Who’s not a sucker for a love story this time of year? Hold the eye roll, this is still Fitness on the Run (FOR) and we won’t be trading strength for sappy. This version has depth and dimension. There’s romance (what kind of love story would it be without some romance?), but there is also independence, honesty, pain, perseverance, community, and, yes, even fitness.
It begins with Iris, whom I met in 1999 when she was 25 pounds heavier, working full time as an educator and principal, chairing volunteer organizations, and really just on-the-go 24/7. Iris admits that she “doesn’t do anything halfway.” This applies to every aspect of Iris’ life – from childrearing to career to hobbies to volunteerism to marriage and, of course, love. Now at age 68, it includes her approach to self-care and fitness.
Iris met the love of her life, David, at summer camp when she was 16. He was a dashing student at Dartmouth. They met, dated, married, and had a son and daughter, all of which all sounds quite conventional. It wasn’t. This devoted couple happily defied traditional roles – he did the laundry and she was the handyman. They instilled independence in their children who today enjoy fulfilling careers, one writing for Sports Illustrated and the other with ASPCA (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in New York City.
Life threw Iris a curveball in 2000 when David, a partner in a D.C. law firm, was diagnosed with cancer. Together, they put up a united fight. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, Iris says it was two years before life returned to “normal” and David received the “all clear.” But a decade later, cancer was back. On January 15, 2012, David passed away, but not before he and Iris lived it up with trips around the world, enjoying the flights and cruises of their dreams.
Iris chose to focus on the moment, loving her time with David and not sparing a morsel of a delicious meal together. She’d always had a sweet tooth and found daily comfort in sweets during that painful time. Iris had never eaten for health so the poor nutrition habits continued, but with an emotional connection.
Throughout her life, Iris was thin. She never reined in her taste for cakes and cookies because she thought she “could eat anything she wanted” and maintain her weight. As a newlywed, she was active in physical pursuits that made her happy like tennis. Exercise was not a means for improved body image, but for fun.
After she had her two children, she grew more sedentary in her forties and fifties. And, yes her body changed. She gained weight. She yo-yo’d. In her characteristic open book manner, Iris shares that clothes hanging in her closet “ranged from size 2 to 12.” She tried every diet, but could not get out of her self-described “rut.”
Though she enjoyed a close-knit community with many friends checking in, dropping off meals, extending invitations to go on walks, Iris for the first time asked herself “what about me?” She answered that question head-on by giving up sugar (cold turkey!) and walking daily (a loving friend gave her a Fitbit).
A checkup around the same time revealed that Iris was prediabetic and had elevated cholesterol. Her doctor, Dr. Lukowsky, set some goals for what being “fit” would mean for Iris: walk 40 minutes every day, get seven hours of sleep each night, squat, be able to get up without holding on, lift 25 pounds, and a few others. Her doctor’s mantra: “Be fit. It’s not the number on the scale.” Amen, Dr. Lukowsky!
Iris began eating real food, three meals a day. Dried fruit, nuts, and cheese replaced cookies. Between Fall 2014 and Fall 2015, Iris lost 25 pounds! She felt thinner, but that was not enough for her. She was still striving to be and feel “fit” in Dr. Lukawsky’s terms. This is when Iris and I reconnected through FOR. (Iris and I had lost touch when Bill and I moved our family from Old Town to Mount Vernon.) It was January 2016 and I was blown away with how she was, yes, smaller, but more so with how centered she seemed. And, she was no longer in a rush.
With body weight exercises and the accountability at FOR, Iris feels “stronger and focused.” She loves FOR because it’s “not intimating” and we are committed to her individual goals, like balance and stronger hands and arms.
Each day, she takes a baby aspirin, folic acid, vitamin D, and medication for a chronic eye issue. More importantly, as a now fit 68-year-old woman, she “listens to her body every day.” Of stress, she tells me if she “has it, she creates it – and she can overcome anything.” She feeds her body and mind with good stuff.
Iris leads a full life and fitness helps her keep it up. Stronger hands and arms ease her arthritis so that she can complete needlework projects. The endurance she’s gained allows her to work as a tour guide at the Kennedy Center to nurture her love of the arts.
Next week we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day. Spread your love around, and this year take a cue from Iris to include yourself on that list of loved ones. Her parting advice is “be mindful about your health and don’t take anything for granted” – at any age.