When I started working on the farm I had been riding dirt bikes for about five years. I had even done a couple of motocross races and even finished top three. I used the sport to stay active and healthy. Working in the construction industry, with its more standard hours, made it a lot easier to find the time to get exercise in. Once I started working on the farm, finding time to get out on the dirt bike became harder. The guys that I had ridden with were still doing construction so that was another road-block. Eventually I let the few things that gotten in the way become the excuse for not doing it anymore and found other things to do in my off-time that were easier fit in. Enter video games.
Now, I had never really not enjoyed playing video games. I had had an original Sega, played Nintendo and Super Nintendo with my uncle, and even bought a Nintendo 64 with money I had earned from potato harvest. The short story of this part is that I had, through life, always liked video games. The problem came from not doing anything but video games. Typically, my friends and I would ride during the daylight hours and then wind down with them but now I was spending all of my off-time on them. It was easier to wind down after a hard day at work by mentally checking out and just going online to play a game with virtual friends than it was to find the ambition to get some sort of physical activity in.
Fast forward a few years. I had gained about seventy pounds from when I had started farming again. I was playing lots of video games. My health was pretty shitty overall and I just needed something to kick-start me into at least moving more. That year two of my brothers (who were working on the farm now too) and I decided to buy dirt bikes and start riding again. After a few times out and seeing what a fat ass I had become it finally kicked in that I needed to lose weight. I was twenty nine and weighed nearly 300 pounds.
I talked to one of my brothers and my uncle about losing weight and they both mentioned cycling. They had been cycling for a couple of years and were able to offer some help in getting me started. My first ride on my new road bike (read: bicycle) was eleven miles of hell. I worked so hard on those few miles that I had leg cramps for the rest of that day and part of the next. My lungs felt like they were going to expel out of my mouth and I was so tired I felt like I needed to take a nap. Instead, my brother and I loaded up our dirt bikes and went to a local track and rode with a bunch of friends. Talk about kicking a guy while he’s down right?
So, with my dirt bike and road bike I started a new lifestyle. I had about a year to go until my thirtieth birthday and also had a weight loss goal that I was going to hit and had told people about to be sure I would be held accountable. I began tracking my activities: road bike, dirt bike, and my gym sessions (private gym, not nearly enough confidence at this point to go exercise in front of people). I used phone apps to track my caloric intake against my caloric expenditures.
This was, and still is, a bit tedious but I began to see the weight come off. I kept at it all, adding this that and the other to try and keep things mixed up and to make sure I had a routine that I could do even alone so that I wouldn’t fall back into my old routine. Video games had phased out pretty quickly. I had taken all of the time that I was throwing into them before and was now focused pretty intensely on my weight loss. What was interesting was that I found I didn’t even miss them. I had put significant amounts of time into a number of games that I had played, one I had played for years, but once I started learning that sweating for fun was more fun that sitting on my ass playing video games everything changed.
I kept pushing myself. I was going for longer rides on my road bike, trying to get faster on the dirt bike, improving my running speed, and working my way up with weights to keep getting stronger. Before long I had lost ten pounds, then twenty, then thirty. It was easier than it had ever been to make sure I was eating right and exercising. I was faster on my dirt bike than I had been even when I was an idiotic teenager that didn’t understand that getting hurt actually hurt and took time to recover from. I rode my road bike on days when people weren’t around to ride dirt bikes with and I was getting better at that too. Come my thirtieth birthday I was just shy of actually having made my weight loss goal but I had, by my figuring anyways, lost enough weight and gained enough muscle to have covered the difference I saw on the scale.
This had me feeling really quite successful. I had actually set a difficult goal and reached it. I had proved to myself that I could do things that seemed so hard at the start that I wouldn’t make it. Because of actually having made this goal I decided I needed another undertaking that was just as hard in a different way. I had wanted to learn to play the violin for some years but had always had the excuses of “not enough time” and that I thought my hands were too big. After working on getting my YouTube PhD I was able to learn that a violinist by the name of Itzhak Perlman had enormous hands and is arguably the best violinist in the world.
What Do I Do With My Hands?
So, with my new YouTube PhD and confidence that I can indeed do things that aren’t easy, I set off to find a violin and a teacher. After a few stops I found a place where I could rent a violin and did lessons as often as I wanted. I started doing lessons once a week and practicing when I wasn’t working or exercising. The thing about this goal is it’s quite a bit harder to quantify. It’s not like losing weight where I could put a number to it and then work towards it. The one thing I had picked up in the year and a half I had been working on myself at this point was a certain amount of drive.
Although I can’t set a number goal for playing the violin I am perfectly capable of not being satisfied with the level I am playing at. I have made, according to people that may not be perfectly objective like my wife, mom, kids, and teacher, significant progress and I should be very satisfied with the level I can play, especially when the amount of time I have been playing is taken into account. I’ve now played a few recitals now with my kids, who’s mean parents make them play an instrument and *gasp* actually make them practice, and they went ok. I was told I did great especially for someone who started playing so late in life (a bit of a backhanded compliment) but I did feel successful, and more driven than ever to get better.
It’s hard to think that three years ago now I was still hanging out in front of the tv or computer playing video games when I wasn’t working and eating as much of whatever tasted good as I wanted. I have hit two intermittent weight loss goals and have now lost ninety pounds total and still have more to go. I feel better than I ever remember feeling. I sleep better and think clearer. I have ridden thousands of miles on my road bike in three different states with people I used to think were crazy for even riding a bike. I’ve picked up playing an instrument that I was convinced I was genetically incapable of playing and enjoy playing it at least once a day.
I have learned is that I can do difficult things, things that I had told myself that I couldn’t or was incapable of doing. Things that I now enjoy doing every single chance I get. I’ve raced mountain bikes and dirt bikes. I’ve played my violin in front of people multiple, terrifying times. I’ve ridden up mountain roads and alongside meandering rivers on my road bike. But I think that the most important thing that I have learned is that it is never too late to start to improve yourself.
Any improvement is better than no improvement, no matter the size. Keep growing as a person in any way that you can and in ways that you think you can’t because they’ll be too hard. Try that hard thing that you have always told yourself you can’t. Run that 5k. Start playing the piano. Learn that language. Travel the world. Whatever you do, always improve.