One thing I neglected to mention in my introductory post was my size. I’m a large individual. I stand six feet, seven inches tall. Not tiny.
You may wonder how a giant of a man ever takes up cycling as a hobby. It’s a strange journey, admittedly.
It really all begins my junior year in high school, way back in 2000. I played football and basketball back in those days. On Friday, Oct. 13, 2000, I was about to make maybe the best defensive play in my career as a defensive end for a tiny high school in Arkansas. The ball was snapped well over the opposing quarterback’s head and I was bearing down on him, maybe 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. We had played well to this point, I believe the game was tied (at zero, but nevertheless … ). We weren’t very good, but it looked as though this could be our turning-point game. I was about to make a tackle that would keep momentum in our favor.
As I got back to the quarterback, he had started back upfield. I turned to get a better angle. As I did, my cleats dug into the turn and just as I turned an offensive lineman had managed to make his way into the backfield, he applied just a little shove. But it was enough to knock me off balance and with my cleats still dug in to the turf, my torso went one way, while my leg stayed straight. As I crumbled to the turf I heard my knee pop. Torn ACL. Bang, just like that, my junior year of football season was over and so was the basketball season.
Bear with me, remember, I said this was a strange journey.
Rehab for a torn ACL starts almost immediately after surgery to repair the ligament. I think my first rehab session was two days after the procedure. I figured the first day of rehab was just going to be more of a introduction-type session, sort of a “what to expect” sort of thing. I was wrong. After checking out my knee, they stuck me on an exercise bike. (Ah ha! A bike!) I was tasked with pedaling forward one rotation, then backward one rotation. That might not sound too tough, but when you’re knee hasn’t worked right for a while and has been operated on, it’s immensely difficult.
I didn’t get inspired to become an avid cyclist from that one experience on the bike, the thought never even crossed my mind. But, my knee rehab was quite possibly the most structured workout program I had ever participated in. And I felt like the six months of work had left me in probably the best shape of my life, from a pure fitness standpoint, anyway. I was nowhere near ready to return to playing sports at a decent level. But, I did play football and basketball my senior year.
After all that, still now cycling epiphany. It didn’t come after four years at college either. College provided the opportunity for a lot of free food. None of it healthy. Free food in college is generally pizza. When it wasn’t free food, it was late-night trips to Taco Bell after the cafeteria food had long worn off. I became an even larger individual, but I did it over time and fat has a lot of places to go when you’re sporting a six-seven frame. So, it wasn’t just horribly noticeable.
The weight continued to pile on after college. Then came the marriage and the weight continued to go up. I was wearing 3XLT shirts, folks. Ri-damn-diculous. It took a long time for me to actually feel fat, and this was it. I felt it now. I was working strange hours, eating a lot and at strange times, I had to do something.
First, I stepped on a scale. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. 322. Three hundred twenty-two pounds. Holy. Shit.
My first step was to cut down on the soda intake. Only at lunch and dinner, no more. I also tried not to eat when I got home from work at midnight. One week later I had dropped five pounds. A light went off. I thought, if I can drop five pounds in a week by just cutting back, I’m about to step this up.
I started going to the gym, I reverted back to that structured workout I had during my ACL rehab. Thirty minutes on a stationary bike, some other leg work and I threw in some upper body stuff. I started making better choices in the food department, started eating only healthy snacks and eventually cut out sodas all together. I only drank water and the occasional Gatorade. The pounds were rolling right off. I was feeling great.
My goal was to get back to 237 pounds, which is what I weighed that junior year of high school when I hurt my knee. While I would’ve been happy with 237, in the back of my mind 222 was really what I wanted, because that’s the higher limit of what is considered normal for a young man of my height.
Well, I shattered 237 and 222. In one year I had lost 125 pounds. I weighed 197. I couldn’t remember the last time I weighed less than 200 pounds. Largely because I rode a stationary bike at least 30 minutes five days a week. Once I reached my goals, I was getting a little tired of the stationary bike. It’s not fun. I tossed around the idea of buying a real bike. I hadn’t had a bike since I was a youngster. I loved it when I was little, but grew out of it, like so many of us do.
After four years in Northwest Arkansas, my wife and I had moved back to Conway. She wanted to change careers, and had an opportunity to get the wheels in motion on that new career back in the city where we met. Conway is special to both of us, so I had no problem coming back, except the pressure was on to find a job.
I did. Whew. A few months in, the job wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I was not happy. Daily I wondered if I had made the right decision. I was afraid I had rushed to find a job and just accepted the first thing that came along so that I wouldn’t have to be away from my wife for any amount of time.
Anyway, my wife knew I was unhappy. Not that it was any big secret. I must’ve been a nightmare to deal with. She took me to The Ride, Conway’s bike shop. She wanted me to get a bike — since I discussed it so often — and get happy. I test rode a mountain bike. I absolutely fell in love. It was like I was a young kid again, just rolling around the parking lot. I couldn’t order the bike fast enough. Of course, I didn’t feel like I was ready to drop major bucks on a bike, so they ordered a huge (remember, I’m 6-7), cheap (relatively) mountain bike. It was in by the end of the week and the journey began.
Things got better immediately. Going for short little rides was a great way to relieve some stress. Work was getting better, my duties changed and now I was in love with my job, in love with cycling and my most important love — my wife — was probably thrilled that I was back to normal, if not better than normal.
I quickly grew tired of lugging the heavy mountain bike out to a short bike path for what seemed like short, little rides. I bought a road bike and my passion just blew up. Now, I could leave right from the driveway and was zipping all over town. I started riding at least five days a week and haven’t stopped.
I still weigh right around 197 pounds (less in the summer when I ride all the time), I’m still eating healthy (although with all the cycling, I do splurge from time-to-time. I mean, Skittles are freakin’ awesome, folks.)
So, that’s my long, strange journey to becoming a cyclist. I was fat. I didn’t want to be fat. Then I wasn’t fat, but I was unhappy. Now I’m not fat and as happy as ever.