That’s pretty skinny. A nurse who tested me at a health fair scored my BMI (Body Mass Index) at 3% body fat.
“Don’t get caught in the rain,” she told me. “You’ll die.”
I lifted weights. To no effect. When you’re skinny by birth and then add 80 mile weeks to your training schedule, putting on muscle is a pipe dream.
Today I am still 6’1″ and weigh 170 lbs. It’s a weight I like. I actually have muscle on my arms and legs. Cycling has added strength to my upper thighs, and I actually have a real butt. I’ll spare you the pictures.
The one thing I’d change are the “cookie rings” of fat resting above my hip bones. They aren’t pronounced. But they’re there. That comes from eating too many carbohydrates.
When training during the summer months, riding from 100-200 miles and running 15-20, my weight will drop to 163 at times, but seldom lower. That seems to be the new set point for my body.
In previous winters I’ve let my weight inch up toward 180, but not last year, and despite current injury setbacks, I’m working hard to avoid a spike in weight by walking every day until I can run and ride again. 180 lbs. is a weight that I do not like, and it is so easy to get there. Just a week of indulgence and cutbacks on workouts and zing! The pants don’t fit so well.
So my history with body image and performance is one of exercise and diet.
By contrast, there have been many times in my athletic career when I’ve met people who go to different lengths to control the mass and performance of their bodies.
Eric the Steroid Monster
While working in Philadelphia, Pa., I commuted by train in from the Mainline suburb of Paoli. A few of my co-workers caught the same line at different points. One was a thickly built guy named Eric. He’d attended a Division I football school, and he looked it.
His neck was somewhere between 19-21″ around. At least that’s what I remember him telling me. He could not reach behind his head to put his own collar down. He’d sit down next to me on the train and punch me in the arm, saying: “Fix my f’n collar.” His shoulders and arms were so bound with muscle he could not perform a number of simple functions. One day he told me it was getting harder and harder to brush his teeth. “I can’t reach my f’n mouth,” he said. I didn’t dare ask him if he somehow managed to jerk off. He might have killed me with a blow from one of his ‘roid rage paws.
Eric freely told me he was using steroids to build bulk. I asked why, since he no longer played competitive football. “Oh, I do on weekends, with a semi-pro team. We all use ‘roids. Plus I need ‘roids to keep up at the gym.”
He was a member of a gym one block from my house in Paoli. Curious about membership, I stuck my head in the door one day and realized it was not the gym for me. Every musclebound guy from a 3-county area must have belonged there. That was Eric’s gym. “I love that place,” he said. “Everyone’s so ripped.”
It was hard to argue with that contention. But as mentioned, I dared not tease or argue with Eric about anything. He tended to be more than a little touchy about anything with which he disagreed or thought suspicious. He would have made a good Tea Party member.
At first, before I got to know him better and understood his addiction to steroids injections, I wrote his grouchiness off to morning blues. But then Eric started relating tales of how he and his buddies shot each other up with steroids every week. They jabbed long needles into each other’s butt cheeks to get their dose of steroids. “We all did it in college,” he admitted. “That’s how you stay at that level.”
Granted, this was a few years back. Yet stories like these still seem to hold true to this day. Every week in sports you read about this baseball player or that cyclist or some track star getting busted for steroids and performance-enhancement drugs. We shake our heads, lament the corruption of a former hero and rather meekly wonder why we were never good enough at sports to justify doping ourselves.
You almost feel like a fool for living clean. Is it possible you simply have to cheat to get ahead in this world? To take the fool’s plunge? To choose aggression and phony strength in order to dominate those around us?
Ignoring the warnings
Despite the warnings of what steroids can do your body, including cancer and shrunken testicles, my “friend” Eric was committed to maintain his overgrown size. Never mind that he worked in a financial services field where physiques hardly matter. He wanted to be the Big Boy. He said it made him feel more confident.
Or perhaps it just made him feel less afraid, of whatever. Of what he could and could not do without a boost in confidence. Living up to social expectations. Dealing with the fact that football was really over in his life. Our psyches, both individual and collectively, can be a complex thing.
Dope versus fear
Fear drives many things in this world. One can argue that the United States has been running on repeated injections of fear since the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. Every time America starts to think its way around its problem, fear gets thrown back in our face and we’re back to the same political and economic cycles that made us look like dopes leading up to the 2008 economic crash.
It’s clear that some people don’t want us to grow up and recognize that while 9/11 was a tragedy, it caused far less death in its violence than do quiet killers like heart disease and hunger vexing America each year. Hundreds of thousands of people who die from these diseases could essentially prevent their fate, yet America and its citizens not only look the other way, we keep on smoking and ignoring opportunities to fix our society because our culture is so fractionalized we can’t agree there’s a real problem.
Yet a bunch of us rallied around 9/11, didn’t we? The crushing imagery of 9/11 really got our attention, for it has much more forceful emotional appeal than fighting silent killers like disease and neglect of the poor. People can always get up for a fight, but they can’t always get together on a cure.
