Three Surprising Things I Can Do After Bariatric Surgery – And You Can, Too!

Run A Mile

When I was in junior high school, which is what the kids know as middle school these days, every year in gym class we had to take something called the President’s Physical Fitness Test. We had to do chin-ups, sit-ups, the 50-yard dash, a shuttle run, and a mile run, all of it measured and meticulously recorded so your results could be posted on the gym wall alongside those of your classmates, where they remained for weeks for everyone else in the school to see.

Thankfully, the President’s Physical Fitness Test – developed in the ‘50s during the Eisenhower administration – is no longer a thing; it was replaced in 2013 with a the President’s Youth Fitness Program, which aims to boost overall fitness instead of dealing out a healthy dose of crippling public shame. 

But this was not the case when I was a kid – and the fat kid, at that. Because I was the fat kid, I was always dead last, or pretty close to it, in every event. I couldn’t do a single chin-up. My 50-yard dash time was pathetic. I don’t remember what it was, but it was not good. Likewise, the shuttle run. I could squeeze out a few sit-ups, but I finished at the bottom of the pile there, too.

The worst by far, though, was the mile run: four laps around the old cinder track out behind the school. I couldn’t do it. 

But you had to do it. DNF was not an option. A number had to be recorded, even if you had to crawl on your hands an knees to get it, or so our gym teacher said. I ended up walking almost the entire thing.

I don’t remember what my time was, but I remember finishing that walk with another girl in the class, the two of us both severely overweight, gasping and wheezing our way around that track side by side while our thinner, fitter classmates, who all had finished well in front of us, watched and laughed.

I fucking hate running to this day.

But deep down, running a mile remained fixed in my mind as some sort of mythical standard of minimal fitness, something that would mean I was more than just the fat kid, if only I could ever do it.

But I never could – until a few months ago.

After my gastric sleeve on July 5, 2017, I started walking. That’s part of the deal with bariatric surgery. You’ve got to exercise. Every day. And walking is the quickest and easiest way to get with the program.

At my highest, before I started the bariatric pre-op regimen, I weighed in at 340 pounds. Five months after surgery, I was down 120 pounds and doing a mile and half four or five days a week.

I’d walk on my lunch break – I still do – and it took me about 35-40 minutes to cover that mile and half. By February, I was still 20 pounds or so north of 200, but I was up to two miles in that same 35-40 minutes of walking.

The author, before and after his bariatric surgery.

I knew I was in better shape – hell, I was in the best shape of my life, but that’s a pretty low bar for someone who tipped the scales at 340 – and I’d always told myself that if and when I got under 200 pounds, I’d try running a mile just to see if  could do it. I started to think about giving it a try, but it certainly wasn’t something I was prepared to try in public – the shame of that junior-high fitness test is still there – and I had no immediate plans to give it a go. Besides, I wasn’t technically under 200 pounds yet.

On Feb. 22, though, an opportunity presented itself. I was visiting my Dad, who lives out Downeast, ayuh. It’s just about a half-mile from his dooryard to the mailbox, down an old dirt road, where the carrier drops the Bangor Daily News every day. It was early, 5:30 or so, and no one else was up.

I decided this might be the perfect time to try it. I could run out there, grab the paper, and run back. If I did it, I’d have some time to savor the moment in the morning sun. If I failed, well, there’d be no one around to see and I could pretend it never happened.

So, I laced up my running shoes, which to this point had been used exclusively for walking, and set out.

It felt … weird … to be running. In the past, I’d been able to last about five minutes before my morbidly obese body started barking at me to stop. This time, I could tell, it was different.

Five minutes in, I was still going. My knees didn’t hurt. I wasn’t gasping for air. My lungs didn’t burn. If somebody’d been there with me, I probably could have carried on a conversation. When I rounded a corner, I could see the main road that marked the halfway point. I ran up to the box, grabbed the BDN and turned back. Five minutes later, I was back at the driveway, no worse for wear.

I’d done it. I ran a mile. It took me 11 minutes and 50 seconds to do it – that’s a pace just slightly faster than 5mph – but I’d done it.

And it felt pretty goddam good, like a big ol’ fuck you to that asshole gym teacher and the the knuckle-dragging, mouth breathing classmates who pointed and laughed that day at the track all those years ago.

I suspect that, just like walking, I’d get faster if I kept with it, but I’m not going to. The fact is, I hate running. It does absolutely nothing for me. The only way I’m going to run these days is if someone’s chasing me – and even then, I probably wouldn’t if it thought I could take ‘em.

I much prefer to ride my bike.

But there’s a tremendous satisfaction in knowing that I can do it. And that’s something that no one – not a sadistic gym teacher or a casually vicious classmate – can ever take away.

Ed. note: I know, I know, there’s supposed to be three things on this list, and there are three things on this list – and you won’t believe what the other two are! Seriously, this first thing is probably the most conventional item on the roster. I’m going to roll out the other two in the next couple of posts – so click that subscribe button over there so you don’t miss the rest. It’s gonna be fun, I promise.

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3 Comments on “Three Surprising Things I Can Do After Bariatric Surgery – And You Can, Too!

  1. Brilliant, Frank. I’m going to cry.

    I remember those damned fitness tests and comparing. My particular shame was the pull-up. I’ll be wearing one before I ever do one…. I do remember the morbid shame on the faces of a couple of fat kids. Sad. One I’d like to see again. She was part of some orthodox Christian group, and moved out of my neighborhood about middle school. We were in a mixed grade classroom when I was in 6th grade and she was in 5th.nice girl. Probably has 12 children for the lord now.

    Congratulations. What a milestone.

    Like

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