The Beginning

Not everyone has the words in their name that best describes what they love to do.  For me, I didn’t realize it until after I began to write articles for magazines and running club newsletters.

One day I was tinkering on my word processor and out it popped, I RUN, cleverly hidden, yet once seen very obvious, in my last name.  I played with it and finally decided on the current form, pIrRUNg.

I didn’t always run and I didn’t start to run because I saw it in my name.  I ran for completely different reasons.  Those reasons were leading me to an early grave and I realized I needed to make lifestyle changes before it was too late.

I read a magazine article that pointed out the things that you are doing in the years from 30 to 39 were the things you would be doing the rest of your life.  That sure was a scary thought!

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the things I was doing were going to kill me by the time I was 39.  Those things included being a two-pack-a-day smoker, someone who ate uncontrollably and a binge drinker.

The day this all sunk in was my 32nd birthday, July 7, 1980.  That was the day I found the answer I was looking for.  Actually, that was the day I put into practice the thing that had inspired me in the weeks prior.  Namely running like the obese lady who ran past my house everyday.

I was employed by the Kohler Company, of Kohler, Wisconsin and like many firms during the early 1980s, was put on a work furlough due to a slump in the economy.

Instead of worrying about the loss of wages I welcomed the time off to catch up on projects around our home.  The first was painting my garage.  I like to paint, but I like it even more if I am not rushed and can do a good job.  The lay off afforded me the time I needed to tackle this project.

Each day, as I faithfully stroked paint with brush in hand, an obese lady would run by my house.  After several days, I began to time her and noted there were days she would be out for an hour or more and sometimes even two hours.  Going by in her sweat-stained gray sweat suit, hood up over her head, I would hum the tune from the movie Rocky, as she reminded me of the movie with Sylvester Stallone, training to become the champion fighter.

After the garage was done, I decided it was time to make the time to take care of getting back into shape.  I had quit smoking by that time and was gaining weight because of increased awareness in my taste buds.  Everything tasted so good and if it tasted good, I would eat whatever it was until it was gone.  I had no idea of portions or of what was good for me.  The only requirement was that it had to be satisfying to my taste.

I started up a ladder, without my paintbrush in hand, climbing upon the scale that revealed my weight.  It went from the 140s, the weight I had been when I graduated from high school, back up into the high 160s.  I knew it would not be long before it reached a level that was unhealthy, the level I reached before being discharged from the U.S. army after a tour in West Germany.  That figure, 196, was in the back of my mind when I began to run on my birthday in 1980.

I had a picture taken shortly before leaving the military in December of 1969.  It was taken in a German gasthaus, holding a half-liter glass of beer, sporting my first scrawny mustache and the uniform of the day.  I was smiling because of the great tasting beer, not because I was pleased that I had let myself become obese.

Obesity had plagued me from the time I was a child.  I look back at photos and I was the chubby one of three brothers and a sister.  Off and on the weight came, depending on what I had chosen to do at the time.  If I was active, playing ball with the neighborhood kids, was eating whole foods instead of junk, everything was fine.  But most of the time I really didn’t think about it, I thought it was just natural to gain and lose weight, just as gaining height was natural.

During those days, I also learned that people could be cruel to those that are obese.  Name-calling was something I experienced often, but never took to heart.  I was fat.  I was chubby.  I was husky.  Whatever the name, it fit me. I could not deny it and eventually I realized I was obese and could do something to change it.

The summer before entering my freshmen year of high school, then called junior high, I saved my paper route money, earned at The Sheboygan Press, and bought a Jimmy Taylor weight set.  Jimmy Taylor was a running back with the Green Bay Packers and helped the team become the champions of the day.

I worked my own route, which was right next to the newspapers’ loading dock, and would pick up extra routes from other carriers to earn extra cash.  We were not a wealthy family, so each of us did what we could to buy the things we wanted.

I had seen the muscles that my older brother, Gary, developed from lifting weights and I wanted to be just like him.  Once the set was purchased I started following the program Jimmy Taylor recommended.  How could a pro-football player not inspire a kid, especially one with everything to lose (weight) and who wanted to gain (self-esteem)?

