear, Mom!”

“Oh Roy…!”

The Real Me…

Here’s a truth I’m not always up front about; I’m less a mensch than I make myself out to be.  I can get resentful about all of this, and turn a cold shoulder just as quickly.  Not deep down, but definitely on the surface.  The surface though, is where I live most of my life.  I piss and I moan about too much of this, too much of the time to my inner circle.  I get angry, short-tempered and I let it get to me more than I should.  I am trying to improve.  The stakes are higher these days, and my use of humor may be coming to an end.

Yesterday, mom confronted me about our helper steeling another dish.  Mom witnessed her taking it to her car.  I suggested that as punishment, I’d get the helper alone and choke her to death to teach her a lesson.  “Oh Roy” never happened.  Instead my mom burst into tears insisting that she isn’t crazy.  I held her hand, kissed her forehead and assured her I would find a new helper.  In time, her tears will be forgotten, only by her though, not by me.

Moments…

I have rearranged much of my life to help guide and protect my mother during this transitional time.  I am honored and proud to do this, but that is the deep-down Roy.  Again, the surface Roy is a little resentful a lot of the time.  Everyone says that’s okay, that frustration and resentment are part of the process and should be expected.  It’s not okay with me, but I still can’t seem to shake it.

For every landmine, there is a moment.  Moments are those times when mom still laughs.  Moments are when she speaks lucidly about her childhood and does so with detail.  Moments are when I hug her, tease her, hold the door for her like a gentleman.   Moments are when I treat her to dinner at local café and take her for an evening drive when we’re done.  Moments are subtle – they are the opposite of landmines.  Of course, I hope that as I inch closer to my own senility, I will remember the moments with mom more than the landmines, though all things being equal, I’m sure to remember both – until I can no longer remember at all.

One can only write so many negative things about their mother without sounding like a horrible person, so I pared this down to protect her innocence and my own reputation.  Of course, I love my mother and am grateful to have this opportunity to help care for her.  And no, I don’t really think I am a horrible person for writing this.  For sharing it…?  That’s another story…  Jhciacb

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A Mensch Buys Karma…

“You can’t buy karma” a friend recently told me.

Buy it…?  I replied, hell, I’m investing heavily in it!  Perhaps…

I probably come across, at least in the social media sphere, as a bit of a mensch.  Of course, I like that identity, but it’s not the whole story.

A year ago, I invited my mother to live with me.  This would be a win/win scenario.  I would be proximate to her and able to assist her with increasing needs as she ages.  In return, she would be able to clean up after me, do my dishes, cook, and split the utilities.  I win – again and again, hence, win/win.

And I do look out for her.  I make her coffee each morning, and bring the paper to her in bed.  I take her to Walmart, on the occasional casino trip, and I accompany her to all medical appointments.  When called upon, I do the heavy lifting around the house, and any carrying she requires. So, mensch!

But that’s not the whole story…

Yesterday, as I grew frustrated with a question she asked repeatedly, I threatened to shove a tennis ball in her mouth and wrap her head in duct tape if she spoke so much as another word.  I’m not sure the people behind us in the checkout line took this seriously, but when mom rolled her eyes and threated to beat my butt, I think they understood my threat was one of endearment.

That’s become my persona with her.  Whenever mom says something asinine, which might be every hour or so, I point my finger toward her nose and say something like…

…I’ve got two words for you, woman:  Nursing Home!

She always responds with, “I’ll beat your butt!”  or the more resolute, “I’m the parent here!!!as she stares me down.

I joke with my mom quite a bit like this – too much, I’m sure.  On a deeper level I know this bothers her, and in some ways, might even hurt her, but I keep doing it.  It’s how I cope with the frustrations of helping someone who is aging, forgetful, and doesn’t process as quickly as she once did.  She isn’t ready to let go the control of her life – or even loosen up the grip a bit, and I don’t blame her.

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Despite the often sharp and serrated edges that can accompany my sarcasm and humor, I appreciate that she acknowledges and puts up with my frustrations.  Viscerally, I know that she recognizes that the real love is in the bringing of the coffee, the doctor’s visits, and the trips to Walmart when I would rather be hiking.

This isn’t always easy for either one of us, but at the end of the day there’s a lot of love in the house, and that’s good enough for me.

