• April 24, 2024

As an ex-triathlete, cycling coach, and bike shop owner, I have no shortage of sports-related equipment cluttering my man cave and home gym. But my constant companion isn’t any of my bikes (although I love all of them to death), it’s not my incredibly tireless and loyal Labrasherpherd, and it’s not even my phone. No, it’s my watch: a four-year-old Polar Vantage version 1. It’s been with me through each and every workout the past four years, tracked my sleeping hours (or lack of), and has—with the help of its companion app—been constantly nagging me to get off my sorry butt and start working.

You see, the past three years have been hell. I lost a ton of money, had to close down my shop and shift to online, lay off my staff, and try to pick up the pieces and still be a good father to my kids and a husband to my long-suffering wife. The COVID pandemic upended a lot of lives all over the world and claimed more than a few, and I still have to consider myself lucky. I mean, I could have died, right? Or someone close to me. It was an existential time for everyone, and during that period when it seemed like everything was beyond my control and it was all I could do to wake up and hope for the best… I let myself go.

At my physical peak, I could run 10k in 45 minutes or less, cycle 40km in under an hour, and my body fat was in the low teens. I did my one and only Ironman in 11 hours and 44 minutes, my first marathon in 3 hours and 44. I used to be able to kick a** and take names, and then I couldn’t.

It didn’t happen overnight, either—or did it? It began with losing the urge to wake up early for the day’s workout. Then the decision to chuck the diet and say, “The whole world is in a tough spot, I’m just going to Netflix the day away.” A day became seven, weeks turned into months, and before I knew it I’d gained 30 pounds, couldn’t fit in my usual workout clothes, and friends were calling me fat. I got back into the smoking habit, threw myself into work because I was thankful I still had a source of income and I wasn’t about to mess that one up, and all the fitness I had worked so hard for over the years was just a Facebook memory.

And then, sometime late this year, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized how much I hated myself. I hated how I looked, hated how getting up the stairs had become so hard, hated how I had just quit on myself. I had gone from occasional bouts of wondering if I was better off dead, to not wanting to die like this—weak, pathetic, a quitter.

At my physical peak, I could run 10k in 45 minutes or less, cycle 40km in under an hour, and my body fat was in the low teens. I did my one and only Ironman in 11 hours and 44 minutes, my first marathon in 3 hours and 44. I used to be able to kick a** and take names,
and then I couldn’t.

So, one day, I made a conscious decision to turn my life around. I’d whip myself back into shape, I’d welcome the pain, and I’d show everyone who called me fat what they could do with those hurtful words. The day after that, I did it again. And again. And again. Still am.

So it’s been two or three months now and it’s been tough, but that’s alright. Every day I wake up and my Polar reminds me of the day’s workout. If I do less than what was planned, it sends me a polite warning that I’m being a slacker. If I do more, it also warns me to take it easy or I might get sick.

Progress is slow, but it’s there. There are days when I want to toss my fancy, Bluetooth-equipped weighing scale in the trash, but there are some days when it shows me a number that’s lower than a few days’ previous. I’m more pleased and encouraged with metrics I can live with: how many more pushups I did today than last time, how much faster my 10k is, the watts I’m pushing on the bike up a test hill. How many days since I went cold turkey.

It used to be that my sole motivation for training so hard was to win in my age group, to be so strong that second place was what everyone else was fighting for. For me to prepare for a race and not win was unacceptable; every time it happened I’d push myself to do better, to dominate. This all came crashing down when COVID ruined everything.

Today, I don’t care about winning so much as about being the best version of myself. I’ve signed up for some races in 2024 and I’m not holding any illusions about being on that podium for a while. That’s okay. Every day that I get out of bed and crush the workout is a win. Every day I show up for a bike ride and get outpaced by my much lighter ride mates is painful, but still a win. Showing up is still better than hiding under the sheets and feeling sorry for myself.

So that’s my Christmas gift to myself. It’s not a new bike, or new shoes, or any other material item. It’s about making myself strong and healthy again, for myself and for my family. It’s about being able to look at myself in the mirror and not loathe the person looking back. I’m still fat and not as strong as I’d like to be, but I’m a work in progress and I can see the outcome already. It’s looking good, because I’m in control of my life again. You can’t control a lot of things in your life, but you can control your physicality.

If you went through the same the past few years, thought that living was pointless, and you’re yearning for a way out of this death spiral of depression, try what I did. Wake up tomorrow, put on your workout clothes, and get things done. It will be painful, but it will also be cathartic. Make yourself a better you this Christmas.

Words Andy Leuterio

This article first appeared in the Speed December 2023 issue, which you can read here.

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