The program worked for me.  But, looking back, there was more to it than lifting weights and following the fullbacks’ training regimen.

One of the neighborhood boys, Glen Sanville, was a high school cross country runner, basketball player and all around athlete.  We were friends and he began to see me getting in shape and would ask me to run with him.  He usually ran 6 miles on either Saturday or Sunday, depending if he had a meet or not.

When he called the night before to ask if I could join him I would always say yes.  I thought it was cool to be running with a real athlete!

I wore what we all wore in those days.  I put on the same uniform I wore in gym class, white t-shirt, white shorts and white socks with Converse high tops.  Often the police would stop us and tell us that someone reported a couple of boys running around in their underwear and we assured them there was no fly in the front of our shorts.  They would laugh and we would continue on our way.

At that time, I never thought 6 miles was too difficult to cover on foot.  After all, I was 14 years old and at that age you can pretty much do anything you want to, athletically.  The police also got used to us and would just wave and let us be, even if they got reports of kids running around in their underwear.

During my high school years I maintained a pretty steady weight of between 142 and 145, and when I graduated I was at 145.  I thought that was pretty good, as it was what I weighed in 8th grade, when I was nearly 6 inches shorter.

With the weight under control during my high school years I began to get involved with athletic activities, in the neighborhood and at school.  I especially enjoyed participating in CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports activities.  In summer it was softball and fall and winter basketball.

I remember my coach, a short guy like myself who encouraged us and told us we did not have to be the biggest, just the best we could be.  Coach Pat Murray wasn’t a big guy, but to me he was big in a different way.  He instilled confidence in me, something no one had ever tried to do with me.  He was successful, whether he realized it at the time or not, in convincing me I was an athlete. 

Years later, I saw him at road races that I competed in.  I kicked his butt!  He still was a big man in my book; he acknowledged my talent and encouraged me even more.  Some guys have the right stuff inside and share it with others, to make them better than they thought they would ever be.  As a coach, that is a quality that should not be taken for granted by any athlete.

I joined the swim team my junior year with the encouragement of my chemistry teacher, T.C. Butts, the swimming coach.  I thought it might help my grade in the classroom too!  What really helped was having a great lab partner in Lana Juntz.

Coach Butts had me doing the breaststroke because the guy who was a senior would not be there the following year and he needed someone to move up and he thought I was the guy.  I liked the training and the fun of being on the team, but when it came to meets I didn’t care for the pressure of competition.

I can remember catching a ride home after swim practice with my friend, Herman Dick, who had a foreign exchange student from Columbia, South America, by the name of Freddy Sanchez staying with him and his family.  He had this little car called a Metropolitan and it was a two-seater, so I had to ride in the rear window well (trunk basically) for a few miles.  It was cramped in there, but we became close in more ways than one, because of that. 

Freddy visited here one year and was surprised when he called my house and my wife, Gail, answered.  He identified himself when he called and asked who she was.  She replied Gail Goebel, so he would know her as she was in high school, and he said, “What are you doing in Roy’s house?”  She laughed and said we had married in 1968, two years after graduating from Sheboygan South High School.  It was so nice to see him and learn that he had finished college and was living and working in the U.S.

Herman and I still write to each other from time to time and I learned recently that I was not the youngest male in our graduating class, as I had been told.  When Herman added me as a friend on Facebook I checked his profile and found out his birthday is July 14, 1948 exactly a week after mine.

My senior year, I vowed to be in school every day no matter what.  I had taken a job at Geno’s Top of the First, a restaurant that was on the top floor of the tallest building in Sheboygan, located downtown in the Security First National Bank.  I worked as a bus boy and a kitchen helper and dishwasher.  

The nights I cleaned the kitchen, Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, I would be there until one or two in the morning, but I kept my promise to my mom that I wouldn’t miss school because of my work.  I really enjoyed working with everyone there and was making nice tips as a bus boy on the weekends.  It was a great experience to interact with people older than I was and it helped me mature quickly.