“You can’t buy karma” a friend recently told me.

Maybe not.  Perhaps the best we can hope to do is to purchase good field position…  Jhciacb

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Dignity Etched…

I often see things on social media which suggest to me that, even as I watch my mother age, as I also age, I’ll remember her more as she was when she was young.  Or at the very least, I’ll remember her as she was when I was young.  Though when I consider this, after having had my mother living with me for nearly a year, I’ll suggest they are optimistic reminders of a reality which won’t exist.  I’ve mostly forgotten the mother of my youth.

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As she continues to age, and as her physical and cognitive abilities lessen, the images in my head of my mother in her youth fade more each year, giving way to the more indelible imprints of my mother as she is today.  This is not a bad thing.  Five years from now, 10 years from now, or even 20, I’m sure I won’t want to think too much or remember too well the mother of my youth, but I will be grateful to remember my mother of today.

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When I think of her then, as she was when I was young, compared to how I see her now, there is an absence of much.  True, the mother of my youth could hike, swim, stay up late, and prepare a holiday feast for 12 in less than 3 hours, but there was yet to be the earned dignity which now defines her.

Today, as her steps become shaky, as her voice quivers, and as her hands resemble road maps with stains on them, the wisdom, the experience, and survivalism that come with these, add up to a dignity which I do want to remember her with.

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This is a good reminder to me that, as bright and capable as I feel I am today, I have yet to pay my real dues.  The dues I speak of are not the dues of career, of parenthood, or of middle-age responsibilities.  The dues my mother has paid – those she continues to pay, are the most important dues of all.  These are the dues of having it all, and of having it all slowly slip away, yet waking up each day to live a little more despite the inevitable decline of all things material, all things physical, and many things cognitive.

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I am grateful that I will remember my mother as person who falls asleep watching Jeopardy, who heats up a Stouffer’s creamed corn casserole for dinner rather than attempt to make one from scratch, who often calls me by my brother’s name, and who asks me the same damned questions again and again – all day long.

This person – this mother of mine now, is the mother that reminds me daily that I will be more like her in the not-too distant future, than the me I am today.  This mother, not the mother of my youth, is the woman who reminds me that it’s a fool’s task to believe in or even pursue perpetual youth, and that dignity comes only from letting go of youth, and letting go of all those things that, as time proves to us all, never mattered that much to begin with.  Be well…  rc

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The Goal Of Absence…

The Ghost Goals…

A 450 lb. deadlift.

A sub 7-minute mile.

A complete marathon.

A bodybuilding competition.

Swim 50 meters underwater on a single breath.

A reverse 1 ½ half dive with a full twist in the layout position from a 3-meter springboard.

These are some of the athletic feats which have fallen into the goals category at some point in my life.  I am glad that I was able to do all of these at some point in my life, even if I can’t do any of them today.  Though I am not training or preparing for a specific athletic competition or endeavor these days, I still workout consistently and with one goal above all others.

Med Head…

When my father died of complications from Parkinson’s disease over two years ago he was taking 19 medications on a regular basis – NINETEEN MEDICATIONS.  To be fair, some of those medications were useful in staving off the symptoms of his Parkinson’s, and served to enhance his quality of life.  Others though, were prescribed to offset the unwanted effects of his primary medications.

At the time he passed my father also had a neurologist, a cardiologist, a nephrologist, a urologist, a general practitioner, and I believe one or two other physicians whom he saw on a regular basis.  I won’t suggest whether or not any of them had a personal interest in my father’s wellbeing or whether he was just a number or a daily appointment each of them.  For the last two years of his life, my father saw some combination of these physicians weekly.

I do know this; each of those physicians prescribed at least one medication to help my father deal with his Parkinson’s and its related effects as they manifested within each of those physician’s specialty.  Or, they prescribed medications to help offset the unwanted effects of medications which were prescribed by the other physicians.  I call this the cascade of fragility; the more medications my father was on, the more fragile he became over time.

What my father's medicine cabinet might have looked like...

What my father’s medicine cabinet might have looked like…

Being close to the situation I can say definitively that these physicians did not talk to one another, and that often one medication prescribed would conflict with one of the others.  Though it might have been his GP’s job to manage this process, it seems he was not that effective with this responsibility.

