What I Learned After Biking 525 MilesNovember 5, 2015
Five years ago, at the age of 54 years old, the prospects of a 55th birthday seemed bleak. I weighed 404 pounds and my health was failing, obesity was putting my life at risk. Countless diets and weight loss plans had not worked. But on October 4, 2010, I underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery and my life was changed forever.
Today, I weigh 200 pounds, and instead of watching life pass me by, I embarked on a 525 mile bike ride to increase awareness of the dangers of obesity, specifically in people aged 55 years and older. My destination was the 2015 ObesityHelp National Conference in Cary, North Carolina, where I was to be a speaker.
It’s important that people realize that it’s never too late to take control of their health. You can defeat obesity and reclaim your active, healthy and productive life, even in your senior years. I am living proof that it can be done.
The Planning and the Anticipation
For the logistics, there's a lot of time that goes into planning a bike ride like this one. There are many details and decisions that need to be considered. Mental preparation was also a priority as I tried to imagine what it will be like... what I will need…. how it will feel... how I’ll react. I needed to prepare for the unknown of what could occur during my ride. I knew this ride would test me physically and mentally. I was afraid of the possibility of failure, but excited about the chance to feel success and accomplishment.
For me this point of demarcation came on Thursday morning, October 1st as I jumped on my bike and began to peddle away from my home in Westerville, Ohio. My stomach was in knots. My mind raced with many thoughts, not the least being: "Can I actually do this?"
I was off and riding. It didn't take long for a feeling of comfort to overcome me, and I relaxed and began to enjoy the ride. But that level of anxiety, of discomforting worry and fear, would return, almost nightly, as I reviewed the agenda for the next day. Would the weather hold? Would there be hills that might defeat me? Would the wind turn against me and beat me into submission? And my most personal and private fear, “Will I have the strength to ride as far as I planned?” But each day I got up and peddled my bike - and each day brought a new level of accomplishment, of wonder, and a sense of personal achievement and victory.
I was having the time of my life. The trip far exceeded my wildest dreams. I was having a great time viewing wonderful parts of America as I rolled by at 10 to 15 miles per hour. It had been years since I had felt so alive and had such confirmation of proof of life... proof that I am indeed alive - felt ever so viscerally, through testing my inner strength, against challenges I couldn’t see coming, but knew were out there. Of the daily cycle of fear of the unknown was overcome by the accomplishment of doing and achieving.
There is a tremendous sense of freedom while traveling around by bike. Your spirits soar, the shackles of everyday life are lost, and you cannot help but feel a joy for life, a lifting of limits, the elation of living LARGE.
Things I’ll Never Forget
- Being up in the mountains of West Virginia looking down on clouds that filled the valleys leaving the mountain tops exposed above them like endless waves upon the ocean.
- The absolute fear and rush of careening down a Virginia mountain at 35 MPH on a narrow road that twists and turns and has no shoulders, a rock wall on one side and a 300 foot drop on the other, holding onto the handlebars for dear life and praying that there aren’t any potholes or out of control cars ahead.
- Spending time in Mt Airy (Mayberry RFD) with thousands of people celebrating their Autumn Leaves Festival and meeting some special people who sat, talked and laughed with us.
- Riding for miles along Paint Creek in West Virginia, observing beauty so profound that words cannot describe it and photographs cannot capture it.
- Getting up each morning and facing the fear of not being up to the task of the miles and the climbs, and then the feeling of success and victory that came when the day ended and I’d defeated every obstacle I faced.
And I wept when it was all done...for being done too soon.
Then, after months of planning, 12 days of riding through four states, the Appalachian Mountains, 400,000+ revolutions of my bike wheels, one flat tire, a bee sting, being chased by a half dozen dogs, temperatures as low as 40 degrees and as high as 81, riding in the rain, being watched online by over 40,000 people, burning 25,000 calories, making dozens of new friends and hundreds of memories, the ride was over. I had accomplished what I had set out to do!
What I Learned After Biking 525 Miles
The hardest part of the ride was the mountains. The ascents were difficult and the descents were scary. But I found them to be a perfect metaphor for what can come from the challenges we often confront in life. Right in the middle of the worst of them came the most beautiful views. The beauty of the mountains revealing themselves to me as I crested each peak is something that I never would have experienced had I avoided the challenge.
We face challenges all throughout life. Some are imposed upon us, others we impose upon ourselves. My Journey to Fitness has had challenges of both types. Both have tested me, but also gifted me with beauty and joy.
Right in the middle of my life, I accepted the challenge to get healthy. I never would have experienced my rebirth into a healthy life, the joy of riding through the mountains, or the honor of meeting so many wonderful people from the WLS community, had I not accepted and faced this challenge… if I had not ‘Dreamed BIG and Dared to Fail.’
We are capable of far more than we can imagine. There are no limits except those we impose upon ourselves. Age has nothing to do with possibilities - who is too old to dream?
Thank you to everyone who prayed, supported, encouraged, cheered, coached, followed and believed in me (even when I doubted myself). You are part of the beauty that this challenge has revealed to me and I am infinitely wealthier for the experience of knowing you.
Author’s Comment: I want to make sure that nobody looks at my bike ride and thinks that weight loss success is based upon having the ability to ride a bike 525 miles. I am proud that I can indeed ride 525 miles, but a healthy lifestyle is not dependent on attaining that level of physical capability. The goal should be simply getting regular exercise that includes some cardio/aerobic activities, stretching and balance practice, and weight/resistance training. Exercise and physical activity does not have to be an all-consuming objective. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that adults, in order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone health, reduce the risk of NCDs and depression, need only:
- Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week
- Do muscle-strengthening activities (involving major muscle groups) on 2 or more days a week.
- Perform physical activity to enhance balance on 3 or more days per week (age 65+)
Physical activity includes leisure time physical activity (for example: walking, dancing, gardening, hiking, swimming), transportation (e.g. walking or cycling), occupational (i.e. work), household chores, play, games, sports or planned exercise, in the context of daily, family, and community activities.
These guidelines require a commitment of only 3 to 5 hours a week, not a commitment to train for a cross country bike ride.
When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
ABOUT THE AUTHORBill Streetman battled his weight of 404 pounds for 20 years before he had RNY WLS on 10/4/2010. Bill is half the man he used to be and maintains a 200 pound weight loss. His journey has brought him tremendous improvement in health and fitness, in frame of mind and perspective on life, in energy levels and in his relationships with others. Bill also shares his journey story, by writing and speaking about the topic of living healthy after gastric bypass.
Read more articles by Bill Streetman!