My home life was not as pleasant.  My father was an alcoholic and at times threw some temper tantrums and would go into rages where he would hit my mother and also take out his problems by beating us with a belt.  For years there was not much we could do about it, but I knew the day would come that he and I would face each other as men.  I bided my time and avoided confrontations, knowing the day of reckoning would arrive.

Lifting weights became a steady habit for me, I enjoyed seeing the changes it caused in my body.  It also changed my attitudes about who I was and what I was capable of doing with and for myself.  I also found girls were more attracted to me now that I had become fit.  Yet, I had no interest in asking any of them out.  Some actually asked me out, and I usually said no.  Part of it was that I felt a need to keep the “secret” of my father’s drinking problem hidden.

My senior year was different!  I could not suppress the hormones any longer; I needed to be with a girl!  I had several dates and several girlfriends.  None of them lasted long.  A couple of dates and they were history. They did nothing wrong, it was the way I felt.  I was not willing to get close to anyone, as I still felt guilty about my father, drinking and losing jobs, not having a real father to go to with any problems, knowing he had his own problems to deal with and I did not want to add to that burden and feel even more guilty.

The final year of high school was good for me.  I got out of the house and out of my father’s path.  Being out of harms way let me grow in many ways.  I realized I would not be staying in my parents’ home much longer.  I had plans to join the army soon after graduation and start a life of my own.

I was invited to go to my graduation party by a girl from the junior class and I accepted.  The day of the graduation ceremony it rained and the ceremony, that traditionally was held in a park and was celebrated by both South and North High Schools in a local horseshoe shaped depression surrounded by landscaped banks, named Vollrath Park, was canceled. 

Each school would hold their ceremony individually, in their respective gymnasiums.  We were told to report to a certain area of the school and remain in the hallway in alphabetical order.  It was hot and stuffy and there were no windows open.  I did not feel well.  I got my diploma and headed home where I promptly threw up.

I went from the bathroom to the bedroom and took with me a large stainless steel bowl, normally used for popcorn, and always used as a barf bowl near the bed.  We affectionately called it a Tin Teddy when used in that capacity.  How we ever ate popcorn out of it too still amazes me.

When the girl whom had gotten me to say yes to her invitation called, I could not get out of bed.  My mom told her I was sick, but she didn’t believe her, my mom said.  I did go out with her a few times during the summer and when she brought that night up, I knew I could not go out with her if she did not trust me and believe that I was sick and not just trying to get out of going with her to the party.

I kept my promise to my mom, I was not absent one day of school my senior year.  But the day I wanted to go to the party, the reward for not being absent one day, I spent at home in bed, with Tin Teddy the only one keeping me company.

That summer went by quickly and I spent too much time at home.  My father was drinking heavily at that time and I was looking for a way to move out.

I got a job where my mom had been working for several months.  It was full time, and it was second shift, meaning I worked from 4 p.m. until midnight, or longer if there was overtime, which most often there was, as we were part of the war machine for the Viet Nam conflict.  Many nights I worked until the first shift arrived at 6 a.m.

The first Saturday in August there had been a tradition in Sheboygan, since I can remember.  It was called Bratwurst Day.  Sheboygan has laid claim to being the Bratwurst Capitol of the World, mostly because of Johnsonville Sausage Company and a number of other sausage manufacturer’s, plus the creation of a festival that had grown to be a large tourist event and drew thousands of people from around the country.  It now runs Thursday through Saturday and one of the highlights is the Bratwurst eating contest.  One year it attracted some of the “professional’s” of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, including prize money.  A “World’s Record” was set too!

The year I graduated was the first year the festival did not take place. It had been held on city streets downtown.  The main street was closed and on EVERY corner there was a grill and a beer stand and people milled about in the street eating brats and drinking beer, lots of beer.  Then the stands would close and the crowds would leave the streets and head into the bars, for MORE beer.

