When you are staring down a mountain, what do you rely upon to decide to make the trek? What kind of fortitude do you possess to tackle something that seems unattainable? How are you going to get beyond fear and realize the faith it takes to embark at all?
Recently, my family and I traveled to Arizona for a quick work trip and while there we decided to hike Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, just north of Phoenix. On a sunny Saturday afternoon in “winter” (okay, it was 75 degrees out…that’s not how we do “winter” here in St Croix Falls, obviously) it was packed with hikers. The diversity of the contingent starting up the mountain was what struck me and what I’m going to tell you about for a moment. Diversity is a hot-button term these days and the way I’m thinking of it is the physical diversity of what we perceive as “fit”. Its so common for us humans, shame on us, to judge fitness by physical size only. Let’s be honest, we see the toned young person and naturally think, “they are fit”. We see the overweight older person and think, “they are not fit”. Now, granted, that assessment may very well be accurate - or not….
Not all who start out on Camelback Mountain reach the top….and not all who reach the top are your typical definition of “fit”.
Now, in my family, we started out not really expecting to reach the top because we were hiking with our youngest son, our 6 year old Gabriel. Although he is a phenom and a specimen of physical fitness in his own right, he still is, after all, only 6. So, I turned around with him at the halfway mark. My husband and 11 year old son continued on without us. My youngest and I were proud of our accomplishment though and we were rewarded with majestic views of the whole Phoenix sprawl and a terrain foreign to our midwestern eyes. We busied ourselves on the dusty walk down hill with trying to find the saguaro cactus with the most “arms” popping out. While headed down, we got passed on the trail by a shirtless younger man who was running up the trail. Okay, easy to assess, he’s “fit”. And yes, I’m sure he is. However, we also got passed by an overweight middle-aged woman, and I have to say, although she didn’t appear so at first glance, she is fit as well. You know the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” - its an oldie but a goodie. After all, she just hiked a mountain - it doesn’t mean that she is perfect (no one is), it does mean she is fit enough to hike Camelback Mountain, and that is saying something!
Don’t judge yourself…. or worry about others judging you…. just because you don’t meet the model-standard of fitness on the outside. You see, fitness is something that can be gained over time through dedicated training, disciplined workouts, and cardiovascular conditioning. You might still need to lose weight but don’t wait until you’ve reached your weight loss goal, if you have one, to determine that you are fit. Decide to hike that mountain as soon as you are able (metaphorically or literally!).
Later in our day, we met a younger woman who did not look fit outwardly but who told us that she hikes Camelback Mountain every single day and has been doing this for the past 6 months (3 hours round-trip). Guess what, she says, “I’ve lost 60 pounds doing this and although I have a ways to go, I am feeling awesome”. This is fitness! I’m so thankful this woman didn’t let her starting weight stop her from achieving the fitness necessary to daily do a 3 hour hike up and down a mountain!
Is achieving fitness easy? No, fitness is acquired and maintained by doing what is inherently difficult, not easy. Muscles are built and cardiorespiratory systems are improved by imposing difficulty on the body, not being content with ease. We often think of fitness as boring gym time - it doesn’t have to be this! Find what you love - even when the “love” is hard, and stay dedicated to it. While on our Phoenix trip, we met with David Jack, Men's Health training advisor and owner of ActivLab, at a resort in Phoenix. He put us through a workout with his gym toys and said something that stuck with me. In so many words, he said the key to getting people to be active long-term is to find what they do for play and to capitalize on that. He watched our kids “playing” with the gym equipment in the ActivLab and noted that more adults need to view their “working out” this way - not as drudgery but as fun. He also challenged us to use our faith to continue to motivate us to go deep with people and figure out what makes them tick not just give them a program. People love to play, people don't inherently love programs.
The diversity of hikers up and down Camelback Mountain that day reminds me that if you are doing a physical fitness activity just because its enjoyable, it won’t seem like drudgery but like play. There were kids, teens, young adults, middle-aged, and yes, even “older” grey-haired peeps hiking and all shapes and sizes of bodies. I know my sons weren’t thinking of their hike as a boring old workout - they were thinking of adventure, conquest, and yes, play.