This is an opinion column.
Running is terrible. Whenever I hear people talk about their last 5k, I wonder who hurt them earlier in life to give them such a strange source of pleasure. I prefer to swim. While other swimmers demonstrate dolphin-like technique, I channel the grace and majesty of a drowning English bulldog. I’ve taught my sons that Smith men try hard things, but practicing what I preach isn’t easy when it comes to physical fitness.
About a year ago I realized I wasn’t as healthy or as strong as I wanted to be. To be honest, it slipped my mind. I was an active kid who played sports until injuries took their toll in college, and then I decided I needed some time off. The vacation from regular practice lasted most of my undergraduate and first year of law school.
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When my wife and I got married, we played sports together and even took dance classes at the University of Alabama. After we moved to Washington, D.C., where I took my first job for Senator Jeff Sessions, I didn’t have time to exercise in the hustle and bustle of the Hill. Then we started having kids. Before I knew it, I was almost 40 and tired.
The blur I called life from about age 25-35 mixed the haze of raising young children with the stress of working life. I’ve heard of people who balance work and life, but I didn’t actually know any of them. I assumed that taking care of myself meant occasionally ordering the bone-in ribeye at Ray’s the Steaks.
Miraculously, my marriage, family, and sanity emerged from this period largely intact.
No one tells you that you go from being invincible with magical healing powers in your 20s to spraining your hamstring carrying a heavy bag of groceries in your late 30s. While I’m sure some people age gracefully and maintain their fitness and recovery ability from their younger years, I aged like pure milk.
If my health wasn’t enough of a motivator, several sets of young eyes began to watch me intently. I am teaching my sons to be mentally, physically and spiritually fit to meet the challenges of the world. Mental and spiritual fitness are not easy tasks in themselves, but I enjoy reading the Bible and researching for work projects much more than spending an hour at the gym. My boys are now old enough to know if their dad takes physical training seriously or not.
Kids also expose hypocrisy like it’s their job.
So I went back to the gym. I went through an introductory screening with one of the trainers and I’m pretty sure he expected me to break a sweat when we started doing a few exercises. The ordeal was quite embarrassing. I knew I was much thinner and unhealthier than I was my freshman year of college, but the initial workouts made it real.
Also, I needed to get that kick in the ass… and then come back again when everything hurt.
Somehow I kept showing up and doing the work. That is what I expect of my sons and I should be held to the same standard.
To be clear, I haven’t lost a ton of weight, but my body shape has changed from that of a decorative pear to a lowland mountain gorilla. It’s certainly not everyone’s idea of progress, but I can work, which is worth it. My blood pressure and other health indicators are great. Regular exercise has helped with everything from my mental well-being to my overall energy levels.
I also chose a gym where most people look like fitness models. They have their Lululemon and UnderArmor. I rock my themes from Costco and Amazon Essentials. I hear them talking about their “macros” and I’m just working for an extra scoop of Blue Bell Cookie Two Step. I actually made a lot of friends along the way. My friends at the gym are really encouraging. I’m sure I get judged, but it’s mostly on the days I wear my “I AM YOUR DAD” t-shirt.
I don’t love the gym every weekday, but I enjoy the results. I take care of the body God gave me and it helps me take care of my family and I set a good example. I’m not a fitness guru. I’m not crossfit bro. I realized how important it is for each of us to be active in our body and mind. More importantly, I saw how deeply the two are connected.
If you see me on that treadmill running like I’m being chased by a bear, just know that the Smith men try hard things. Also, being chased by a bear is one of the only legitimate reasons to run. I just want to be prepared when that moment comes and you should too.
Smith is a recovering political attorney with three boys, two dogs, and an extremely patient wife. He engages media, business and politics through the Triptych Foundation and Triptych Media. Please direct outrage or agreement to [email protected] or @DCameronSmith on Twitter.