As the day drew larger and larger crowds and more and more beer was consumed, as there were figures kept and announced, as to how many pounds of brats and gallons of beer were consumed, the crowds became unruly while in pursuit of new records.  Going into the local bars, after the festival shut down, many places were trashed, glasses thrown, tables and chairs smashed, windows broken, sinks torn off walls and other vandalism.  This finally caused the demise of that traditional festival.

Some of the local bars took it upon themselves to keep the tradition alive.  They held individual brat day parties.  They were well attended, but nothing like having everyone in one place to raise hell.

For me, it meant attending one or more of the local teenage bars, something not every community had or wanted.  For our area it was a natural feeder program for those that would enter adulthood upon reaching the age of 21 and thus be allowed to drink hard liquor too.  At age 18, a young adult or in some cases a child of 18, could go into an establishment just outside the city limits and consume beer.  We had several places that were just outside of the city limits that were well attended by students who were 18 years of age or had managed to obtain false identification.  I was one of the latter and spent most of my free time with friends at these establishments.

The day I celebrated the loss of Bratwurst Day is the day I met my future wife.  I had actually met Gail during our high school years, but was really not interested in her because I thought she was a bit of a show off and an attention grabber.

That night my opinion of her changed, when I realized she was fun loving and I wanted to be with her.  She gave me a ride home that night and we began to date while she attended Bryant and Stratton Business College in Milwaukee.  I did not have a driver’s license because my father would not let us drive his car.  (Although some nights after he came home drunk and passed out I would take his keys and “learn” how to drive.)

I drove to Milwaukee on the weekends with Gail’s mom and dad, Ethel and Joe Goebel and really liked them too.  I wished I had a dad like him.  Her mom was like my mom, Theckla, loving and caring and fun to be with.

That summer was also the time that I faced my dad man to man.  He came home and began shouting at my mom and started shoving her around.  I knew it wouldn’t be long and a fist would go flying and mom would be the target.  I had seen enough.

I stepped between the two of them and said, “No more!”  He looked at me like he hadn’t heard what I said and then came after me, fist flying.  Mine flew too and it packed a punch to his jaw knocking him to the floor where he hit his head and was out cold.  I remember thinking, “Oh, shit, what if I killed him!”  Eventually he woke up with a dazed look in his eyes, as though he had not understood what had just happened.

When he got to his feet I asked him if he could hear me and when he said yes, I told him, “If you ever hit my mom again you won’t get up next time” and I meant it.  Even in his condition he realized I was not going to let her take his abuse any longer.  He never hit her again.

After that, I really got the urge to leave home and go into the military just like by older brother had done.  He joined the Air Force right out of high school, but I knew he had to have dad sign the documents giving permission because he was still 17.  I was 18, but asked him to sign the paper anyway.  I told him if he didn’t I would get someone else to sign it, so he signed it.  He knew I wanted to get away from him and perhaps realized it was better for both of us that way.

I had fallen in love with Gail by the time I left for the U.S. Army.  The night before I was to be inducted into the U.S. Army, we went to see a movie, Casino Royale, in Milwaukee.  It was nice to have her by my side and I knew at that moment we would be seeing many movies together in our future.

It was the first time I had flown on a plane.  I really didn’t like it!  I looked out of the window and saw the props spitting sparks and what appeared to be flames.  It was noisy, not very comfortable, but I knew it was my chance to fly away and leave the nest.

My destination was Columbia, South Carolina where I would be bussed in something called a “cattle car”, a semi-trailer acting as a bus for humans.  The transport brought us to Fort Jackson and for me some real surprises.  Luckily, I had entered with Michael Boos, a fellow high school graduate and long time friend, under the “buddy plan”.  At least being with strangers was tempered with the knowledge I had a close friend nearby.

They assigned us to our quarters and as it turns out they were tents.  Not only weren’t the tents my idea of a place to sleep, but we had to put them up ourselves.  Welcome to the U.S. Army and the fulfillment of their slogan, “Be All That You Can Be.”  

Fortunately, the in processing that took place lasted only a few days, mostly answering questions and taking written tests and then we were given assignments to nearby training camps for basic training.  Again Mike was assigned to the same location at Fort Gordon, Georgia for an eight-week stint.

