My fitness history

Thomas Sjolshagen runningI’ve been active my whole life, with a “short” detour to being overweight and sedentary during my 20s and early 30s. Trying to build a career seems to have that effect on most of us.

My first sport was Soccer (Football). I think I was about 4 when I got my first Arsenal uniform from my grandfather. He was an active player well into his 40s, and reportedly was pretty decent. I started playing right around the same time I started school, at age 7, for the local team in the town I grew up in. (For the record; I’m a Manchester United fan)

To the great and hair-pulling dismay of my grandfather, this was not an age where I was all that interested in playing soccer. Supposedly, I was a whole lot more interested in jumping up and down on the sidelines when the ball got close to me. There’s also a wildly inaccurate story about me, in uniform and during the game, picking flowers on the sideline. These are lies, I tell you! (but don’t ask to see a picture illustrating how thick my grandfather’s hair was at age 50 or so…)

I grew up mere feet from the woods and would spend most of my days during the summer playing with my friends in there. We climbed rocks, jumped from tree-top to tree-top and ran around all day. I was also a pretty decent regional Track & Field athlete in my early teens before discovering what an incredibly fast-paced sport Badminton could be. I played competitively in regional championships for 3-5 years during High School.

Pressure to gain weight + career = Ouch!

As a result of my fairly athletic youth, I packed a mean six-pack until my early 20s. And was constantly told in my late teens that I was “too skinny”. Yeah. There’s no winning anywhere! Anyway, all the talk of how “you can stand to gain some weight Thomas” combined with entering the workforce certainly worked! After entering my 20s, I think I may have inadvertently entered the “packin’ on  the fat” regionals…

I did pretty well at that too!

From my early 20s until my early 30s, I discovered Fast Food, and had no clue that drinking anything other than Coke or fruit juice was in order. Water sucked and unless it had taste and included sugar, I refused to drink it. Take my simple sugar addition and fast forward until my 34th birthday: “Suddenly”, I’ve gone from a very lean 5″9′ male clocking in at about 155 pounds, to a rather “girthy” guy walking into Macy’s, looking for a pair of new pants.

The old ones didn’t fit me! Go figure…

The short version of what happened at Macy’s was that I walked out without getting any new pants (about 2 minutes after the guy helping me strongly recommended getting the bigger size pants). Then, a couple of days later and in all my naked glory, I walked past a mirror in our house, and something I’ve realized is pretty rare occurred:  I actually saw myself. The real me. I was not a happy camper!

1 day later, I had hired my first Personal Trainer. It was time to make a change.

My fitness journey (back)

I had my first meeting with my trainer in January of 2005. We met for the assessment, which was a rather sobering experience. Approximately one hour, 6 push ups & 7 bench dips (using a sofa), no pictures nor a trip to the scale later, and I was sufficiently humbled.

We agreed to a 30 day kick-start program, I called it a “fitness boot camp”, with one-on-one training, in my basement. It took exactly two sessions for me to realize  that after those 30 days I would never continue on my own. So I told my trainer to plan on a long-term relationship.

About 3 weeks in, another sobering experience: The annual exam at the doctors office. I checked in at 5’9″, 209lbs and beyond unhappy with myself.

I quickly learned that the weekend warrior schtick only serves to get you injured. Weighing 200lbs and running around on a soccer field is a recipe for torn ACLs (been there & recovered from the reconstruction surgery), broken limbs, and numerous strains and pains. Instead, I now view my weekend warrior activity as the reward I give myself after a long week of training hard. My hours in the gym or on the road running are about getting my body ready for the 90 or less minutes of high-intensity soccer that I play on Sundays. Being strong enough to take a bump or win a tackle without getting hurt. And, knock on wood, since I started viewing it that way an trained accordingly, Soccer has not caused me any injuries.

Over the past 7 years, I’ve gone from 3 sessions per week of 1-on-1 personal training to Fitness Boot Camp 3-4 times per week while training for my first 10K, 1/2 Marathon, Marathon, and Goofy Challenge. I’ve experimented with the level of training I require to complete those races and what it takes to run them for a new PR. I’ve tried a sprint Triathlon and I’ve squatted, bench-pressed, etc, etc.

Those years were also spent learning all I could about fitness. Not just the mechanics and Impact of specific exercises, but also how to motivate myself and others to get results. I’ve learned a ton about nutrition, it’s impact on your health and fitness. I’ve performed plenty of nutrition experiments on myself to learn the most effective changes to get quick results. Unfortunately, I have also learned how a tiny bit of sugar completely throws my motivation out the window. It has been a journey. One I’m still on.

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