Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Exercise? Nah, I'm good.

I don't remember my parents ever exercising.  I really don't think anyone's parents exercised before the running craze hit in the late 70s or early 80s, and that pop-culture ailment only infected a few folks.  People didn't have time for exercise, they just worked, came home, ate dinner, and watched whatever was on the 3 networks, like Battle of the Network Stars.  Nope, we didn't work out, but we watched people who did.  Fitness just wasn't part of the culture in the US, unless you were a member of a police force or in the Military I expect.   Although we knew one of the county sheriffs and he was no athlete.  He looked more like this guy.

After my father retired from the Navy in the mid-70s, he put on some significant weight.  He went from tall and thin, to tall and fat over a span of about 10 years.  He was probably in the mid-200s as far as what weight class he fell into.  My mother was a nurse and other than walking the floors of Josephine Memorial Hospital in Grants Pass Oregon, she didn't fare much better.  I'm not sure why everyone wasn't obese back then, with all the horrible butter, non-organic fruits and veggies, meats unladen with steroids, and other unhealthy foods we ate. Maybe it was the fact that these weren't a primary food source for many Americans:

In elementary school we had morning exercises in the gymnasium, with one teacher leading us for 15 minutes of stretching and calisthenics. I think we also had one or two sessions of recess as well.  I didn't realize at the time though that play was both fun and functional, keeping us fit and shedding excess energy to keep us better behaved throughout the day.  Time was built into the school day for that, but now with No Child Left Behind, there's not enough time in the day for much of anything, except for our kids to get fat.   

That picture made me laugh, probably because for the Navy, it's so true, at least for some folks. There's a joke about the difference between the services' physical fitness tests.  After the Marine PFT, they throw up.  After the Army PFT, they go eat.  In the Air Force, they get off their bike.  And after the Navy PFT, sailors go work out.  Ok, I didn't say it was a good joke, but anyway.  That joke claims that the Navy PFT isn't much of a work out, which it isn't, but I never hit the gym afterwards.

I never really enjoyed the PRT when I was in the Navy.  Not that fitness wasn't of interest to me, it was the working out part that I didn't like.  I just never found exercise to be anything enjoyable- more of a chore than something that I knew was good for my body.  My younger sister on the other hand, she's one of those freaks that exercises for fun!  She goes on VACATION to work out!  Yep, you heard me right - all caps, italics, bold - her vacation is going out of town to do a triathlon, "fun-run," trail-run through the forest, a polar swim, or some other insanity that involves sweating, burning calories, and getting your heart-rate up.

That's her in the foreground, although she'd kill me if she knew I posted this.  It's from the Triathlon's website.  She hates the picture because she says she looks more like one of her brothers than herself.  I assured her that no, she's much thinner, and no one would ever be confused.

My idea of vacation is the exact opposite of hers.  The only sweating I'm doing is possibly from tropical humidity, burning calories is replaced by consuming them, mainly via copious amounts of alcohol mixed with fruit juice, and my heart rate goes up only if something in a bikini walks in front of my ocean view.  Fortunately, that's often my wife, who is also much thinner than me, and looks many years younger. Good thing I found her years ago.

That picture is pretty much us, except that I'd be either under an umbrella, or wearing a huge hat, or both.  And I'd be completely doused in sunscreen, and the chair would be sagging a bit more.

I just checked my crazy sister's Facebook page again and I see yet another picture of her in work-out mode.  It was posted yesterday morning after she did the Mount Ashland Hill Climb.  If you click the link, you'll see that the tagline is 13+ miles long, 1 mile up.  Are you kidding me Barb?  You ran up a mountain?  I'm in Oregon visiting family by the way, and just had lunch with her the day after she did this.  She never even mentioned it.  She's not only super fit at 45 years old, she's humble as well.  Did I mention how much I hate my sister?

But I digress.