When we were processed into that unit they told us we had been randomly selected to be firemen.  I thought that was really cool!  Then the first day we were told to report for firemen training we were less than thrilled we had been selected.  The training was how to start and keep a coal-fired boiler going to heat the buildings in our unit, not put out fires and rescue people.  That would entail 12 hour shifts, sometimes days and sometime nights.

The only good part about it was it gave us freedom to move around the base and we took full advantage of it.  Mike and I always tried to be assigned to this extra duty on the same shift and we would some times party in the boiler rooms at night, celebrating those moments of freedom away from the watchful eyes of our superiors, eating chocolate chip cookies and having fun.

Neither of us ever left the base during those weeks and we really grew as individuals.  We did become men in those few weeks as we learned the importance of everything we were being taught and how to deal with other adults.  Both of us were promoted to the next level before leaving there.

Both Mike and I had scored high on the tests that had been administered during our first week in the army and we were asked to participate in Officer Candidate School.  I chose not to, Mike chose to go for it!  Our decisions at that time determined where we would go once leaving Georgia.

I ended up in Ft. Eustis, Virginia in the Transportation School, while Mike went the OCS route.  My Advanced Individual Training (AIT) was geared to making me a transportation movement specialist. I did not know at the time how helpful those skills would be in the future.  They trained me to move troops and equipment from one place to another using all forms of transportation available.

One of the highlights while in Virginia was getting to see my uncle and aunt Stan and Dottie (one of my mom’s sisters) and my cousin Donna.  They lived in Virginia Beach, and I spent weekends there.  Stan was in the U.S. Navy and I visited the base in Norfolk.  He was a Chief Petty Officer and his specialty was cooking, so I ate well and tried a variety of his treats, along with a few beers.

While stationed there, I also got to see Ray Charles perform.  He was one of my favorite singers at the time and to see him in concert was really cool.

Gail was concerned that I was not getting home, while Mike had gotten home several times.  I told her to be patient and I would be coming home soon.  Near the end of May 1967, I got a two-week furlough. 

Just days before going home on leave, we stood outside of headquarters and awaited an announcement from the company commander, as to where we would be assigned.  Most of us knew, as we had been given all the shots for those heading for Southeast Asia.  To our surprise, they announced we were all being sent to Europe for further assignment there.

I ended up in Frankfurt and was then given a permanent assignment to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Nurenberg, Germany.  From there I moved on to Amberg, in Bavaria, with the 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron, also affectionately known as the 3rd Herd.  The border unit was a first line of defense with duties patrolling the Czech border.

The unit also had one of the highest suicide rates in the army.  I tried to transfer out when I learned why.  The unit was not being properly led.  Eventually, someone above made a change of commanders and things improved drastically.  Fortunately, my transfer was denied and I found myself in a good job as a personnel clerk, working with a great bunch of guys and a good personnel NCO.

I returned home the following year, in time for my mom’s birthday.  I realized while there, I did not want to be separated from Gail by an ocean, I proposed to her, she accepted and I asked her dad’s permission and mom’s blessing and received both.

By that time, there was little left of my month long leave and we were unable to accomplish our wedding plans.  Our next step was to plan a wedding in Germany!

Gail arrived at the end of August and we were married on September 3rd in the Radhaus, the local city hall in downtown Amberg, followed by a Roman Catholic ceremony at Mariahilfberg, a monastery situated on the high point of the area and surrounded by the medieval city of Amberg below.

My fellow office workers asked what we wanted for our wedding and we asked for a small reception at our apartment.  I gave the keys to the guys and they said they would take care of everything.  Big mistake.

The ceremony was beautiful and very personal.  Only those I had met in the military were on hand.  Our celebrant was an Irish priest by the name of Father Patrick Mc Callahan, the base chaplain.  The church was beautiful, old and ornate.  We had to walk about 40 steps on a steep stairway to reach the massive front doors.