Our over-stimulated, football-driven society apparently requires emotional steroids to give two shits about anything, plus we can only seem to pay attention for the 3.2 seconds it takes to run a halfback option. This is the real poison of society: inattention and social literacy. Instead we’re feeding on the big adrenaline rush of violence and political opposition.
Then there are the fights we create that aren’t really there. We speak of “fighting” against cancer when it isn’t a fight all that cancer patients are engaged in. Instead cancer treatments are a medically managed and well-reasoned application of specially designed drugs and other treatments that slowly kill you, but not quite. The deal works like this: If you can survive the treatment, you might survive the disease. But there are no guarantees.
Meanwhile a seemingly growing number of people consider chemotherapy nothing more than unnecessary poison. Yet no proven organic or genetic remedies have emerged. Is this because there are none, or because there is no money in actually curing cancer? If that is the case, then we really are a bunch of dopes for going along with what amounts to a massive money-making scheme.
But right now we have to trust, because what we are doing to treat cancer is essentially asking people to dope themselves up with chemo in order to survive, and then calling them heroes for surviving the dope that could easily kill them if given in greater doses. Are there contradictions there we’re not willing to face?
Or is that exactly the model we see our athletes performing for us? Our dope helps us transcend human limitations, but too much can kill us.
The fights we prefer
Still, we love our fights, and the dopamine of media outlets like Fox News (Fair and Dopey?) and fired up politicians got the nation ramped up for two essentially illegal wars that have bankrupted our nation. That’s the price of feeding on emotional steroids. They fuel our rage, but they also tax our systems toward an inevitable collapse.
Now we must accept that the steroids of war made so many Americans feel bigger, bolder and less afraid knowing our soldiers were out kicking ass in the world. Heck, we even tortured people and politicians scrambled to justify it. They were too afraid to appear wimpy and small next to the war mongerers. All, supposedly, to fight terror.
Standing back for a clearer look
Yet there are those among us who have been a silent minority for too long that would prefer to take a more measured approach to life and it problems, including terrorism. There are indeed many people who might did not believe that fighting terror was best done by fighting wars. Their dissent was frowned upon as unpatriotic at the time, and weak-willed to boot.
Yet God really does love the considerate among us, and some people actually prefer to go for a run or a ride and think things out before we turn to violence toward others. That’s a healthy response.
So let’s look at an example of one runner who did just that, a considered response to terrorism. None other than Frank Shorter.
Frank Shorter, circa 1972
The best case study of measured response to terror was the calm and diligent approach of marathoner Frank Shorter in the 1972 Olympics. Though he had witnessed the very acts of terror going on in the Olympic village, and considered greatly the idea not to complete, he decided that the best way to combat terror was to do what he did best. And that was to run. In so doing, he set off a running boom in America, and some might argue the world, that lasts to this day.
Shorter did not dope or take performance-enhancing drugs. But in 1976 when he tried to repeat as Olympic
champion an East German marathoner named Waldemar Cierpinski ran flat away from Shorter as if he were standing still. Suspicion about this competitor haunted Shorter for years as he wondered how the man could beat him so handily. Finally, when East German athletic records were published it came out that Cierpinski had indeed doped for the 1976 Olympic race. So Shorter was vindicated in some sense. He’d actually won twice.
Remember Shorter was a spindly-thin athlete, a ‘vertical hyphen’ some called him. He was my hero back then and he remains a hero to many to this day.
Sure, he was no studly looking athlete. When he competed (as I ran against him) he breathed like a bellows, and his feet slapped the cement louder than some elite athletes. But he was the best runner in the world on the days that counted.
Shorter is also a thoughtful man, and his considered response to terrorism was not some steroid-induced lashback at those who committed the crimes against humanity. His rage toward the terrorists was real, but his race instead served as a celebration of the natural beauty of plain, unassisted human effort. And he did it clean, to boot. And that matters. Because if you cheat to win, you have really lost in making a statement of principle whether it is against your fellow competitors or against terrorists who are essentially “cheating” the laws of civility by committing un-predicated acts of violence.
The worst thing Shorter did during his race was drink bottles of flat Coca-Cola, carefully set out the night before so that the fizz would run out. Remember Gatorade and other sports drinks were barely on the radar in 1972. Shorter used what he knew best, a sugary drink with some sticking power. But it certainly wasn’t drugs, or steroids, or EPO or any other concoction deemed illegal in the sports world.
For those of us who have long looked more like a skinny Frank Shorter than a muscled up, steroid-assisted thug of some sort, there is affirmation in never having done steroids or dope. You’re living clean.
Winning at all costs
But if you don’t mind people who fake their strength and cheat in sports (or politics) because winning at all costs is what matters to you, then you might also be inclined to favor those who grease palms and cheat because that’s just the way of the world, you see.
We see it all around us. Every day. Yet we punish the weak and too often refuse to prosecute the wealthy and strong when it is clear they have cheated, right in front of our eyes. Yes, it’s pretty hard living clean. But it’s been a problem through the ages, as evidenced by this verse from Proverbs:
Proverbs 4:16: For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.
Steroids and dope do have metaphorical symbolism in this world, and it can be awfully hard to live clean and seek justice when others think it’s just fine to cheat. As they often do.