From Intensive Care to High Intensity Training
I sluggishly woke up, not sure where I was. There was a small group of fresh faced twenty-somethings standing around me listening to an older, more distinguished gentleman read what turned out to be my medical chart.
He said rather nonchalantly in his southern drawl, "What we have before us is a twenty-four year old male who is a Type One diabetic. This is not the first time that we've seen him at this hospital. He drinks alcoholically and apparently doesn't learn from his mistakes. There's a very good chance the next time we see him, we'll be in the morgue."
I checked my arm. I had an IV. The air had that disinfected, sickly hospital smell. I was in the University of Tennessee Medical Center, and I knew that the doctor standing before me treating me as if I was a random test subject was 100% correct.
Years of chain smoking, alcoholic drinking and no regard for my body had led me to the brink and I was terrified.
I wish I could say I hopped out of bed, ripped out the IV and immediately started doing all of the things that make one healthy and happy, but I'd be a liar. However, a seed was planted.
Drinking had to stop. It wasn't easy but with the right tools, it was clear cut and attainable.
Next on the list was quitting smoking. I needed something to take its place.
To stay sober and off cigarettes, I also realized that I needed to find purpose.
I smoked my last cigarette knowing the next day, I would join a gym. When I walked into that gym, I realized I had no idea how to operate the ellipticals, stair climbers and other gizmos strewn across the fitness floor, and I felt like an interloper among the sweaty exercisers who I imagined had been doing this their entire lives. I figured I could operate a treadmill so I went for it, and not knowing any better, I started out going as fast as I could run. 10 minutes later, I was throwing up in a giant garbage can on that same fitness floor.
With my recent past, throwing up in public was not necessarily new, but this was not the first impression I was trying to make. What happened next, though, changed my entire outlook on this fitness thing, and running in particular. Rather than running away in revulsion, several gym members jumped off their treadmills and came toward me to offer help. The strongest in the bunch, a 30-something guy wearing split running shorts who was running with great speed a couple treadmills over, looked me in the eye and said, "Hey buddy, I have rough runs, too, sometimes. We'll see you here tomorrow, right?" I did show up that next day and many, many days since.
That was around the year 2000, and a lot has changed.
I continued to place priority on my sobriety and learned to manage my diabetes even better. I also learned to control my pacing and to commit to training smart, and I dedicated myself to running marathons and ultra marathons. It's extraordinarily rewarding as a Type One Diabetic to place high in my age division in races and to qualify for the Boston Marathon numerous times.
I met and married a lovely girl who also happens to enjoy athletics and is a nutrition coach.
And unbelievably, I figured out the riddle of all that exercise equipment, and I've been a personal trainer for more than ten years, spending my days helping others find the healthy, happy athlete within.
For the past ten years, I've also had the pleasure of coaching endurance athletes at Charm City Run. The runners who showed me such empathy as I embarked on a scary new endeavor way back in 2000 made a ripple in me that has become a wave. Being a part of the running community and helping others embark on their unique journey is much more than my work, it's a privilege.
Interested in training for your own distance race? Check out our upcoming programs from 5K to ultra marathon! Whether you are taking the first steps in your running journey or consider yourself an experienced runner, there is a group for you!
About the Author: John Shafer
John has coached for Charm City Run since 2007. He began running as a means to replace bad habits with healthier ones, and now he's a Boston Qualifier with a long list of races under his belt. As a half and full marathon coach for CCR, John considers himself very fortunate to meet so many great people, and to help hundreds of new and experienced runners achieve their goals. John draws on his skills and experience as a personal trainer to support his runners in building strength and training for endurance events safely. When he's not working with training clients, coaching or running. you will likely find John hanging out with his dog Osita, his two cats Mindy and Olive, and his wife, a nutrition coach. Interesting fact about John: He's an insulin-dependent type 1 diabetic, but he's not about to let that slow him down!