The part about me no longer being thin is somewhat of a recent state of evolution of my figure.  I've never been fat, but the Body Shaming Fat Assessment the Navy does before the Physical Readiness Test (PRT) was always touch and go for me.  Not that I couldn't do well on the PRT, but as a short thick guy, not exactly fat, but not exactly thin either, and having a pencil neck, the BFA wasn't my friend. If you didn't meet the height/weight standard, which I never would since I wasn't a 6'5'' Navy Seal weighing in at 150lbs, I'd get the tape. Around the neck and belly it would go- for some computation that NASA scientists developed to spit out some figure that said I was on double-secret probation (the Fitness Enhancement Program), or good to go for another 6 months.  When they first started that, in early 2000 or so I'd guess, I had no problem because I was still young and all of five foot, six and a half inches.  That extra half inch was key for me a few years later because as I put on a bit of weight in my mid 30s, that would get rounded up to 5'7'', pushing me into the next category for the ht./wt. check.  Then I shrunk, and no longer got the half inch round up.  Which brought on the tape, and the bi-annual stress out.

Despite all my worrying, I passed that check every year except one, when I was at CENTCOM on my Joint Duty tour during OIF, working 11 hour days, 5.5 days a week.  Not a lot of time to work out and I couldn't keep up.  Fortunately the check was a month before the actual PFT so I passed on the second check the day before the test.

I never failed the PRT, nor did I ever even come close- I had far too much pride to let that happen, but I never really tore up the track.  I could max the sit-ups and push ups, but running was never my strong suit. I'd get by with an 11.5 minute mile and a half, which wasn't bad, but it was nothing to write home about.  We were all competitive in aviation though, and with some guys finishing between 7 and 8 miles, I wanted to do better- just not enough to seriously do something about it.

When I hit my mid-30s though, the old metabolism slowed down, the workload increased and I had to work to keep the weight off.  I increased my running and decreased my times, but not much else changed.  I remember seeing some of the young airmen in the squadron, kids who should be running circles around me, barely able to pump out the minimum number of push-ups, and almost collapse as they crossed the finish line.  I then realized that youth doesn't mean fit, and age didn't have to mean unfit.  Sure, the Navy's PFT is easy enough that one could gut it out twice a year and pass, but that wasn't going to make me fit into my flight suit any better.  We were issued several, one of which was a size larger to fit over the cold-weather dry suit, and that one had long since become my preferred uniform, but the others weren't so tight that I need to turn them in.

I had put on 15 lbs in my 15 years of service, but it's not like I looked like this guy:

"Hey Crew Chief- better check that weight and balance calculation again."

It wasn't until my last deployment that I got motivated enough to try and cut some weight.  The ship held a "Biggest Loser" challenge in the middle of cruise.  I was managing a bunch of Air Traffic Controllers onboard the USS Pelelieu (LHA-5), working for a small command in Coronado called Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 11.  We coordinated the airspace and flight scheduling for the Marine Air Combat Element in Expeditionary Strike Group 5. It was pretty light duty- with two 3 hour watches each day since we had 4 TAC Watch Officers on-board.  Eat, sleep, and workout as the mantra goes, and I filled up a lot of the extra time with the Biggest Loser Challenge.  I really got into working out, getting a bit obsessive at the number of calories I was burning, adding miles to my runs, weight to my lifting routine, and sometimes even an additional work out after watch.  And by the time we hit Australia on the way home, I had dropped 19lbs, good enough for second place.  My run time was 3 minutes faster than it had ever been and I felt pretty good...

Except for my knees. Years of wearing lousy flight boots, climbing up steep ladders all over what was now my 4th ship, and working out far too much over a 3 month period, never even taking a day off, had taken their toll.  I had serious knee pain by the end of deployment and couldn't do much of anything without the knees aching, and the transition between sitting and standing hurt even more.  I couldn't even kneel without significant discomfort, and as a Catholic, there's a lot of kneeling, sitting and standing up involved, followed by more kneeling, and standing, and...I call it Catholic Aerobics.

The Doc ordered me off my workout routine as I went through physical therapy.  It turns out that I have very little cartilage left in my knees, and that's not something you can go buy at Rite-Aid. Without the running, I couldn't maintain my weight loss.  I switched to the elliptical as the pain from pounding the pavement was just something I couldn't do any more.  It's a poor substitute though so my evolution to kinda-fat guy was almost complete.  

