I lay in a hospital bed hooked up to IV morphine that barely touched the pain. The emergency room physician told me my lifting days were over. I knew he was wrong, however, because I will not quit.
I remember when I started working out 22 years ago, and how much I struggled early on. After one drunken and gluttonous weekend a few months in it seemed like I had gained back all the weight I had lost, and I came so close to quitting, but on Monday, I was back it. Slowly a habit was being formed. A few months after that I’d made moderate progress in terms of the changes to my physique, but the real change had taken place in my mind. The real change was gaining the knowledge that I would never stop exercising.
My fastest marathon is behind me, but perhaps my fastest 10K is yet to come. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because I will not quit.
A torn rotator cuff likely means that max bench press will never be topped, but I can still lift, and I do. I will not quit.
I have a fast road bike with slick tires, and sometimes someone on a beat up mountain bike whips past me. I don’t care. It won’t make me quit.
I understand that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad choices in clothing. The Canadian winter won’t make me quit.
As I edge closer to the half-century mark things hurt a little more, and I take longer to recover, but such things don’t matter. What matters is that I don’t quit.
I’ll relish in what my body can do today and not lament that perhaps it wasn’t as good as it was yesterday. I’ll also consider what I can do in order to make it better for tomorrow. I’ll fit the exercise to me rather than try to fit me to the exercise. I’ll work around pain rather than try to work through it. I’ll respect my limitations and test them with wisdom and caution. I’ll go hard on the days I feel like and ease off when I’m not feeling it. Always, I will listen: to my heart, to my mind, to my body. I will not tell myself lies about what I can or cannot do, and reject my own biases to accomplish what I rationally can.
I will accept that this is the only body I will ever have, and treat it as my most prized possession.
I will have fun, and because I’m having fun, I will not quit.
I won’t use exercise as an excuse to be a glutton, but rather view food mostly as healthy fuel with some indulgences thrown in because life is too short to not have crème brûlée or cookie dough Häagen-Dazs or Hawkins Cheezies.
When I’ve had a beer and pizza-filled weekend I won’t try to burn it all off on Monday. I won’t view exercise as a punishment to be endured to atone for the “sins” of the previous day.
I will realize that burning calories is by far the least important thing that exercise does.
I will be competitive with others only if it serves my interest, but mostly look to be competitive with myself. I will sometimes care about vanity and sometimes not, and never let it rule my thinking or be a primary driver of my motivation.
I will only track the things I want to track, and not obsess over any numbers. I will endeavor to have a Zen mindset over my actions and accomplishments. I will engage in harmonious rather than obsessive passion. I will keep forefront in my mind that the most important thing is not to quit.
I will never look at my body with disgust.
When I’m injured I will respect my limitations and work on getting back to an uninjured status. I will allow myself a single day of feeling sorry for myself, then will get back to work. I will not quit.
I accept that I will get weaker as I age, but endeavor to fight a valiant delaying action. I understand that one day my running will necessarily become walking, but I will be happy that I’m still ambulatory. I will keep carrying my own groceries and shoveling my own snow and mowing my own grass, because to hell with the young whippersnapper who wants me to pay him to do it.
In a world filled with former exercisers I will decide that as long as I can move about under my own power, move I shall, because I will not quit.
I will not quit.
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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.