When I was growing up, I was kind of active. A little bit. I did ride my bike around town quite a bit. In the summers I would go to the pool in town once in a while.
But I was never good at sports. In the USA, that is an unpardonable sin. I also had little interest in sports. An even worse thing.
In this country I think a lot of people equate sports with fitness. Gym class had little to do with health, and a LOT to do with sports. So you had a few people doing something, and a lot of people standing around.
I think this might be part of the reason our country is so fat. A lot of people do not get the hang of a lot of games quickly. The few who do dominate the game. I think the use of sports in gym class gives people the idea that exercise and sports are the same thing, and that it is something other people do.
I went to college at WIU. I was there for two years before I transferred out. There is no interstate running through Macomb, Illinois. When my sister looked at colleges, I told her that if the city did not have an interstate running through it to cross it off her list.
Anyway, I was not really into exercise when I first arrived. The first break for which I went home was Thanksgiving break. I went home a couple of days early, and a friend of mine in the next room also went home the same day as I did. We each had a pretty heavy bag, and we were pretty tired by the time we got to the station. We left before the sun came up, and there was nobody else out at that time. It was snowing which added to the drama. It could have been a scene from a movie: “I won’t make it! Go on without me!” If wolves attacked us we would not have been surprised.
I checked on Google maps, and it was about two miles. We had walked to town before, but we were surprised that we were nearly wiped out. I guess we thought that because we were young that it would be easy for us. That was the first wake up call that I had.
While we were on the platform I spotted one of my professors. So he was also skipping town early. I said hello to him, and he knew he was busted.
In the summer and winter breaks when I went to WIU (as well as the summer before going to WIU) I worked at a local grocery store. One of my duties was to collect the carts in the parking lot. I hope I do not get skin cancer; I did not wear a hat.
Pushing all that metal probably helped make me more fit, but I never really considered that as part of my transformation from couch potato to Mr Physical Fitness. I guess that is because it is not something I really chose to do. It was part of my job.
Sometimes I would only get one or two carts. Sometimes I would push in more than a dozen. (Sometimes with only one arm. Uphill. Really.) On Christmas Eve two of us would run all over the parking lot to get carts. We would have three carts between the two of us, and there would be at least four people waiting.
For my second semester at WIU, I got a new roommate. Two guys on the floor did not get along, so we swapped. My new roommate was a runner in high school, and still ran non-competitively. Most of my other friends were sci-fi and D&D guys. The sort of people that today we would call geeks. Before it was popular.
He got me into running. The first few times he went with me, then I started going by myself. I would run to the center of town, the same center of town that I was not able to walk to for Thanksgiving break a semester earlier. Sometimes I would run to the town square, rest on a bench, and run back. I think it was about 3 or 4 miles total.
Once I had a chat with three high school kids who seemed impressed by my running routine. Perhaps they were stoners.
I also ran during that summer between freshman and sophomore years, and into the fall. I would put my ID in my left shoe, which might have been a bad idea.
So I was running a few times a week in the fall of my sophomore year in college. I did not run very far, but a lot of people who were not active were impressed with my mileage.
One day I was running north on Western Avenue after running to downtown Macomb, and I felt a sharp pain in my left knee. I stopped for a few minutes. Then I restarted, and again I felt a sharp pain. I stopped again and did not restart.
I saw a doctor, and found out that I had chondromalacia patellae. When you put weight on your knee, the kneecap should move vertically. With CP, when you put weight on your knee, it moves horizontally, cutting into cartilage. The doctor said that it was because my left leg was not as strong as my right leg. He told me that I should stop running, and I should look into weight training. I was upset since I liked running, but I did look into weight training. Back then I did not know about the different muscle types.
So after I started having knee problems, I started going to physical therapy. My therapist was a very attractive woman. Sometimes when I put weight on my knee, I would go an inch higher; sometimes my left leg was longer. Things got pretty bad. But my knee eventually got better.
I did weights at the gym. It was a small gym in the dorm. I did not know much, I did not even know that I should work big muscles before the small muscles. I do not remember what I did to stay in shape in the summer between sophomore and junior years. I probably still worked at the grocery store pushing the carts. But I do not think I went to any gym.
In my junior year I transferred to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There I got even more serious about fitness and got more knowledge.
Two other guys who lived on the same floor at WIU also transferred. They were brothers who were from a town close to Macomb. They were the only two people I knew.
We got together on our first Saturday night on campus and started looking around. We saw a flier in the union for a couple of taekwondo clubs. One of the brothers learned some TKD from a South Korean student at WIU. He said, “This martial arts stuff is cool. We should do it.”
There were fliers for two clubs. One started on Tuesday, and one started on Thursday. We decided to go to the one that started on Tuesday since that would be one more day of training.
So we went to the first one. There were about 100 people there for their first day of martial arts. One of the instructors said that only 1 out of every 100 people who starts martial arts makes it to first degree black belt.
The class started with some stretches. The last part of the “warm-up” was 20 or 25 sit-ups. I don’t remember the number. I do remember that I barely made it. I thought to myself, “I am 20 years old. I am supposed to be in the best shape of my life, and I can barely do 25 sit-ups. Not good.”
I resolved to be the one person who made it to first degree.
Even though I had done some running before this, for a long time in some ways had I considered this moment to be the start of my fitness journey. I thought I was in shape, and I realized I was not.
It turns out that three of us made it to first degree. One made it at the semi-annual black belt test after me.
So for the first two semesters I went to TKD three times a week. The workouts were pretty intense: lots of blocks and punches up and down the gym, kicks in place, calisthenics. A few times we did jumping kicks and punches down the length of the gym.
I would also walk across campus to the gym and get there about 30 minutes early. I would go through the stretching routine before class. I got pretty flexible pretty fast.
I do not remember if I did any exercise on the off days.
During breaks I would do kicks, punches and blocks in the basement.