Reflections From The Cockpit December 2009
Due to the loss of a kayaking friend in March of 2007 I wrote a few articles about self-assessment and the transient nature of skills. The message in one article was, “keep practicing your skills so you know you can count on them.” The other message was the danger of self-assessment; because our brain still thinks it can do skills that our bodies can no longer perform. Even though I wrote about this and feel like I have fairly good self-assessment skills I was taught a valuable lesson. In both of these articles I focused on skills, but not power and endurance.
Last year, December 2008, I was one of 124 racers who participated in the Deception Pass Dash. Instead of placing as a finisher I ended up with a DNF next to my name on the final results page. For those who do not know, DNF stands for “Did Not Finish.”
There were a number of other DNF’s on the list, for any number of reasons. In my case it was for two reasons. One was stopping to help a capsized paddler and staying with them until a rescue boat showed up. I think I spent about 15 to 20 minutes assisting the paddler in need. When I got back into the race I was the last one in the so-called pack. I say so-called pack, because the pack was nowhere to be seen. Everyone was long gone. When I reached Deception Pass the current was moving steadily against me. I decided to eddy hop through the pass, against the current, just to see if my eddy-hopping skills were still reliable. I am proud to say that my skills were there, but my engine wasn’t working as I had hoped. When I got through the restricted flow area, I was exhausted. As I tried to persevere, I realized I was just TOO TIRED to continue with the race so I headed directly back to the finish line instead of following the designated racecourse. It was one of those moments when you find out that your present body cannot do what it used to do. I got a slap of reality regarding self-assessment.
To put this in full perspective, I was still teaching classes. I would still go out on tours with my paddling buddies. I also swam a mile a day at my fitness center. However, all of my kayaking activities and swimming were at an easy pace. I knew I couldn’t do certain types of rolls as I could years ago due to my bigger belly, but I could still roll up if I capsized. I still felt like I had most of my skills, but I wasn’t working on my endurance or power.
I will be the first to admit I never considered myself a racer. Yes, I have participated in some races in my career, but I am not a serious contender. I have always been a strong paddler with the ability to maintain a steady pace all day long. I am also well experienced in long distance towing having led many trips in my life. However, the day I earned the DNF showed me my endurance and power were not what I thought I had. My comedic brain said, “If my power and endurance are not gone they have certainly left town on a long vacation.” When I got back to the take-out my arms were too tired to lift myself out of my cockpit so I capsized and did a wet exit to get out of my boat. I am sure being grossly overweight was a contributing factor. There was a lot of soul searching on the one-hour ride home after the race.
This year I participated in the race again and ended up placing third in the Fast Sea Division with a skin boat I built this past summer. At the end of the race I can say I felt like I had my old body back. What happened in one year to make such a difference? Also, why is any of this important?
The big difference in this year's race was twofold. In the past eleven months I lost 88lbs. The major weight loss (72 lbs) occurred from June 1, 2009 up to the race on December 12, 2009. I entered this year’s race weighing 210 lbs. During last year's race I weighed about 298 lbs. Loosing the weight definitely helped me in the race, especially when I had to lift myself out of my kayak at the end of the race. However, my weight loss was only one part of my success. The more important component of my success was my regained fitness level (power and endurance).
Here is why I think it is important to tell my story. As we age it gets harder to maintain our levels of fitness. I have heard many people verbalize their frustration about not being able to get back into the condition they once enjoyed when they were younger. That frustration causes many to give up and stop trying. I want to let you know you can make changes if you make up your mind to do so. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.
I am now 59 1/2 years old. The last time I saw 210 pounds on the scale was in 1992. Since then my weight steadily went up year after year. Like most people, I did not change my eating habits as my metabolism slowed down. I was also spending more time behind my desk rather than the active lifestyle I once knew. In addition, there was a lot of frustration eating due to the pressures at work. There is no wonder why I gained so much weight. Even though I knew I was heavier I still felt like I was active, because I still taught my kayaking classes and would still go out on paddles.
I knew my extra weight was hampering my rolling skills because it limited my flexibility. As for the rest of my skills, I felt they were reliable because I still had to use them during my kayaking classes. One of the side benefits of teaching kayaking is the opportunity to regularly practice your skills when you have to demonstrate. This benefit would also be a curse, because skill performance is different from power and endurance.
When it comes to self-assessment I think we all need to look at three different components. The first component, which is an absolute necessity, is our ability to perform our skills. The second component, are the conditions in which we can perform those skills. The third component, which my DNF made me realize, is maintaining our level of fitness (power and endurance).
The hardest part of losing weight and regaining our fitness levels is our determination and motivation. These past six months have not been easy. My lifestyle changes included altering my eating habits and increasing my exercise. I can tell you that taking third place in my division of the race was a fantastic reward for all my hard work. I am hoping my experience can be a lesson and a motivation to those of you who feel they cannot change their weight or fitness level, because you are getting older. Lately I have been doing things that I have not been able to do for years due to my new body.
In the past two years my orthopedist has told me that I will need a new left knee and a new right hip. He told me, “When you can no longer tolerate the pain come and see me for the replacements.” Now that I am no longer carrying the excess weight my knee and hip seem to be pain free. After all, I have stopped carrying around an 80+ lb backpack disguised as body tissue.
In closing, I want to reiterate how great it feels to have made the changes in my body over the last six months. Again, it was difficult, but absolutely worth it. Now when I look at DNF I not only think of, “Did Not Finish”, I also think, "Discard Nuisance Fat." I encourage all of you who are frustrated with your weight or fitness level not to give up and treat yourself to a more efficient body. Before I started the change there was a part of me that felt I was just too old and it was too late. I am so glad I proved myself wrong. It wasn't too late for me, and if you want it, it's never too late for you.
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