From Fat to Fit at Sixty Four

G’day Groovers. Sorry the downloads have been a little scarce lately; I’ve been a busy boy flitting around the nation sharing a little Life Renovation Love with the masses. I’m in Sydney today presenting a workshop for a team of lawyers and legal folk, so I’m guessing that whole ‘work-life balance’ part of my presentation should be interesting! I hope your weekend was fun, we had our last RYL (for a while) here in Melbourne at the Harperdome (my gym) and we had a ball. Lots of laughs, plenty of learning, a few tears and if certain people do what they need to, lives changed forever. I thought that today I’d share a story with you from my early days of PT. Have a great week.

A Deer in the Headlights

Not long after I opened my first Personal Training studio an older lady walked through the front door. It wouldn’t be unkind to say that she didn’t really look like the ‘gym type'; early to mid sixties, morbidly obese and carrying what looked to be her shopping. Not that a gym can’t be home to all ages, shapes, sizes and types, but she definitely looked like a deer in the headlights as she tentatively made her way from the door towards me. At 5’2″ and 101kgs (222lbs), it’s fair to say that Tonia was in need of a physical (and as it turned out, mental and emotional) overhaul.

Unnecessarily Large ArmsShe walked into the gym around lunch time and I was on my own, lifting weights. So there we were; me and the sixty four year-old (as it turned out), petrified, Italian grandmother who had never set foot in a gym, or been involved in any structured exercise, in her life. Standing there in my singlet with my shaved head, my unnecessarily large arms (those were the days) and some AC-DC pumping, I realised that I was probably scaring the shit out of her; not really my goal as a new business owner trying to build a clientele.

A New Client

So I turned down the noise, put on a shirt, sat her in a chair and did my best to demonstrate that I was much more than a monosyllabic, intimidating beefcake. Within a few minutes, the absolute terror was replaced with mild curiosity and ten minutes later the curiosity had made way for enthusiasm to begin an exercise program. I had a new client; a morbidly obese, hypertensive granny with Type-2 Diabetes! To that point in my career, I had seriously never met a less athletic person in my life (in terms of fitness, co-ordination, strength, balance). But the beauty of working with someone who had zero understanding of exercise and zero experience was that, in terms of her beliefs, knowledge, understanding and expectations (about what was possible for her), I was working with a clean sheet. When I told her that we would complete a five kilometre (three mile) fun run within six months, she had no reason not to believe me. I, on the other hand, wondered if I was completely full of shit.

When she told me that she had never run in her life (even one hundred metres), I believed her. However, she was very excited at the prospect of completing a fun run. Oops. I wondered if I had opened my gob prematurely and possibly over-estimated her potential and my ability as a trainer. In the first four weeks of training we did all the normal things; created an overall plan, modified her diet, addressed her crappy habits, educated her, set some goals and of course, started to run. Now, I know what you’re thinking; how far can a morbidly obese, diabetic grandmother run and the answer to your question is… not very far.

Baby Steps

On her first day of running (her debut workout), Tonia and I completed ten, thirty metre jogs in a straight line on soft grass. We’d jog thirty metres (very slowly), rest for a minute or so and then go again. For her, completing those shuttle runs was like running a marathon. She loved her first session and was totally pumped. For an Italian grandmother that is. By the end of week two (she was doing three sessions per week), she completed ten one hundred metre jogs in her session and had lost 4 kgs (8.8lbs); not bad. Of course I could give you a blow by blow account of her progression over the first six months but let’s just say that the gorgeous Italian grandmother did incredible things and probably taught me more than I taught her.

The Shrinking Granny

Two days before her sixty fifth birthday and five and a half months after we met, Tonia completed a five kilometre run without stopping!! It wasn’t particularly rapid or pretty, but she did it; something she had never even dreamed of doing until months before. Something completely amazing. I ran beside her. By the time the day of the run arrived, Tonia had gone off all medication (with her doctor’s consent) and had lost 37 kgs (81.4 lbs). Her 101 kg body had shrunk to a (relatively) svelte 64 kgs (140 lbs). She later lost another 9 kgs and stabilised at 55 kgs (121 lbs). We tried to co-ordinate our running goal with the fun-run calendar here in Melbourne but we couldn’t find an event to suit our schedule and time frame for her goal, so we created our own; we did our own personal fun run.

The Agony, the Ecstasy, the Triumph and the Neighbours!

What I didn’t tell Tonia was that her daughter had been in contact with me about the run; she wanted to organise a few members of her family to be at the finish line of our ‘event’ to cheer the uber-athlete over the line. I thought it was thoughtful and supportive of her daughter to organise a few people to be there to cheer the matriarch of the family home after all her hard work over the preceding months. So at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning in the middle of winter, the grandmother and I set off on our epic adventure (it’s all relative); a five kilometre loop from her house. After easing into it for a kilometre or so, she slipped into a rhythm (of sorts) and ran like a champ. I won’t say she ran the distance effortlessly but all things considered, she ran incredibly well; no stopping and no complaining. As we turned the last corner into her street, I could see a crowd gathered outside Tonia’s house. She wasn’t wearing her specs so she had no idea what lay ahead. It wasn’t until we were about one hundred metres from the finish that she realised that more than fifty people(!) had gathered to celebrate her achievement and cheer her over the line. She crossed the line (the family had made a finishing line from some material) with tears in her eyes and joy on her face; she was crying, her kids were crying, her grand kids were crying and allegedly, I may have shed a tear. Keep it quiet. Nieces, nephews, friends and even neighbours had come out to cheer the considerably lighter, fitter, leaner and healthier Tonia home.

She trained with me for another six months or so and then moved on to do her own thing. And no, she didn’t regain the weight. I saw her a few years ago and she was still remarkably fit, healthy and functional, even as a septuagenarian.

So What did the Young Trainer Learn from the Uncoordinated, Unathletic, Obese Grandmother?

1. Bodies can do amazing things when our mind doesn’t get in the way.

2. ‘Old’ is more about our psychology than it is about our physiology.

3. When we find ‘a way’ rather than find an excuse, change can happen quickly.

4. Creating exceptional results comes from doing exceptional things; what most won’t.

5. Success is not about how much potential we have; it’s about how much we use.

6. Our history doesn’t need to be our future.

But you knew all that didn’t you?

See you tomorrow x

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