Unexpected Inspirations

I know I have been talking about running a lot, but I feel like I have been running a lot. I can’t wait to get back on the bike, but until then, I run. The gym where I run has been excellent, and I highly recommend them to anyone in the Connecticut area. I go to the Big Sky location in Vernon, but I have seen the others and all of them are pretty amazing. There are a ton of fun personal trainers, the equipment is generally pretty new and there are a million televisions to watch for a distraction while you are running. The newest treadmills have their own TV mounted to the display panel but the older ones that I prefer are pointed at a row of six separate TVs.

The other night my wife and I were running and a bunch of older movies were on the televisions. She was watching Speed 2 and I was watching Forest Gump. I was struggling through the eighth week of Couch to 5 K and generally being a little miserable. I had to run for 25 minutes straight and then sprint for two minutes. The first time through the intervals wasn’t that bad but it just wasn’t my night. We have all been there. My legs were heavy and I swear the timer was counting backward when I looked away from it. Part of the way through that second 25 minute run I was seriously contemplating quitting. No one would know or care and I really was struggling.

I looked back up at the TV and young Forest and Jenny were walking through the forest near their houses. The bully kids, the ones that had been teasing Forest the whole time, they were waiting there with their bikes. When Forest walked by them they started throwing rocks at him. This is the scene that everyone knows, even people that never saw the movie. Jenny screams “Run Forest! Run!” and Forest takes off down the dirt road. As he runs his braces break and begin to fall off. He starts kicking harder as the kids grab their bikes and chase him and, as the braces completely fall off, he runs like the wind. His pain and awkward movements are lost as he runs into the field.

I wish I could say that the scene inspired me to kick harder myself and finish my run on a high note. It did not. I did struggle through and finish without quitting early. Not because the scene inspired me directly, but because it reminded me of something else. I am still fat. I still have far to go before I will feel or look fit. I still feel like an awkward fat kid a lot of the time, but not ALL of the time. Watching Forest run was a powerful symbolic metaphor of the beginning of my journey. There was a time that I couldn’t run. I could barely ride my bicycle. I was struggling, not with braces, but with layers of fat and the weight of inertia. It was so much easier to say I couldn’t do something than try. Then one day I had enough and I tried. In secret, so no one would really know. I tried and got better and even though I felt like an awkward fat kid, I tried again and again until I could ride. Then I tried to run. Now I can do that as well. There are days, the good days, the days when I feel like I am flying on the trails, the days when the metaphorical leg braces are gone that I can see why I do this. I can see why I try. The bad days are still there, and they are legion, but I have good days and that makes the difference.

I have talked about Ernest Gagnon before on the blog. He is another inspiration. He started cycling at over 500 pounds and he is down to 305. He is one of the people that inadvertently convinced me that I could ride seriously and really lose weight. He is one of the inspirations that had me trying spandex and riding in charity rides. I have recently become friends with him on Facebook, or at least we are connected on Facebook. I know who he is but I am sure he has never read the Soap Box or knows who I am. In keeping up with him it has become apparent that I am not the only big man to ever suffer from a particular subset of cyclists that believe you must be 5’8’’ and 120 pounds to belong to the cycling community.

Let me be crystal clear. 99.99% of cyclists have been incredibly supportive and helpful. Every local bike shop I go to is full of cyclists offering support and advice. There is a tiny percentage that judge people on physical appearance, probably the same small percentage that will do that in the rest of the world. I have been a small target, most behind my back. Very few people come up to me and insult me. I fear that Ernest has had much worse happen to him. It’s sad, if they knew how hard it is to lose that much weight in an effort to enjoy the sport they would probably be more supportive. It is even worse when it is a fringe sport like cycling. It’s not the NFL, we should be encouraging EVERYONE to try cycling. We should be as inclusive as possible.

Hearing Ernest had an issue has re-inspired me. I would like to revisit my idea of banding together with other bloggers and create a safer space on line. A place where we can inspire and push each other without excluding people who might be struggling to get started. We were all beginners once. We have all felt the pain of trying to compare ourselves at the start of our journey with someone who is in the middle of theirs and believing that we have come up short. There has to be a way for bloggers, especially ones like me who are struggling with weight loss and personal transformation to found a community where we can all share our support and help others. Anyone have any ideas? Anyone? I am open to anything.

I would like to offer a standing invitation to Ernest and any other blogger to guest blog here at the Soap Box. I would love other bloggers to tell their story or offer a little inspiration. Anything they feel like doing, including speaking out about how they feel when part of their community turns against them. Or even better, how they overcome. Any takers? You can comment below or inbox me.

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5 Responses to Unexpected Inspirations

  1. yceblu says:

    I hope you get others to comment and to band together to form a safer space on line. Good Luck.

  2. julia says:

    I always find it so inhumane when anyone judges someone else based on appearance. How heartless of them. It doesn’t matter that you are “still fat.” Nor does it matter how far you still need to go to look fit. What matters is all that you have accomplished, and all that you will accomplish because you truly want to. And so you will. You will become less fat, and more fit. In spite of what takes awhile to show on the outside, those of us that know you can tell that just on the inside alone tremendous things have changed. Skinny twig cyclists don’t have nearly as much to be proud of. Keep going. Keep focusing on what you have done. What you will do will follow soon.

  3. Pingback: Still Stewing | Big Joe's Soap Box

  4. amysalloway says:

    Joe, I, too, am a big-bodied bike rider, and I, too, write about issues of weight, size, physical appearance and discrimination in both the fitness world and the “regular” world. I blog and tweet, but mostly I’m an actor, storyteller and solo monologist, and all of those are the themes that run through the majority of my work. (For example, I wrote a one-woman play called “Circumference”, about how the horrors I suffered in junior high gym class still shape my life as an adult.) I would LOVE to be a guest blogger! Or at the very least, stay connected.
    If you’d like to hear an example of how body size and self-esteem play into my writing/storytelling, here’s a piece I created this past summer, and have been performing sporadically —

    Thanks so much for being brave and authentic and sharing your life with the world. 🙂


    • Joe Johnson says:

      Amy! Lets talk about this, I would love to have you guest! email me at joe.johnson.75 at me.com. Sorry, I write it that way to fool the spambots. I hope it works….

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