“Penny, look at all those balloons stuck in the tree,” my wife, Allie, said to our 4 year old daughter. The balloons looked like they had gotten away from a New Years Eve party the night before. Penny had never seen so many in one place. “Ooh, lets get them!” she shrieked. Allie laughed, explaining that they were stuck up high in a 50 foot tree. “Daddy can get them,” Penny said in her adorable “duh, of course” voice. And THAT is why I am so happy I started working out, running Spartan Races & Tough Mudders, & why I’m considering training for a marathon. I want our daughter and, when he’s able, our 9 month old son Simon, to think I am Superman for as long as possible.
This illusion of my invincibility is bound to fade, of course, and eventually completely disappear. But I want it to last as long as possible. I love it! Could I have shimmied up that tree & gotten those balloons for my baby girl? Hell no! But she doesn’t need to know that. She’s seen me at obstacle races muddied up, climbing up ropes & under barbed wire, & she’s seen pictures of me jumping over fire & performing various other feats of strength and stupidity. Right now, she believes I can do just about anything. She flies at me from the couch while I’m sitting on the floor. There isn’t a question in her mind that I’m going to catch her. Of course I am! She’s used to me tossing her in the air, flipping her upside down, &, well, performing various other feats of strength & stupidity.
As a stay at home dad, roughhousing is one of the ways I communicate with her. Yes, I read her stories and play figurines (of the princess and pony variety) & dress-up with her. Mommy does that, too. But mommy doesn’t throw her in the air so high she feels like a fast flying fairy – you know, like Vidia. Note: Vidia is Tinkerbell’s frenemy, whose role in the fairy world is to create strong winds and other seemingly natural occurrences that actually require flying at high speeds. It amazes me to think there was a time I didn’t know that.
When Penny was born (& I was blissfully unaware of the occupations of various fairies), I was out of shape. Probably had been for a while. I’d always been so skinny, I didn’t give much thought to my diet and I was kind of scared & intimidated by the gym. If I did hit the gym, I’d head straight for an elliptical or, if I was feeling bold, a weight machine. But never free weights! Those were for muscleheads who have to walk sideways through doors lest their huge shoulders get stuck. At some point, my brother Jon, who’d been doing the P90X workout & was looking pretty ripped (like one of those muscle heads!) told me I was looking chubby & should lose 20 pounds. Twenty pounds! He must have drank the protein enriched Kool Aid. I thought 5, maybe 10 lbs & I’d be lookin’ good. Twenty pounds? Was he nuts!?! Turns out, no. I was probably about 185/190 at the time. Now I weigh right around 165 pounds. I still walk straight through doors, but, for the first time in my life, I have some muscles!
My workouts started humbly. Like I said, I was pretty intimidated by the gym. But I broke down & joined Ballys. And got a personal trainer to help ease me into things. She showed me some machines, but I still stayed away from the big, scary free weights. Ballys closed (because of a fire or something), so I joined the other gym that was nearby. Golds. Yes, that Golds. The ultimate meathead gym. Crap. I got another personal trainer, because I wanted to take on those damned free weights. Once I got a few moves down it was all a lot less scary. He also showed me some crossfit exercises, like burpees and box jumps. And he told me about this crazy race called the Tough Mudder, a 13 mile military style obstacle course. He asked me to join his “team.” I told him I didn’t think I was physically (or psychologically) up for it, and his team would be better without me. Maybe next year.
Fast forward a year, and I’ve done two Spartan Races, a Rebel Race, the Merrell Down & Dirty & a Tough Mudder. Well, half a Tough Mudder; I had an early exit due to injury. I was coming out of a water obstacle and slipped in the mud, landing right on a rusty nail point side up. It went half an inch into my hand. I had to go to a hospital to have it removed, get a tetanus shot and start a course of antibiotics. To be honest, it hurt more going out than going in, and I was mostly just bummed I didn’t get to finish the race. Okay, so I’m addicted. I’m already signed up for another Mudder in May and a Spartan in September.
Going to the gym has become something I truly enjoy. And I’m comfortable with exercises I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a couple years ago: Romanian deadlifts… squatting over 250lbs… skull crushers! Once I’m at the gym, it’s great. But talking myself into going can sometimes be difficult. Especially when there are no races to train for. After all, I’ve got dishes to wash, a house to clean, kids to educate and entertain, and (let’s be honest) naps to take. It’s all about prioritizing, but when I’m feeling lazy I think about how I want my kids to see me. I try to go every other day, but only after the house doesn’t look like a total disaster zone. Both goals are aspirational; the house is usually a mess and I rarely actually get to the gym that often. To come close, I have to skip a lot of naps, drink a lot of coffee, and just squeeze in workouts whenever I can. But it’s all worth it when Penny brags to her friends about her Spartan dad. It doesn’t even matter that they have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. She thinks I’m Superman.