14. Fit for Life

14. Fit for Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Fit for Life

Commit to be fit.
 ~Author Unknown

I’d never given much thought to physical fitness. As a matter of fact, I’d never given much thought to exercise at all. I liked to take a walk, but I didn’t go out every day or stick to any kind of schedule. I felt healthy, and thought I was in good enough shape not to have to do anything special. The idea of making a major life change to be physically fit wasn’t very high on my list of essentials. It took being sidelined from the most basic physical activities to make me realize how being fit really affected my life.

The accident happened while I was out on a date. I’d wanted to go to a movie and sit and munch on popcorn and candy. She’d wanted to go roller skating together in the park. Skating we went. I hadn’t been on roller skates in quite awhile, and I’d never been what you’d call a natural skater. I wobbled and flailed my way across the park on eight wheels, trying to keep up with the smooth, gliding movements of my date.

We had almost called it a day when she suggested we skate around the pavilion in the middle of the park. I thought it would be simple enough after trying to avoid runners, walkers, and park visitors on bicycles all day long. It was a simple little skate around the pavilion, a romantic moment that wouldn’t take any skill at all. I didn’t even see the pebble I tripped over. My right skate went in one direction, my left in another. The pain I felt when my right ankle twisted and popped was incredible.

I had to hop across a bridge and a baseball field and a parking lot to get back to my car. By the time we got to the emergency room I was red in the face, out of breath and in intense pain. The emergency room doctor told me I’d torn some ligaments on either side of my ankle and I’d have to be in a cast for three months. As I hobbled out of the emergency room on crutches, with sweat pouring down my face, I realized I was seriously out of shape.

If I thought that was bad then being on crutches for the next three months was even worse. I could barely walk 20 feet without wheezing and sweating and having to take a break. My weight shot up because I refused to move around much, and if I’d been offered the use of a wheelchair I would have gladly accepted it. But my doctor told me I needed the exercise to get back in shape and that my ankle would need toughening up once I was out of the cast. I retreated to my sofa at home and refused to budge from it.

Three months is a long time to be a hermit, and after a while I began to get cabin fever. By the time I went back to get the cast off my leg I was desperate to get back out into the real world. My doctor smiled at me when I told him I needed some serious rest and recreation and wrote me a simple prescription: Get Some Exercise.

I started by walking around the house. That got old fast so I ventured outside. Trips around the neighborhood offered me a chance to stretch my legs, but I knew I needed more of a challenge. The nature trails in a nearby park seemed daunting, and I only hobbled a few feet before I gave up. But it was springtime, and the sun shining through the trees beckoned me, so I forced myself back onto the trails and gritted my teeth through every painful step. I couldn’t have cared less about how beautiful the wildflowers were or how the birdsong filled the air around me. I only wanted to finish my walk and go home to soak in Epsom salts.

Gradually, however, as the pain in my recovering ankle grew less, my resentment at having to endure these walks also faded. It was replaced by a slowly growing appreciation of the natural world around me, and the even more slowly growing sense of the physical wellbeing I was beginning to experience. I began to cover more ground with less panting, and after a while I was making my way through the foothills and park trails with ease.

I liked the feeling of fresh air pumping through my lungs and the muscles in my legs becoming taut and strong. I went in search of other trails. As I covered the natural boundaries of my town I branched out even farther and began to explore some serious hiking and climbing. I enrolled in a mountain climbing class, learned the basics of how to get myself up the face of a rock, and began to join climbing groups in my local area. Years rolled by. By the time I graduated to climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, I was slim, trim, and filled with an energy I’d never had before.

A sprained ankle showed me what a little exercise and a chance to explore the natural beauty of our planet could be like. So now instead of a life of unfitness, I find that my walks, hikes, and climbs are making me fit for a life I never dreamed I could have.

~John P. Buentello

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