How many doctors talk to each other...

How many doctors talk to each other…

Because my father was on so many medications at one time, it’s hard to say whether any of them were truly beneficial or counterproductive.  In his mind though, they were simply his best chance to win each day.

Goal Revision…

The oldest client I have worked with was 92.  Though he relocated to the desert several years ago, at the time we parted ways he was on no medications, none.  My oldest client today is 90, and she takes only one medication regularly and it is benign.

There is plenty of data correlating regular exercise with a lesser need for medications as we age, despite what ailments, diseases, and symptoms we encounter.  Regular exercise is a medication in itself.  We know the benefits of regular exercise are vast, yet they go widely underappreciated, under used by a majority people, and under prescribed by physicians.   Statistically speaking, most Americans get little or no deliberate exercise.

What I hope my medicine cabinet looks like when I'm 90...

What I hope my medicine cabinet looks like when I’m 90…

While I train weekly for strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, and even to look good, as I get older those are not my primary goals.  My longest term goal is that when I do die, all that can be found in my medicine cabinet are razors, cotton swabs, and Crest For Kids – stuff tastes just like bubble gum.  Be well…  rc

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The Limits Of Power…

This is Part I of a 3-part series on how I have perceived, worked within, and beyond the limits of power with the human body...

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The Limits Of Power…

I have understood for a long time, in ways I believe many around me fail to understand, that the human body will only get so strong.  I have also believed that for most, the human body should only get so strong. 

It’s always been my belief that we have a social responsibility to be physically strong on behalf of those who may need us; family, friends, members of our community.  Not bench press strong, but help a wife move the sofa strong.  I feel the responsibility of strength extends that we maintain ourselves so we won’t need to depend on the strength of others.  In this era, that kind of strength is often cultivated through exercise.

That said, the utility of exercising to increase physical strength has a tipping point that, when it’s exceeded, utility can give way to diminished returns in other areas of one’s life.  Those who reach high levels of physical strength have likely sacrificed in other areas of their life in order to do so.  Peripheral physicality can give way when excess strength is pursued, as can personal, social, and business relationships.  That’s just my opinion, but I believe it has teeth.

However, the human body is capable of advancing in strength, and within reasonable bounds, at nearly any age, and without peripheral damage to the musculoskeletal structure, or to one’s social relationships.  Despite attempts to advance physical strength by millions of people each day, even the middle limits of individual power are generally never met.  

So how much is enough, how much is too much, and how does one find strength in the gym that translates outside the gym…?   In these next three essays I will share my thoughts on this…

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Fred Ain’t Dead…

Fred is 68 years old.  He is an engineer by education, and tree grower by trade.  Fred is active, plays senior softball each week, hikes regularly, backpacks, and spends a fair amount of time daily tending to his trees, and his property.

Fred began working out with me several years ago in hopes that regular strength training would support his softball, and help him stay injury free.  For the first couple of years together, my emphasis with Fred was on the mindful conditioning of the areas which are most vulnerable in softball; Achilles tendons, hamstrings, low back, and shoulder movement.

Last year as I assessed Fred’s progress, I began to slowly increase the poundages he uses in his workouts.  The arcs of those increases are still on the rise.  He is now deadlifting 50 pounds more than this time last year.  His bench press is up about 30%.  His balance and agility are off the charts for being 68 years old, and his form in all of his movements is exceptional, and safe. 

What makes this progress significant though, is that each week he feels he’s playing softball as well as the week prior, and often better.  He’s remained mostly injury free.  When he has experienced a strain during a game, it’s always minimal, and gone within several days.  As Fred recalls his play from 3 years ago, it was anemic compared to his level of play after three years of strength training. 

Oh, and Fred strength trains just one day per week – just one.  As such, he’s not sacrificing too much in the form of unnecessary wear and tear on his body, nor is he taking excessive time away from his business or his family.  He’s making progress, without even approaching the tipping point of excess sacrifice from his body or his life.

Throwing In The Towel – Sort Of…

For years I have battled a duality within me, of how I perceive and pursue physical strength.  On one hand, there is the person who wishes to age gracefully, and function well right up to the point of my final breath.  On the other hand is the person who wants to perform, function, and look at the highest possible level – right now, today. 