Then I retired.  I thought I would be glad to no longer fear the bi-annual measurement Nazis, but I miss the discipline that it forced on me. I'm far to good at procrastinating.  "I'm going to wake up early and go to the gym."  "I'll just work out at lunch."  "Ok, I'll work out at the end of the work day."  "Well, I'll just use my elliptical at home."  "I'll just go for a walk after dinner."  "It's too late and I'm tired- I'll get up early tomorrow!"  Yes, I could have reduced my intake, but with my new found love of Bourbon, and the wonderful food and wine we had during our trip to Italy, and the copious alcohol on our annual vacations, there's just too much fun to be had.

My cousin says weight gain is a one way trip.  I'm not perfectly in agreement- I've taken up racquetball at work and there's a dozen or so of us that play regularly.  It's not as hard on the knees as you might imagine and working out is fun again.  But even if I miraculously regenerated the cartilage, would I take up running again?

Nope, I'm good.


  1. Great post, Tuna! I think a lot of us that read this blog could probably describe similar circumstances. I know I was ticking off your talking points on my personal checklist.

  2. Genetically I'm a Weeble so I was always fair game for the newest squadron fat boy officer. As a swimmer I had to be fit so I had a built in excuse to work out. The boots and steel decks eventually ruined my ankles though. I stayed fit but added a lot of Weeble over the last couple of decades. I bust the scale at about 240 today. That goes up by a stone or so during the winter and comes off during the season of easy living. I can't run anymore but I can hike my Weeble off. I clock about 25 miles/week above and beyond daily chores. I'd be Jaba the Hut without the physical requirements of my job.

  3. Great post. Our parents didn't have to work out, as you mention, they worked too hard to need to do anything extra. Running is the worst, knee killer!

    I'm a big fan of the "Total Gym" great piece of inexpensive equipment. 15 minute work out.

  4. I never did understand why the Navy made us run. The longest ship in the Navy is just over 1000 feet, and I can cover that distance as fast as anyone when scared. After that it is a swimming event.

  5. Ah Tuna, you're singing the song of my people.

    Excess weight has always been an issue with me. I yo-yoed up and down weight-wise while on active duty and made the fat boy program a couple of times.

    Air Force PT was an effing joke the entire 24 years. The only time I got into a groove with PT was at Offutt, I started jogging just about everyday at lunch.

    When I got to Germany I was a lean, mean jogging machine. The kids like watching this old video we were in shortly after we got to Germany. Each and every time they will sing out, "Hey look! It's skinny Dad!"

    (Hhmm, I do believe I have enough material here for a post, to be continued...)

    Excellent post Tuna.

  6. Concur with OldAFSarge, excellent post.

    I would add that "That's her in the foreground, although she'd kill me if she knew I posted this." was just being a good older brother! :)

  7. Thanks everyone. What I didn't say was that in addition to 15 pounds i put on up to that point, I've doubled that since. Something's got to change or I'll become one of the mens wearhouses top customers.

  8. You do know that 5'7" is a VERY fashionable height to be, don't you?

  9. I used to jog in my 30s-40s. Then had a girl friend who didn't wnt to jog - so i stopped. Trying to start it again was for me not much fun - then I heard how hard it is on the knees pounding on pavement.

    So I just do my 2 mile walk every day.

    When I was in the Army I used to dread the PFT.

    But I always passed.

    I remember a Sgt telling us in basic training that we will be in the best shape of our lives - best shape we will ever be in.

    I think he was right.

    I can remember at Ft Bliss - advanced training - during a PFT doing a mile run - 2 miles? I forget what it was but in T shirt, fatigues and boots did something like a high 6 minute mile.

    That is all a memory today ;-)

    BTW tell you what I think was am amusing story on the Army vs Marines.

    At the time, the Marines were also using the Hawk missile and one of our instructors was a Marine Gunnery Sgt.

    One day we did PT together - the Gunny was leading us.

    We Army and the Marines looked about the same going though the monkey bars.

    Then that Gunny barked something to his Marines and he put the fear of God in them - or something.

    Those Marines were going across the bars like scalded cats.


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