By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training Center, Tucson, Arizona
April 3, 2016
This weekend will certainly be an interesting one for me. First of all, today is the Tucson Heart and Stroke Walk. Four years ago, I went to this event with my family, mainly to bring awareness to the problem of heart disease and the ill effects it can cause to any family. At that time, the lives of my aunt and my grandmother had been taken due to long battles with heart disease, brought on mainly by their dual struggles with diabetes. At the time, I really didn’t take much care of my body at all. For two years, my mother had begged me to go utilize the free heart monitor and cholesterol service the event provided…but I staunchly would say no. Personally, I already knew I was in pretty bad health, and it was quite obvious when I looked in the mirror every day. The massive stomach I had hung over so far, I had issues just seeing my penis and finding a shirt that could adequately cover my “overhang.” Shopping for pants was a by-yearly nightmare and the desperation of going to an XXL store kept looming. So yes, those varied details should have told me something was wrong and changes were desperately needed, but I always resisted. I always believed the switch could be flipped and suddenly this fit human machine could be unleashed, blowing up pounds and turning the lumpy mass into a lean mold of perfection. I think part of the problem was the special team shirt we had made for the event. It was the perfect length and size for me, and it was one of the few shirts that could cover my overhang AND not show it off when I raised my arms up. I wore it quite a bit, for it was one of the few shirts I owned that actually lettering on it and wasn't some plain color. Yeah, my problem had reached such a point that I was restricted to single color shirts, and if I wanted anything with lettering or decals or anything, I would have to go to a specialty store and pay nearly double for the opportunity just to wear clothing that was kind of nice and would account for my girth. From a personal viewpoint, any combination of these issues should have been the final details, the ultimate indicators that change was desperately needed. But it wasn’t the way I felt personally, it was the way I was finally perceived.
One way to really stay in denial is to never look at yourself from someone else’s lens. I was barely on Facebook and I never shared any actual photos of myself. Heck, my profile picture was something from a few years before, and the current photo I was using was a picture of my dad’s dog Buddy. In fact, I really didn’t use a current photo of myself until 2013! I hated taking photos because it hid the truth from me and from the world. It is so easy to hide perception from yourself when you never witness it. But that year, my mom caught me, and it was completely by accident. We took a photo together and she ultimately posted it for the world to see. What I finally witnessed was simply horrifying. Now some people have constantly stated to me that I looked okay even when I was as large as a celestial sphere, but I just don’t see it. I don’t care what apologists say or anti-body shame people or positivity gurus say….I just looked flat out horrible. If anything, it was the final wake-up call I desperately needed and literally two weeks later, I started a fitness and health regimen at Parsons Training. Over the course of nearly four years, I kind of realized my eating and weight problems were much longer than I expected, dating as far back to 2000 (I always thought my eating problems started in 2005). As I have changed my outlook on life and food, the world seems to have adopted a lot of the crazy ideas I used to create. I ate bacon and massive amounts of cheese on every burger when I worked at Jack in the Box in the late 90s, for I was well ahead of the times before both bacon and cheese became subsidized enough to be put on anything. I originally created the now defunct Taco Bell Diet, only it was mostly to stuff my face and live almost exclusively on Taco Bell “food.” (to preface this, some woman actually lost a large amount of weight on Taco Bell food. They did this to combat the Subway Diet and ultimately create the “Fresco” menu) My friends from my Tucson Citizen days used to joke about my Starburst habit so much, they thought I might have a heart attack if anyone made a liquified version of the stuff. Taco Bell now has a Starburst slushy kind of drink, and lo and behold, it was from my favorite flavor. I mean, almost the instant I went healthy and became vegan, the world became more and more unhealthy and Tucson turned into this gastro-hub of delicious food (and I’m not lying, my hometown is actually recognized! http://www.splendidtable.org/story/unesco-recognizes-tucson-as-a-city-of-gastronomy). All I can is this…sorry about all the Taco Bell references. I still think about that place a lot! It was definitely the second worst problem for me after pizza.
There has been a lot of ups and downs these past few years, ranging from weight gains to lack of effort to moments of “why? I mean, when you lose the first 100 pounds, it seems like nothing else could be any better. Just telling people “I lost 100 pounds” is enough for them to gain their respect and put you on a pedestal. Trust me, having a little ego boost like that is quite nice from time to time. When you lead a life of excess like I did, it is pretty easy to build stuff up in your mind. But the truth is still staring me in the face….I need to lose roughly 180 pounds to really reach the optimal weight I desire and reach my full potential! At least that is how I kind of interpret it, even if losing 160 pounds is phenomenal. That just goes to show how bad I was in regards to my health when you need to lose nearly half your body weight to get healthy! Truthfully, this is the long battle that is raging against me, and I always kind of take it a little more seriously every year when we do the Tucson Heart and Stroke Walk. Yeah, our numbers keep dwindling each year due to people moving away or other things getting in the way of people’s lives, but one thing that always rings true for me is how seriously I actually took it. A couple years ago I decided it would be better to start running the full four-mile course that circles Reid Park rather than walk the two-mile one. This year will be the fourth time I do it, only this time around I intend to have a little fun with it. You see, I always took this part of the race rather seriously, running for time and trying my best to look good in the process. Well, I just happened to stumble upon something rather hilarious this past year.