I waited at the front of the church for the music that was to be played on the organ by Ed Paquette, who had been married a year earlier to Pat, in this very setting.  When I saw him in the church and heard the music playing from above in the loft, I could not figure out what had happened.  According to him, the organ was too difficult for him to figure out, so he hired someone to play for the ceremony.

Gail arrived at the front of the church as I turned and she looked stunning in her bridal attire.  I was underdressed and regretted it later.  I always thought we would have another ceremony when we got back to the States and I would wear a tuxedo, but that never happened.

We were accompanied to the altar by Sally and Olin Wenrick, our best man and matron of honor and presented to the priest.  After taking our vows, Father told us to be seated, but Gail’s high-heel had become lodged in a heating grate in the floor.  She could not get her shoe off and told me to do something.  It looked kind of strange when I lifted her dress and stuck my head under it so I could see her shoe, but it was necessary for me to free her shoe.

When we exited the church we had a little reception in a small café overlooking the city and then they “stole” my bride.  It was a German custom I was unaware of at the time.  My friends and I then had to “go looking” for her at places I might find her.  After several stops, in the watering holes I frequented, I found her.  I then joined her in the “sarge’s” ’58 Chevy and we drove through the downtown area sounding the car horn, an American tradition that brought stares from the local populace.

We arrived at our apartment and I carried her across the threshold, another American custom and something that made this feel more like home to us.  The guys did the rest, and then some.  The bathtub was filled with ice and champagne bottles, beer and other goodies.  It was their wedding gift to us.

The night was fun, but we couldn’t wait for everyone to go.  That’s when we found a few surprises.  The guys had taken the liberty to not only handle the reception, but also prepare a few gags.  As we climbed into bed the sheets were “shorted” so we could not get in to bed.  We then took a look around to see what other surprises they had prepared for us.

The drawers on the dressers had been put in upside down and the knobs had been greased too.  The labels on the canned goods had been removed and the slats that supported the mattress had been placed so that they would fall out if there were any activity.  Glad we checked that one!  

Over the next few weeks, I received a promotion, then months later another and eventually I became the “sarge” in the office.  The personnel officer was transferred out and I was in charge of the office.  The unit’s records were then moved to a personnel unit away from the border for safekeeping.  I became the personnel liaison for the unit and traveled each week to Ludwigsberg, near Stuttgart, by train, always spending a night there and returning at the end of the day.

The months went by quickly once Gail was there.  We spent weekends with the guys and their spouses from the personnel section, “castle hunting”, picnicking at the lake or along the river next to the glider field.  We were a close-knit group and to this day still are in touch with each other.

Following my ETS (End Term of Service) we had to leave Germany on separate flights, Gail’s a civilian one, mine a military one headed for Fort Dix, NJ.  Gail flew to New York and was met by Jacob Halpern, our finance specialist from the 3rd herd.  She stayed with his family until I drove up to join them after being discharged.  We then flew home, rented a car and surprised everyone by getting home earlier than they were expecting.  One of the benefits of being in personnel was requesting a flight date back.  We always got back just within the time frame allowed, which was two weeks prior to the actual date of ETS.

I then looked for jobs in offices in the community and found no one willing to take on a veteran with experience, but no college degree.  I ended up going back to work where I had left until I could find what I wanted.

We then found out we were going to have a baby.  We also found out we had no insurance coverage.  When Gail went into labor after only 5 ½ months and brought a one-pound 9-ounce baby girl into this world we had further concerns.  Our little girl then lost 6-ounces and was fighting for her life.

Fight she did, and Christine Angela, named “Tiny Tina” by the nun who spent endless hours caring for her, was a survivor.  Sister Callista did everything she could to be sure of that.  Four months and two-days after she was born, we took our 5-pound 4-ounce girl home with us.

Then the reality of not having insurance coverage struck.  The bills rolled in, sheets of paper from a printer were strung together like a roll of toilet paper, each with line items for services and amounts that added up to tens of thousands of dollars.  I was making less than 2 dollars an hour and had no idea how I would ever pay this debt.

