It was a defining moment.
I was 31. I had lost 125 pounds. I had been bicycling every day for three months. I was on top of the world.
Then it happened. I was going up a fairly moderate climb in the Loomis Basin on my racing bicycle complete with cleats and bicycling gear. Then I heard the noise. Someone was behind me. I tried to pick up the pace. He was still gaining. Then he passed me. It was a guy who looked as if he were about 50 pounds overweight and about 20 years my senior. Worse yet, he was on a mountain bike and was wearing tennis shoes. The guy kept pulling ahead.
He was some 30 years ahead of me when he made it to the crest. He dismounted, leaned over the top bracket of the bike, and fished something out of his pocket. As I neared the top he stood up. As I got about 10 feet from the top I noticed something else. The object he had pulled out from his pocket was a cigarette and he was smoking it.
My initial response when a guy was passing me on a mountain bike that was a lot older and overweight was embarrassment. Then after seeing him standing on the top of the hill smoking it was astonishment.
It was the first time I realized that I shouldn’t judge myself against others when it came to exercising.
Jogging is something I didn’t take up until about 16 years ago. I hated the concept primarily because there seemed to be too many competitive people out there. You know the types. They can’t resist turning any exercise into a competition to prove they’re better.
I had been jogging for about three years going from three to eight miles at a stretch when I had what you might call an unfortunate run-in. It was with a Manteca physician who was into running big time. He came up behind me when I was crossing the Cottage Avenue bridge. He pulled alongside me and started a conversation.
I do not like running and talking with other people. He asked me where I was jogging and I told him down Cottage to Lathrop Road, down Austin and back down Louise Avenue. Before he turned left on Louise, he told me that I could move faster but that everyone had to start sometime.
I resisted the temptation to trip him and relished the thought of inviting him to an aerobic class and burying him in the first 20 minutes.
I swore to myself at that moment that I’d never make a tactless remark like that to anyone else. The idea should be to encourage other people to pursue healthy options and not put them down indirectly to build yourself up.
That brings me to a group exercise class a few years back. I had gone to an evening class. Usually I hit the early morning aerobic classes.
The instructor— who no longer teaches — did not like the idea that I wasn’t doing things exactly her way. I did the same movements but I did them with a bit more intensity. She actually stopped the class and told me to do it her way because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was going to hurt myself.
With a smile on my face, I informed her I had been doing aerobics at that point for 17 years, sometimes six times a week, and had even taken 90-minute high-impact aerobic Jazzercise classes without hurting myself. Then I asked her whether she wanted to continue the class because I was going to do high impact movements because if not I couldn’t get a work out.
After the class, one of the ladies came up and thanked me. Apparently the instructor made it a point to tell students they had to do it exactly her way or else she would ridicule them.
These three encounters underscore one important thing that everyone who is starting an exercise program in a bid to improve the quality of their life needs to remember — ignore everyone else. What you are embarking on is about you and you alone. If someone has to pass judgment on your level of effort, skill or pace to make themselves feel better they’re the ones with the problem, not you.