A cautionary tale about passion and youth

It's amazing what one can find stored away on an old thumb drive that was used to archive files from an old computer.  All I really needed was something to take some files from work to a local Staples so I could print needed documents in colour.  I grabbed the first thumb drive I could find in my desk at home and when I looked at the files saved on it, I was pretty surprised.  Some of the files on it were over 10 years old.

As I looked back at the contents of this digital time capsule of my life, I realized that my memories of the past  have begun to glaze over details, romanticizing some and taking the rough edges off of others.  In addition to old pictures and videos of myself, I also found some scanned pictures taken in the era of film loaded cameras in the days before the internet.  Seeing these pictures and videos were a welcome reality check as I near the end of my 5th year of recovery from obesity.

In today's age of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest (I still don't know what to do with that site), it's very common to see 20 somethings posting all manner of life advice.  There is more information available than ever and the internet provides an eager forum so that every hyper-passionate trainer can shout from figurative mountaintops into the google-cached ether.  I remember those days well except that we couldn't shout as loudly and with as wide a reach as kids today.

When I was in my twenties and fully immersed in the passion that was competitive powerlifting and Personal Training, I too, believed that I had all the answers and that there was no way I would ever let myself down by becoming one of the sedentary have-nots and do-nothings waddling through the shopping malls.  Like kids of today, I took progress pictures:
progress pic: prior to weighing in for the 181 lb class
21 yrs old, Oct 31, 1987, 178 lbs prior to weigh-ins for my first or second PL meet

progress pic: prior to weighing in for the 198 lb class
22 yrs old, November 1988, 193 lbs prior to weighing in for the 198 lb class
Not much difference in muscle mass between the two pictures but I was still getting stronger.  I can't remember which meets those were taken prior to but I'm fairly certain the first picture was taken in Las Vegas prior to a USPF qualifier for the 1988 Natural Nationals to be held in Dallas, Texas.  Rich Peters, the promoter running the Natural Nationals for the USPF at the time would soon start his own federation, NASA, but in 1988, the meet was still held under the USPF sanction.  The 1988 USPF Natural Nationals would be my first and only National level meet until I lifted in the Canadian Powerlifting Union Nationals in 2010.  The second picture was taken before a  regional meet in California, possibly the ADFPA Stockton Open.  It's all hard to remember now but the real point is, I was no different than the kids of today with their unbridled enthusiasm and frequent Facebook and Twitter platitudes.

I would continue to compete in powerlifting for another 4 years and work as a Personal Trainer for three of them.  Training was different back then as we pretty much trained everyone like a bodybuilder.  It was all about appearance rather than function and in Los Angeles that meant the 'profession' had even less of a soul than it does today.  As I didn't want to shyster people out of their cash for what passed as "Personal Training workouts" back then, I decided to "get a real job".  You know, the kind where you go to work for 8-10 hours in grown up clothes and hope to be promoted into management.  This was the beginning of my loss of focus on my health.

A promotion brought me to Toronto and with that, severed the last strings of my competitive powerlifting passion.  I made the choice to focus on my career which included long hours and lots of partying.  Single, under 30, virtually unlimited expense accounts for wining and dining employees and sales accounts, it was an easy opportunity to spend many nights out at the bars and clubs.  I still went to the gym occasionally but the workouts lacked direction and purpose.  I never logged a single training session, I just went to the gym and did stuff.
progress pic, 1996 210 lbs, the slow fall begins
Sept 1996, 210 lbs, slow fall begins...
That picture was taken by my roommate who would go on to become my ex-wife.  Yes, I did successfully jump from the friend ladder but in hindsight, I'm sure she regrets letting me do that.  I was 30 years old in that picture and still felt bullet-proof despite years of downtown Toronto partying.  I wasn't doing anything to take care of myself but the muscle mass I had accumulated in years prior and a still-youthful metabolism was keeping most of the creeping fat away.

Cut forward five years...
december 26, 2001, thought I was going to start getting in shape
12/26/2001 250+ lbs, thought I was going to get back in shape
That picture was taken by my future ex-wife.  Five years of creeping weight gain.  By this time the only activity I was doing on a regular basis was playing golf, hence, the sock tan lines on my feet.  Since I'm holding an edition of the Toronto Star, it's pretty clear that I had intended for this picture to serve as a "before" picture.  The only problem was, I never actually started a program so there is no "after" photo.  I'm 35 years old and can barely remember that 22 yr old kid looking forward to the training for his next powerlifting meet.

Cut forward another 6 years:
This video was taken in the summer of 2007, I was in the neighborhood of 280 lbs.  Whatever it was, the fact that my nickname was "Sumo" was proof enough that I was the big, fat, Japanese guy of the group.

This video was taken in November 2007 while on a vacation to visit family in Hawaii.  I thought I'd jump on one of those coin-operated scales at the mall (Ala Moana maybe?)  While I'm pretty sure I had eaten two large okonomiyake lunch specials, that still doesn't excuse the fact that I completely spin the scale and record a weight of 295 lbs.  In the video I say "285" but a second video captures me catching my error.  By the way, the commentary is courtesy of my brother who not coincidentally is now struggling with his own weight.  At this time, I am 41 years old and very shortly would reach my breaking point and finally decide to exert ownership over my health.  (see "My Story" for more on this)

All of these pictures and videos were on that thumb drive I browsed today.  Seeing them was like a hammer between the eyes.  It was a klaxon horn of a reminder that the present holds no guarantee of the future no matter how certain one may be.  I have made some decent progress since November 2007 but I still have a ways to go before I'll be taking any more shirtless pictures.  Even more important, at almost 46 years old, I know that there is still time to re-live this whole cycle of fitness to fatness to fitness if I drop the ball now.

A lifetime is a long time, especially when imagined through the eyes of a twenty-something.  It's still a long time when viewed from my current vantage point.  Having gone through this process once, it is my intent to not have to do it ever again.




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