Sunday, January 24, 2010

Obsessed or Dedicated?

Obsessed or Committed?

“Probably millions of Americans got up this morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a donut. No wonder they are sick and fouled up.” Jack LaLanne

I saw a great quote a few weeks back: “Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.” As a fitness enthusiast I have been called obsessed to my face a few times and I’m sure behind my back many more. Other fitness fanatics that I know have received the same scorn from those firmly planted on the couch. The above quote explains in a nutshell just how I feel about the label.

The dictionary definition of obsessed reads:

–verb (used with object)
1. to dominate or preoccupy the thoughts, feelings, or desires of (a person); beset, trouble, or haunt persistently or abnormally: Suspicion obsessed him.
–verb (used without object)
2. to think about something unceasingly or persistently; dwell obsessively upon something.

The connotation is negative. However, the definition for “dedicated” is quite positive.

1. wholly committed to something, as to an ideal, political cause, or personal goal: a dedicated artist.
2. set apart or reserved for a specific use or purpose: We don't need a computer but a dedicated word processor.

Michelangelo said it well when he stated, “The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

Ever since I can remember I loved the feeling of movement. The wind in my face, the spring in my step, the stretch of a limb. As a young girl I was always flipping around on gymnastic mats, running around the block, swirling around on a frozen pond. One of my earliest memories is of watching Jack LaLanne and his exercise show, I had pulled up a chair and was following along doing chair squats along with Jack. I think I was age 3 at the time. My friend, Michele, and I spent hours creating gymnastic routines so we could do what Nadia and Olga before her had done. On the pond, we were Dorothy Hamil and Peggy Fleming. My parents never supported me doing any school athletics; although in elementary school I was in rec league softball. However, I read all the fitness tips in Glamour and Mademoiselle and after the high school day was done, Michele and I walked and we ran together. As a teenager I discovered yoga and then at age 17, aerobics. Around that time I also purchased my first copy of Runner’s World and quietly dreamed of running a marathon someday. By age 18 and 19, I had discovered Rachel McLish and “Flex Appeal,” Gladys Portugues’ “Hard Bodies.” I was hooked.

At that time I was working at a Department of Defense facility outside my hometown. There I had my first experience pumping iron. I loved the gym facility and happily got up extra early to start my day lifting and running. I would hit the gym for some weight training and then run around the back roads that were encased in the Army facility. A quick shower, a long time blow drying and off to my office. It was wonderful and I *felt* wonderful.

Eventually, I moved away and to another state – New Mexico. There I hiked and walked, did body weight exercises at home. The money wasn’t flowing freely and there was no affording a health club. When I moved to FL just after the birth of my first child I availed myself of the sunny weather to walk and run some more…and it was there that I discovered step aerobics. I especially loved the dance step videos created by Victoria Johnson. She was an inspiration!

Three children came along and I still worked out in whatever way I could. Walking – a lot, step aerobics, light weights. Fitness was a part of my life and never left. It was as much a part of me as were my hazel eyes.

Sometime around 1999 I discovered Oxygen fitness magazine and Muscle & Fitness Hers. Gone were the magazines I considered “fluffy.” This was *real* meat and potatoes fitness advice. Bill Philips published “Body for Life” and it seemed the world was learning how to pump iron. I wanted badly to get back to the lifting days and around that time we bought a Weider home gym and some free weights.

Time passed and I joined a gym, I began to run in 5K races with my friend, Julie. I was never Speedy Gonzales, but if the turnout for my age group was low I sometimes ended up with an age group award. I didn’t matter – I did for the T-shirt and for the sheer joy of movement and fellowship with others who enjoyed it the way I did. I ran a 10K, then a 15K and eventually I ran that marathon I always dreamed about.

There were definitely trials and tribulations along the way. I suffered from Graves’ disease in 1996 and that slammed me back a bit. When training for the marathon, I *gained* weight and found that my thyroid had gone the other way – hypo. I had to go through the whole slow, arduous process of getting my thyroid back in order (and that is another story entirely)…but I kept at it. Even when my legs felt like they were made of wood, I ran. I lifted. I moved....and it helped me.

I’ve explained how fitness was such a part of my life – and at first glance you might say, “Okay, so maybe she IS obsessed with it.” BUT hold your horses! During that time my life was full of so many other things – fitness was just a part, a dearly loved part, but not the whole. During those years, I worked, I had babies, I taught Sunday school, children’s church, AWANA club – I wrote poems, published a few articles, homeschooled my children, taught Shakespeare appreciation from a Christian perspective, became an outreach childbirth educator, volunteered for a presidential campaign…I had a very rich life, a life of many facets.

And here’s where I make my stand take issue with “obsessed” and say a resounding “NO!” to that misnomer and “YES!” to the adjective of choice, DEDICATED.

Through thick and thin, ups and downs, busy seasons, dry seasons, regardless of what was going on in my life – I made fitness and movement a PRIORITY. As necessary to my life as the air I breathe, I made a commitment to serving my body well, with doing my utmost best to take care of my physical health. I’d been to the scary side of disease and had been forced to lay low after surgeries and thyrotoxicosis. I knew my body wanted to be well and to function at its best, so I fought back for fitness and health.

My hero, Jack LaLanne said this, “By exercise. I'll tell you one thing, you don't always have to be on the go. I sit around a lot, I read a lot, and I do watch television. But I also work out for two hours every day of my life, even when I'm on the road.” It’s not an obsession – it’s a dedicated part of each day. It’s about DISCIPLINE. Accountability to the only body you have, to take care of it and help it to function at it’s best.

Another quote from Jack, “I do it as a therapy. I do it as something to keep me alive. We all need a little discipline. Exercise is my discipline.”

Isn’t that the truth? Discipline is not a popular concept nowadays, but I believe we need it just as much as ever – if not more. I’m glad I have it – that discipline that allows me to keep a regular exercise program also serves me in other areas. It helps me to do what needs to be done, it helps me to be organized and productive. It just plain helps (and that is another blog, as well).

To the folks that have called me obsessed, I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you haven’t discovered the joy of purpose and of a healthy habit. I’m sorry that you are blind to the difference between obsession and commitment – oh, that you would receive your sight! It’s my wish for you that you find the exuberance of movement and you work to make it a regular part of your life. I hope that you are never satisfied with just the status quo, but that you find the exhilaration that comes from pushing harder, going further, doing more. May you find peace, love and fitness.