In my mid-40s I began to reconcile this conflict with several of compromises.  Chief among those compromises was that I would continue to practice my brand of strength training, only do so with an increased emphasis on functionality, and a lesser emphasis on poundages used and aesthetics.  In theory, this was a means of preserving the longevity of the practice with only minimal sacrifice in performances and looks.

I made the decision that I would no longer attempt to increase my strength on any exercise.  My emphasis would be on consistency, and proper form.  I justified that so long as I maintained my existing level of strength, I would still be making progress inasmuch as I would still be on the clock of aging.  Through my mid-to-late 40s, this became my protocol. 

What I had theorized was ultimately fulfilled.  My muscle mass suffered some, my body fat increased some, but for a guy in his late 40s, I was looking, and functioning well, with less overall sacrifice, and I enjoyed my workouts.

Mid-Life Crisis 2.0…

Shortly after I turned 50 I began training several serious bodybuilders for the first time in a decade.  As I took inventory their progress, I began to yearn for progress of my own once again.  Shit.  Despite my concerns for aging well, and avoiding that tipping point where excessive strength and muscle work against utility, as well as the biological limitations of my aging physiology, 18 months ago I set into action a plan to regain the peak bodybuilding condition of my early 40s.  I’m now in my early 50s.

Leg Press:  Every weight in the house.  Proper form.  Full range of motion.  Not joint pain.

Leg Press: Every weight in the house. Proper form. Full range of motion. No joint pain.

In the past 18 months or so I have become stronger in most every strength movement than I have ever been – ever.  On most movements in the weight room, I’m using weights previously unused, with form as good as it’s ever been, and no residual pains, aches, or injuries.

Okay, so the faces ain’t pretty but the form is.  I could not have approached this weight in this form 12 years ago. 

I’m not suggesting that pursuing muscular gains like this, at this age is correct or even beneficial.  In truth, it’s both good, and bad.  I don’t expect to be hoisting these poundages, or sporting this mass 10 years from now.  I’m truly good with that.  If I’m being fully honest, there is less joy in hunting for gains than there is in pursuing utility from exercise.  I am though, committed to making meat while the sun still shines, knowing full well that the sun will begin to set at some point, and the arc of my recent progress will rescind.    

Be it by designer, or by Designer, we are designed to age and break down.  Believing we can avoid this is foolish.   However, within that design plan there exists some wiggle room – even for card carrying AARP folks like Fred, and me.  It is possible to make gains in physical strength which translate to enhanced physicality outside of the gym – at any age.  How far we take this, and what we sacrifice to achieve it, is open to discussion.  Does anybody remember discussion…?  Be well.  rc 

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see how I explore the negative side of me using heavier poundages than ever, and how I plan to scale down – yet again.  Oh, and there’s this from Jeff Beck And The Big Town Playboys.  Enjoy…

Words can’t express…

Two month’s notice…

That day finally showed up last Thursday.  The day I knew had been coming for several months now, but hoped never would.  George, a client of many years, and a friend for precisely as long, explained that he would be leaving Fallbrook in mid-January, and relocating to a senior living community in Orange County.  George is 74, and lives with Parkinson’s disease.

On George…

George stepped into my studio for the first time years ago.  He was in his 60s, and was scarcely into his retirement from his career as an executive with an energy company.  George wanted to begin a fitness regimen to augment his twice per week golf schedule.  George also wanted to lose a few pounds around his waist, and improve his overall shape.  If functional strength training might help his golf game, peripheral weight loss would be a cherry on top.

George was focused with his workouts, and made progress quickly.  His balance improved.  His flexibility improved.  His endurance improved.  His strength improved – to a point where he could leg press several hundred pounds, and do so safely in proper form.  His golf even improved.  He even dropped a few pounds through the years here and there, occasionally joking that Nabisco wasn’t going to get anymore of his money.

Though our workouts have always been results focused, conversations of life, politics, family, and sports are always present within the fiber of our exercise sessions.  In fact, those conversations have been at the heart of this friendship.  My conversations with George, even when of a serious nature, always had a positive tone.  Nobody ever asked us to, but if challenged, George and I are prepared to save the world.

