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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

My Big, Audacious Challenge: Part 1

by Phil Gutis

Hello, Natural Awakenings readers. My name is Phil and I’ve set a big, hairy, audacious, challenge for myself that I think will resonate with all of those seeking to live a healthier and happier lifestyle.

But before I describe my goal, a bit about myself. I recently turned 53 years old, and a great majority of those years were spent jockeying desks in high-pressure jobs. Very few of those years could be described as anything approaching healthy.

Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, I suffered from severe allergies to freshly cut grass and many other elements of outside life. Nothing athletic or even playing outside for me. Instead, my time was spent turning the pages of books, which I devoured with great enthusiasm.

When I hit college, I discovered journalism and spent my late teens and twenties working under deadline, first for the student-run daily newspaper at Penn State and then at The New York Times, where I had the great privilege of working as a copy boy, clerk, reporter trainee and then reporter. Other jobs came along, each increasingly demanding.

In the ensuing 30 years, there were some fits of fitness, but it wasn’t until I was nearing my 48th birthday that I had a real awakening. It was then that my doctor looked at the results of my annual blood tests and said that if I didn’t change my life, I would die. He pulled no punches. Change or die.

So, I changed. I said I would do something exercise-like each and every day. My long days became even longer when I started going to Cornerstone Gym in New Hope at 5:30 a.m. Many days, I did a few miles on the bike. Some days, I tried the weight machines, though I didn’t really know what I was doing.

The days of exercise rolled by and soon I had 100 under my belt. Then, the first year. I kept going. Two years and I kept going. Day 1,000 was a time of celebration. Many thought I’d lift the challenge then, but I kept going and I’m now operating on day 1,429 (as of October 1) of doing something athletic each and every day. What’s next?

My trainer from Cornerstone, Matt Herman, opened a CrossFit gym with his twin brother Mike and their good friend Blake Hughes. For the last year, I’ve been going to CrossFit Summa, in Doylestown, each and every day and putting myself through whatever the Workout of the Day demands. Most days, I’m not strong enough or flexible or brave enough to do the workout at the weights that are prescribed. But I keep trying and I’m getting stronger and better.

Each year, CrossFit hosts a series of competitions that culminate with the CrossFit Games, in which one man and one woman are crowned the “fittest on Earth.” Those games also feature team competitions and a series of masters-level meets.

The big, hairy challenge I’ve placed upon myself is to get to the games as a 55-year-old (or older) athlete. That gives me at least two more years to work at this sport and to focus like a laser on fine tuning—or gut renovating—virtually every element of my life. I need to continue to work on my strength, obviously, but I also need to seriously address my nutrition, my mobility, my ability to perform cardio exercise and my sleeping. Perhaps most importantly, I need to overcome a lot of the fear that holds me back.

Now, I’m not delusional. I know that I may not ever make it to the games. But I also know that trying is going to keep making me a healthier—and happier—human being. I hope you’ll join me over the next few months as I explore the changes necessary to rebuild myself to one of the fittest on Earth.

Phil Gutis is a writer, editor and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. Connect at [email protected]. October 2014.

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