by Michael Warshauer
Why do it? Why be a triathlete? Why live a life of laundry baskets overflowing with running shorts, sweaty shirts, and bike shorts? I’m not fast. I might not ever be on the podium in a big triathlon. I AM sore a lot. Sometimes my wife gets angry at me when I go to the basement at 9:00 pm to get my workout in. Triathlon is expensive too - a fancy bike or two, swim club membership, entry fees, travel, massages, and
coaching. It adds up quickly. But it’s way cheaper than golf at Pebble Beach or dove hunting in Argentina. And, thanks to sports, I can wear business suits I bought from Muses! Muses has been out of business for more than twenty years. How many golfers can wear a twenty-year old suit?
I like being fit, and I like where I am. But really I think I do it because of where I don’t want to be. I don’t want to have a sharp mind and a failing body. Something that has been highlighted to me recently.
On the Fourth of July I enjoyed a fun 10k known as the Peachtree Road Race. I was looking forward to a relaxing day after. Instead, I got a call that my 94-year-old step father was in the hospital; so to Northside Hospital I drove. He had a sprained ankle. I understand senior citizens fall. There’s a whole industry based on fall prevention and rescues for senior citizens.
But this was the second fall and hospital stay in just as many months. Since then, there has been a third fall and yet another trip to the hospital. Again, I get it: old people fall. But this cantankerous, brilliant, witty, old man has no other maladies. Perfect blood pressure. Perfect mental state. If we are playing trivial pursuit, he is the secret weapon I want on my team. He was a college history professor – Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. A Fulbright scholar.
But he has never exercised. So when the doctors prescribed physical therapy after his first fall he wouldn’t do it. He flat out refused. Even when he was in a rehab facility for a month, he fought every day with the therapists. He’d never pushed himself physically. He had no experience working out and being
physically challenged. He was out of his comfort zone before he got started. So after the first fall and hospitalization, when he returned home he didn’t walk everyday like he was supposed to. And when the physical therapists knocked on his door he turned them away. “I don’t want to do it and you can’t make
He got weaker. Still sharp mentally, still not taking a single pill. I’m sure that he worked his butt off to become a first chair violinist accepted at Julliard, and scholar, but our brains are only part of our bodies. But he had never exercised. With no exercise his second and third falls were inevitable. Indeed, when we finally left the hospital after his last fall he backed out of the promise he made to the Emergency Room doctor to work with the physical therapist before we even got out of the car.
Our brains rely on our muscles to cart them around. Gus, that’s his name, is withering. He’s dying not
because his mind, or heart, or liver is failing. He’s not even dying because he’s approaching a century of living. His most probably cause of death will be he’s going to fall down due to weak muscles.
A brilliant mind lost to a weak body. Science tells us that we are never too old to benefit from exercise.
But, despite pleading and begging I can’t get Gus to workout.
I can’t teach a 94-year-old dog new tricks. And I’m angry about that. And turning my anger to action. I don’t want to be that dog. If I’m lucky enough to avoid cancer and heart disease and senility, I sure don’t want to die because I don’t know how to workout! So I’ll keep doing it until my mind fails. It’s the least I
can do for a brain that’s done a pretty good job of helping me raise a family, earn a living, and be a productive member of society.
I wrote this some months ago – in the interim Gus has finally started working out – a little – but enough so he could get to the symphony. So, maybe, just maybe, the old dog has learned that with pain comes gain. He may not be running a 5k soon, but he may be able to continue to enjoy activities he enjoys such as the symphony. It’s something I hope that all of us can keep in mind as we too work towards the century mark.