Typically, my family likes to hold a little garage sale to raise some money for the cause, and predictably, the things we are getting rid of are getting stranger by the year. We did pretty awesome one year, gathering about $1200 in various items, especially since we got rid of a whole lot of toys, video games and other various items. Heck, even an old sound system I had from the 90s was bought. I managed to sell a 20-year old television that didn’t have a controller, no antenna and only one back plug (something we called a “Walmart Special” due to the cheapness of the product, which is where I got the TV). That is the funny thing about my parents living next to a massive swap meet….people will come to you to buy stuff ultra cheap and then turn it around and try to sell it for more at the swap meet. But much of the time, a lot of Mexican nationals will buy up stuff and take it back to Mexico where they can sell it for a decent mark-up. Anyway, we are kind of running out of good stuff to sell. While we will always have the never ending problem of clothing (a lot of the people in my family are losing weight….as for me, I donate my massive clothes to the clothing bank, for someone might be able to turn some old pants of mine into a tent or something. hehe). It was rather predictable that the oddest item at the garage sale didn’t find a good home. Of course, we all remember the Angry Birds craze. America helped turn a few people into multi-millionaires thanks to a game that was ridiculously addictive and also ridiculously stupid. But hey, you know you made the big time when you get a Star Wars tie-in! Anyway, I have no idea idea who in my family got an Angry Birds costume, but that was up for sale this year. As we were putting stuff up, I decided to give it a try and it fit like a glove. I had already bought a wayward pair of Vans shoes, so I started thinking about keeping it. Now, I was thinking we should just go ahead and send it to the good people of Goodwill or something, but I figured I might as well keep it. And to make matters worse, people were in both my real life and the digital life were insisting I wear it for my run today. So if you happened to have driven by Reid Park in Tucson today and saw some random guy running in an Angry Birds costume….no, it was not a frat boy that was being hazed and it was not some lost bet. I was a willing participant!
My family unfortunately always has a good reason to participate in this event every year. What started out as the death of my aunt and the death of my grandmother, has morphed into some other familial problems. Another one of my aunts nearly died from various issues when her diabetes shut down her kidneys. My cousin nearly died herself from her own diabetes complications. My mother’s cousin died from cardiac arrest due to his own diabetes problem. I have another cousin that is constantly on diabetes medication. Of course, it sounds like my family should be participating in a diabetes walk more than anything, but that just illustrates how much the two problems can go hand in hand. You can’t just leave anything to chance these days, and I ultimately made a focal point of my veganism center on the battle against diabetes. I could only imagine how awful my blood sugar was, for who knows if I was pre-diabetic by the time I started working out. I mean, I did eat whole one-pound bags of Starburst and Skittles! Even when I went dairy free, I would still chomp down on one or the other. Of course, changes n my body and life ultimately caused me to get rid of them once and for all (Starburst is not vegan since it uses gelatin, and while Skittles is vegan friendly, the sweetness is too much for me now. I can’t even handle soda anymore due to this!) So let me just offer this piece of advice….don’t put it off until the last minute.
When I really think about it, I was literally on the cusp of a lot of problems. I maybe had a few more years before the issues of bad health were on the horizon. And it would have been horrible for me, because I knew I always had the chance to improve and be better. The toughest thing to ever admit to yourself is you have a problem, and boy did I have a lot them. Don’t wait for that epiphany like myself. Don’t hide yourself from the truth like I did for so long, not taking pictures and filling your head with propaganda, because even when you look in the mirror everyday, our eyes can create a perception that will ultimately deceive us. I mean, I still go through this, even if I have reversed to the opposite spectrum now, believing I am not healthy enough in spite of all the changes I have made to this point. I know there are a lot of forces out there which are telling you it is okay to be you and be what you want to be, but you always have to put your health first. And don’t go around listening to the jerks that say you are lazy just so they can get some “thumbs up” for their crappy “inspirational” videos on Youtube. You have to do it for yourself and you have to do it for the benefit of your own life. I’m not really interested in being sick and tired as I get older. I want to live!
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.