I was a pretty scrawny kid, but I thought I’d get bigger as a teenager. Well, I didn’t. In 10th grade, I was 5’9″ and weighed 125 lbs. The guys called me Bird Legs, which I didn’t mind so much, but the girls called me Mr. No Shoulders. Boy, did that hurt. I was too skinny to play football and not tall enough to play basketball, so I settled for being a couch potato. After school, I would come home and watch some soap operas and cartoons (that’s all that was on at that time), then play a little Nintendo.
One year, though, my friends did something that would change my life forever. Tom and Pete were always out to conquer something, and that summer their goal was to hike Mt. Whitney in California. They wanted me to come with them. That really didn’t sound like my idea of fun. They said they had put our names into the lottery for August. You see, in order to hike Mt. Whitney, you have to put in your request, and then the park rangers have a lottery. Only a certain number of the people who apply actually get to climb it. I knew I was in no shape to hike a 14,494-foot mountain. Pete and Tom decided I had better get in shape for the climb.
We made a deal to jog together four times a week. They would come over to my house (so I wouldn’t wimp out) and start with about 10 minutes of stretching. I felt like an upside-down, inside-out pretzel at times. Then we would go for our jog. The first time we jogged together I ran to the house three doors down, then had to turn around and walk home panting like a dog. That gave Tom an idea.
Our next run together, he brought his Labrador retriever and a Frisbee. He gave me the leash to hold. He said it gives a man a sense of power, and I obviously needed that. Every time he saw me slowing down, he would throw the Frisbee and tell his dog Flash to “GO GET IT!” My arm was practically ripped from my scrawny shoulders as I held on for dear life and tried to keep my feet in front of me. I definitely felt a sense of power! I ran for two whole blocks that day.
We kept on running, sometimes without Flash, and we slowly kept increasing how far we would jog. I came to appreciate the stretching times, both before and after our run, because I could lie down and take a load off my tender feet. But stretching actually kept me from getting sore and kept me from getting injured, too.
Tom and Pete always talked and laughed during the runs; I could hardly catch my breath so I just listened. One day I found I was talking, too. It was the first time I felt like I was getting into shape. After we worked up to a mile, we increased our runs by half a mile each week. By the summer, we were jogging about three miles each time we ran. I was starting to hope that we would get chosen to hike. I had more confidence in myself, and I was willing to take on the challenge. Besides, I had worked so hard with all this jogging and stretching that climbing a mountain didn’t seem so hard anymore.
“We made it to the top”
Well, we did get to climb the mountain. We made it to the very peak of Mt. Whitney, all 14,494 feet of it! I can’t say it was easy; in fact, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. There was more than one time that I wanted to turn back and go home. But I remembered the first time I ran, going home panting like a dog, and I thought about how far I had come since then. I knew in my mind I could finish this hike. I knew I could because of all the times I told myself on a run that I could finish it and I did. I had learned to push myself a little harder to achieve my goal. Because of the great challenge of the hike, I had a sense of accomplishment I had never felt before. As I was hiking down the mountain, I started to think of what else I could accomplish. I felt too good about myself to stop exercising now. I decided that I would try out for the track and field team. I became one of the few guys (along with Tom, Pete, and Flash) who was brave enough to go out for the cross-country running club.
The guys still called me Bird Legs, even though there’s some muscle there now, but the girls started to call me the Lean, Mean Running Machine. I guess they noticed a difference in me. if you’re like I used to be, start exercising and find some friends to help you. I feel great, and so can you.