In Changing We Find Purpose

By Scott Richardson | March 27, 2018, 7:24 p.m. (ET)

scott richardson

“It is in changing that we find purpose.” – Heraclitus

Even whispered dreams can come true. I know because mine did.

When my first coach asked me what my goal was, my voice was barely audible when I answered. It was as if I feared someone might overhear and label me a lunatic.

“Do you think I could do an IRONMAN?” I asked.

Anyone eavesdropping would have been within their rights to think I’d lost my mind. Even I questioned my sanity at that point. I weighed about 400 pounds just four years earlier. I was 57 when that conversation took place, and I’d never done a sprint triathlon.

Since then, I’ve done two IRONMAN events , several half iron distance races and shorter ones, too. I shed about 200 pounds along the way. I underwent two operations to remove tumors, one malignant and one benign, and received a hip implant.

I also found a new purpose. After retiring from journalism, I was certified as a USA Triathlon and U.S. Masters Swimming coach. My main focus is to encourage others to make positive changes. My message? What one person can do, another can do.

My weight loss started New Year’s 2005. I’m unsure what I weighed exactly. I wore 50-inch jeans, and people that big don’t go near scales or doctors. My last unavoidable weigh-in was about 370 pounds about a year and a half earlier. I know I put on many more pounds after that. 

I was 17 years clean and sober and tobacco-free, but years of overeating after a divorce and working at a desk took their toll.  I lived on a diet of fast food. My daily calorie intake rivaled a cyclist in the Tour de France. But, the only things I rode were a swivel chair, a recliner and a bed.

I was able to lie to myself about how bad I looked by staying away from scales, doctors and mirrors. I blamed my aches and pains on just getting older. But, when I saw a picture of me taken at a holiday gathering, there was no denying it any longer. I was huge.   

That photo was the motivation I needed. I modified my eating habits and bought a bike. I lost enough weight after the first year to visit my doctor for a long-delayed physical. I got a phone call a few days later.

“You’ve got cancer,” he said.  

Cancer led to triathlon. After recovery, my first experience with the sport came riding the bike portion for relay teams to raise cash for the Livestrong Foundation. After a couple of years of that, I bought running shoes and got back in the pool for the first time since high school.  

Early in 2009, I whispered my dream to Stan Watkins, a USA Cycling coach with Vision Quest Coaching based in Chicago. With his help, I crossed the finish line at IRONMAN Wisconsin on Sept. 11, 2011, two weeks shy of my 60th birthday. I finished that race with a rupture I knew about and colon tumor that was a surprise. The mass was found during prep for the rupture surgery.   

After another recovery, I did Branson 70.3 in 2012 and IRONMAN Wisconsin again in 2013. I was unaware the pain in my hip was the onset of a bone disease AVN that led to hip replacement in 2015.  

I’ve stayed with 70.3 races since then. I am training for Madison 70.3 in June.  My orthopedic surgeon worries about my doing another IRONMAN. But I may surprise him. I’ve been wondering what it’s like to cover 140.6 miles without a major health problem.  

I maintain my weight between 185 to 189 pounds on a plant-based diet. At age 66, I’ve never been healthier.

Like the insurance company’s motto, I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Nothing is impossible. I’m proof.
  • Small changes add up to big change over time. I’ve been clean and sober nearly 30 years and made peace with food by making the right choices one day at a time, one meal at a time.
  • No one gets to the starting line alone; no one crosses the finish line by themselves. I had help from cycling and triathlon clubs, a great coach, doctors and a loving spouse. Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Embrace trouble as if you planned it that way, as a famous cycling coach once wrote. Spend the time and energy you would waste fighting a situation on finding solutions instead. Each experience will make you stronger to face the next challenge.
  • Never let someone else’s limits become your limits. Age, physical condition or other factors today don’t have to stop you. If you want to achieve a goal, make a S.M.A.R.T. plan and then do what my wife, Kathy, says every time I mention another crazy goal. “Go for it.”

Even if you can only whisper your dreams today, you can make them come true tomorrow.

Scott Richardson is a USA Triathlon Level I and U.S. Masters Swimming Level 2 Certified Coach and founder of Beyond Normal Fitness in Normal, Illinois.

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