Josh Magill follows up his brave GMP post; ‘I Am a Man and I Am Fat’ that resonated with readers with this account of how he found the will to kick his ass—and the fat.
Sometimes the only way to accomplish something is through blood, sweat and tears—literally—and the hard work that often comes with such agony. There are many in this world that wouldn’t go so far as to call exercise “agony,” but when you are roughly 80 pounds overweight, that’s just what it is.
Six months ago, I started on a journey to lose that extra 80 pounds of chubby flesh hanging above my belt. I often think of it as a slow walk through Hell, but nevertheless, it is a journey. I was no longer happy with the image I saw in the mirror, an image that scared me each morning, thinking I’d been stung by a wasp that swelled my body beyond how my mind saw it.
The truth is I was lying to myself—lying about how far I had let my body go. I even wrote about my epiphany in an article for the Good Men Project called, I am a Man and I am Fat. I’d been reading the book Heft on Wheels by Mike Magnuson, learning how to kick my own ass when I needed it.
Though he was writing about his own life, I was mad at Magnuson for writing about the failings I was having with my weight and occasional depression so I stopped reading his book less than half-way through. The real truth is I was mad at myself because I hadn’t just let my body go, I’d given my body permission to beat the crap out of me, enlarge every part of my mid-section, add a couple chins, tear away at my insides—I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and my gallbladder stopped working—eat whatever it wanted, and stop exercising all together. I had become exactly what I swore I would never become after seventh grade—grotesque.
During my middle school years I’d become, as some called it, “hefty.” My mother called it “portly,” which is a word I didn’t know because it was a word old people used to call their kids fat, but I knew what hefty meant and I didn’t like it. I was embarrassed about how I’d become so “full,” stretched to the limits of my skin, and my fellow classmates were certainly not above reminding me of my exploding self.
Seventh grade was brutal, as every opportunity was found to tease me about my weight, which was intensified by growing up in the Deep South where the thick humidity made me sweat like a leaky spigot. I was nicknamed “Greasy” by my classmates, but when the pimples began showing on my face—like a minefield in Vietnam—my sister dubbed me “Pizza Face.” For me, it all led back to being “portly,” because if I wasn’t carrying around extra weight like a twin that had never fully formed and separated, then I wouldn’t be so sweaty—greasy—and therefore, I wouldn’t have so many zits.
So it was after that vicious year that I decided I’d had enough. I began playing basketball every day, began riding my BMX bike every day, started jumping on the trampoline in our back yard every day, and I started to see some results. Interestingly, you can see the change in my differing school pictures between seventh and eighth grade. Dramatic.
Entering high school, I was determined to become even thinner, but more so to be considered athletic and in shape. I tried out for the baseball team, but was cut because I couldn’t catch a ground ball, even if it meant saving my own life. The coach, after seeing me run the mile during try-outs, sent me to the track team where I earned a spot on the long-distance squad. I ran the mile and the two-mile events for the Pepperell High School Dragons, but quickly found running is not for everyone. It is a sport for the mentally tough, the physically fit, and those who know how to pace themselves. But I didn’t quit.
As a sophomore, I joined the wrestling team, but quickly broke my hand, never to return to the mat. In my junior year, my track coach talked me into also trying the cross country team. During competitions we ran 3.1 miles, but during practice the distances would double or triple, running six-10 miles each day of the week—the increasing pain in my legs begging me to stop, but I didn’t—even though the agony cutting my gut sent tears down my face to blend with the sweat.
I didn’t want to quit, because I wanted to be fit, to not be the hefty kid I once was. Everything hurt, but I would always run another mile, the taste of vomit hanging in the back of my throat and I knew that if I stopped the taste would move forward, evacuating itself from my body, so I keep going. I was happy; I was no longer embarrassed with myself or the way I looked.
Near the end of a long running distance, my mind would sometimes wander like an out-of-body experience at Death’s door. I could no longer concentrate on the goal as my thoughts tried to escape the sting of each hammering step. I remember now, that it is just before your spirit leaves your body that you hear the voice, the encouragement from your coach to “push through the pain” on to victory, and you know that if you do so victory will be yours, no matter how you finish. You have been taught by your coach that “victory is in finishing.”
Now, 25 years after I staved off the flood of fat cells hoping to eat away at my insides, I’m here again, eager to change the way my body looks, desperate to end the embarrassment I feel underneath the XXL T-shirts I wear. I have new inspirations—coaches, if you will—that are guiding and supporting me back to a healthy lifestyle, back to that comfortable place I once was after seventh grade.
Two years away from 40, it hurts too much to run anymore. I bought a road bike and took up cycling, hoping to soon ride in a tour across my new home state of Colorado, but another part of me did it because I admire the change Mike Magnuson made in his life and I’m hoping to do the same. So why not do it with cycling?
I also went back to Magnuson’s book and finished it. I’m glad I did. In doing so I found myself. I found the 12-year-old kid that changed his lifestyle, the kid that changed his way of seeing the world, knowing he could do whatever he wanted with a little blood, sweat and tears—literally. In the final chapters of Heft on Wheels, Magnuson writes: “Keep at it. You will never make it if you quit trying. You must accept who you are, that there is no best person, only people who are doing the best they can. It’s not winning that matters, it’s the motivation to continue improving. Find joy in this and never give up hope.”
Yes, I get it. I’m still fat (or portly, my mother would say), but after six months of this journey I’m once again succeeding. I’ve lost some 35 pounds over the last six months, but also gained some of those pounds back, then lost them again, which is okay.
After writing my last article about this never-ending journey, an anonymous comment read: “You’ve started the journey, my friend. There will be ups and downs, expect them, accept them. You will have bad weeks and maybe bad months, that’s the way life comes at you, just keep picking yourself up and keep kicking your ass.”
I’d like to think I know the supporter behind this comment. He simply signed it “M.”
Image Credit: Tobyotter/Flickr