By Erika Taylor
Exercise and eating well are as “me” as anything I know. “The Jack LaLanne Show” played in the background on summer vacations at my grandma’s. Mom took me to Jazzercise and water aerobics, made yogurt from scratch and grew sprouts under the kitchen sink.
First real job? Aerobics instructor. I’ve been a certified personal trainer since I was 22. I’ve done every fitness studio job from floor staff (which means I cleaned the equipment) to owner (which also means I cleaned the equipment).
Rehabbing from COVID last year, I encountered the first challenge in my life I couldn’t exercise my way out of. My physical therapy called for slow-paced, consistent, painfully moderate, progressive exercise. It sucked. And it wasn’t working for months, partly because I wasn’t really working it.
Last October, Facebook rescued me.
It displayed Halloweens gone by: My kids in custom Power Rangers suits. Parties with my husband. My brother and I as kids in the ’80s.
And then, a kid in a neon green T-shirt lying on the floor clutching a baseball bat bridged above him between two chairs.
It was 2016. Just out of the shot, I was lying on the floor near him, my favorite client of all time. I was watching him struggle to do a modified pull-up on an apparatus we’d constructed. He asked me, probably to mask needing a rest, if I would demonstrate it one more time. With some clients, I’d have called them out, told them (lovingly) to buck up and get the set done.
But Cooper was 12. And he was dying.
His parents had enlisted me between treatments. He and I chatted at the beginning of each session. Cooper would choose a goal, I’d design a workout to fit. Many days it was baseball. We’d lob a ball as hard as we could at the stop sign closest to his house, relishing the metallic thud each time he hit the target. Or we’d practice covering a 90-foot distance as fast as his legs would go.
Most goals included being outside with friends doing something active. The one we had been working on that day promised a bonus reward: candy. Halloween was coming up.
We measured the distance of his trick-or-treating route. Cooper was driven to build endurance and balance so he could join his friends in this annual pursuit of childhood joy.
I was happy to keep up the facade of his not remembering the exercise. As much as I like to push my clients toward a meaningful goal, I worried about him overdoing it. He was a competitive kid, frustrated by his body’s stubborn refusal to perform. As I rolled under the makeshift pull-up bar I asked him if he wanted to cut the workout short. Cooper glared and fastballed it right back, “No! Halloween’s close. I got it.” Energized by my silly suggestion, he triumphantly knocked out the remaining repetitions.
Seeing that photo last fall, I could hear Cooper’s determination, “Halloween’s close. I got it.”
What was going to inspire my own determination?
I thought I knew. To regain function lost to COVID. To enjoy the things I love doing. To be a better parent and partner. To feel better. Look better.
Those are all good carrots, right? But they weren’t enough. They were theoretical, nebulous concepts that weren’t getting me to stick to my difficult, tedious physical therapy plan. I needed something real. Something close. Something worth fighting for. Like the promise trick-or-treating is to a 12-year-old boy. I needed candy!
I looked back at my list and chose the one thing that felt like a truly definable concept. Lose the weight I’d gained since getting sick. But even that still didn’t feel immediate. What was the extra weight robbing me of, that I was willing to fight for?
It hit me. One of the things Cooper hated most of all about cancer was losing independence. He missed hanging out with his friends, playing baseball and going to the bathroom on his own.
The bathroom! An alarming image formed in my mind: I could remain mentally sharp, but someday be unable to perform that basic function. I DID NOT like it. Which was great! I had my candy.
I am training so that I can take myself to the bathroom until my last breath.
Life throws curveballs. Like Cooper, I can’t know for sure I will achieve it. I cherish having had the privilege of helping several loved ones perform this basic human function. There are still days when the “fitting into my jeans” carrot takes precedence. But we must be willing to redefine our goals when life demands it. Examples of life worth living, regardless of mobility, are abundant in my life. But for now, the bathroom goal is real to me and it is worth working for.
If you are having trouble making time to move your body in ways you know support your wellness goals, maybe it’s time for a new carrot. What are your goals? Things you want to do. Relationships you cherish. Places you want to go. If you are having trouble talking yourself into a wellness practice you know you need in your life, maybe it’s time for some candy.
Wishing you wellness and a happy Halloween,
P.S. Cooper did go trick-or-treating in 2016. He walked his route with friends, and he got that candy.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email email@example.com.