Witchcraft in the wind…

Maybe 5 years ago, George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The pragmatic engineer in him accepted that affliction with no resistance. He approached it with a resolve to wake up each day, and address Parkinson’s in the best way he could; stoically, and with a strong faith in western medicine.  Though there is no cure for Parkinson’s at this time, his neurologist has excelled at helping George use medications to treat his symptoms.  George’s wife, Judy, has been a supreme support system.  He often refers to her as, The Project Manager.

In the years since his diagnosis, George’s physicality has suffered some, but not disappeared entirely.  This is partially due to the disease itself, and partially due to the medications he uses to offset Parkinson’s.  He still plays golf twice weekly, continues to exercise regularly, mows weeds, and periodically hunts for gophers, and squirrels on his property.   His attitude and acceptance of the cards life has dealt him have been exceptional.  We should all be so graceful under these circumstances.

A couple of years back he entered my studio one day, and I asked him how his golf outing went the day prior.  This was his response:

“It was great!”

He continued,

“I didn’t play too well, but the turkey sandwich was excellent, and my friends and I laughed a lot.”

I was as humbled by his attitude, as I was by the sincere smile on his face as he spoke.  George and I often talk about how fortunate we both are, to the point of silliness, both grateful that we each seem to have won the lottery of birth.

The inevitable…

George no longer leg presses several hundred pounds.  Most of George’s workouts take place with a broom stick for resistance, and some 3 and 5 pound weights in his weathered hands.  We work largely on balance, and with a secondary goal to minimize muscle wasting.  He still gets pissed off when he misses a step on one particular balance exercise we do.  He rests more during the sessions these days, and the conversation extends more as the exercise have been scaled back, but the time is still useful for us both – for us both.

There is no way to quantify how George’s functional strength workouts have helped offset his fight with Parkinson’s, or whether they have made a difference at all.  The exercises themselves are quantifiable, but there are many variables involved with determining success; aging, medications, sleep, nutrition, etc. We both just agree, as does his neurologist, that he just keep moving.  I have seen no data source which suggests people with Parkinson’s avoid exercise.

George, and I last week.  George is the one wearing eye glasses...

George, and I last week. George is the one wearing eye glasses…

Of functionality, and fulfillment…

At a time when I struggle walking the line between the utility of functional exercise and the personal fulfillment of more intense exercise, George’s presence in my life has been a grounding factor.  If I don’t hit a PR in the deadlift, I’m good with it.  If i have trouble walking up stairs, I take notice.

George has paid me well for my time and resources through the years.  As time has gone on, I ruminate more and more over all I have learned from George – about how to address aging, disease, and the perspective he applies to both.  I have wondered increasingly, who should have been paying who all these years.

Passing of the torch…

The community George will be living has an onsite exercise facility, and a trainer to help facilitate exercise for the residents.  He and I calculated that he would have roughly 20 training sessions left, and we both want to maximize them.  I offered to capture some of our upcoming workouts onto video to share with his new trainer, and George agreed this was a good idea. This will not be about instructing the new trainer on how to work with George.  Rather, this will be done so the trainer can more easily assess George’s limitations, and abilities.

I have great faith that the trainers there will help George continue on his path of most resistance.  I can only hope they will appreciate his good nature, intellect, and wit, and warmth.  I have worked with many clients of varying ages, and for varying reasons through the years – hundreds.  It is an honor that George is the first person I induct into the Contemplative Fitness hall of fame.

Footnote…

My own father lived with Parkinson’s disease.  He also died with it.  Thoughts of the physical deterioration associated with this affliction resonate with me daily.  Though the data is incomplete as to whether or not there is a genetic lineage, I somewhat expect it at some point.   We’re not much for curing great diseases in recent years.  Maybe we’re not supposed to.  Perhaps the best we can do is to take care of ourselves well enough that we avoid disease, in hopes research will help us treat the symptoms as best we can should we ever become afflicted.

I have been writing this blog for many years now.  I have done so strictly as a hobby.  I have never asked that it be supported by donations, nor have I sought sponsorship.  I ask today, one time only, if you have found value in reading this essay, please make even a small donation to the Davis Phinney Foundation, or a similar organization.  Thank you, and be well…  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this by The Kingston Trio.  Enjoy…