I discovered I had an ability to work long hours and I worked 3 jobs, and 3 years later the final payments on the medical bills were paid off.  I had taken a job with Kohler Company and my wages increased, but I kept my other 2 jobs and with three paychecks the payments did not seem insurmountable.  Eventually, I did not need the other 2 jobs.

That is when I became a couch potato—AGAIN.  I thought I was on easy street.  We purchased our first home, had a new car, then a second car, and we were able to buy what we needed and what we wanted.  I was just like everyone else in my family and my community.  Work, eat and drink, play and enjoy life.

But that lifestyle took its toll.  I became winded as I climbed a flight of stairs.  Not only was my two-pack-a-day cigarette habit causing me to fight for air, but I had to haul nearly 200 pounds with each step.  I had become obese again, just like when I was a kid.  The worst part of it was that I did not seem to care about it.

The epiphany was a lay off from work, giving me time to catch up on projects around the house.  I needed to paint the garage and now I had the time to do it.  Each day I put the brush to the garage and then each day I noticed an obese woman, wearing the gray sweat suit, hood up over her head “jogging” by each day.  I time her and saw that she was gone for an hour or more each time before returning in the opposite direction.

I thought to myself, if she can do it so can I.  I started on my 32nd birthday, now one of the most memorable I have ever celebrated.  My goal was to run two miles.  My first day, two blocks was as far as I could run without causing enormous pain.  My legs, especially my shins, hurt and my lungs felt like they were ready to explode.  I quit smoking during the Great American Smoke-out sponsored by the American Cancer Society the previous October, but on July 7, 1980 they were not ready for exercise.

The next morning, following my introduction to running was a painful introduction to pain and the reality this was not going to be a cakewalk.  I told Gail I probably should stay home as I hurt.  She agreed and told me she did not want to see me in pain.  Then I realized that the pain I was feeling physically, was nothing like the pain and anguish I felt mentally.

I changed my mind.  I thought, what makes me think that if I don’t run today, that I’ll get out there the next day or the one following.  I knew I had to keep doing this until I met my goal of running 2-miles, non-stop, without physical pain.  After all, when I was a teen I could run 6-miles without training.  What was so different now?  Fourteen years of not exercising, plus nearly 60 pounds and 34% body fat, that’s what had changed!

After some self-discovery, I realized if I walked and then ran a bit, it was easier to cover longer distances.  After several months of using the run and walk training process, I started running more and walking less until I finally could run non-stop over a two-mile course.  From there I found I could increase in small portions until I was running 5-miles and it was becoming easier as my breathing was no longer labored, my weight had come down to the mid-140s and I was eating a little better too.

Less than a year later I  entered a marathon.  My first running event, 26.2 miles was my goal.  I figured if I could run that far I could do anything.  The physical education teacher at my daughter’s school, Ray Wondergem, had told me to learn more about training I should pick up a copy of Runner’s World magazine and follow its tips.  The first copy I purchased had the title of article on the front page, “How to Run Your First Marathon” and I studied it and then practiced what it said.

When I told Ray I was going to run a marathon he said, “You can’t Roy!”  That statement only fueled my desire to prove him wrong.  I had followed the training schedule, put in the miles, sacrificed sleep when it was necessary to get the miles in and still remain a father and husband, doing the things other families did.  He tried to reason that I needed to run a 2-mile race, a 5-kilometer or 10-kilometer race before attempting a marathon.  I ignored his advice, citing my training schedule and the 16- and 18-mile runs I had already done.  

I told Gail I wanted to run the marathon to see if I liked it and probably would never run another race.  She remembered these words when I finished the marathon and then asked to run some more races.  I ran another 14 races over the course of the next several months and found something I really enjoyed that kept me motivated to stay fit.

The first step to fitness was the one I took when I began running, but the biggest step was going beyond getting out the door each day and running a few miles to stay in shape.  Without racing, I don’t think I could ever keep doing what I have done since receiving the birthday present I gave myself.  The gift of running became an important part of what I wanted to be and the journey towards health, both physical and mental.