In the early 1990’s I worked as the Coordinator of Senior Health Promotion in Shasta County, Ca. A significant part of my job was to visit senior citizens in their homes and to conduct a brief health, fitness and nutrition assessment.
I was told that these older adults were considered “at risk”. I remember thinking to myself at the time, “how at risk could they be”?
After all, Shasta County, in my opinion, is a pretty nice place to live. So, I began to conduct my home visits and was literally shocked at what I found.
I met people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80’s who could barely get out of a chair. Most of them were on multiple medications and the nutritional quality of the food in their homes was abysmal.
It became apparent to me rather quickly that this was going to be a discouraging and somewhat depressing job. The people themselves were wonderful and I enjoyed meeting them.
But their lives, at this point, seemed sad to me. I used to leave their home, get in my car, look back at their house and think to myself, “How sad, there is no hope for those people”.
Like I said, it was a discouraging job. But I needed the money, so I stayed with it.
And I’m glad I did. One morning, after about three weeks on the job, I reported to work as usual to collect the list of the names and addresses of who I was to visit that day.
The first person I was to visit on this day was a single man, 91 years old.
Perhaps you can imagine what I was thinking based upon my other visits with people in their 50’s who struggled to get out of a chair.
When I read that this guy was 91 and single, I thought to myself, “oh this is going to be great; this guy is probably going to be in horrible condition”.
Still, I had a job to do, so I drove to his address a few miles out of the city. I walked up to the front door of what seemed to be a well cared for home and knocked on the front door.
A strong and stern voice answered, “Yea, who’s there”. My first thought was, “this guy doesn’t’ sound 91”?
“My name is Fred Schafer, I’m here to do a quick health and wellness assessment”. The confident voice on the other side of the door answered, “I don’t need any health assessment”.
I responded, “Sir, this will just take a few minutes”.
Unconvinced, he answered, “Go away, go bother someone else, I’m not buying anything”.
“Sir, I’m not here to sell you anything” was my reply.
This back and forth went on for a few minutes and I was making no progress. However, I was highly motivated to talk to this man because I was getting paid per visit.
So I pulled out all the stops and said, “Sir, it says on my sheet of paper out here that you get meals on wheels.
“Yes I do” he acknowledged.
Do you enjoy those meals? I asked.
“Yes, very much so” he said.
“Sir, if I write down on my assessment that no one lives at this location any longer, those meals might stop showing up!” I said with a bit of guilt.
The door slowly opened. He’s looking at me and I’m looking at him.
The first thought that ran through my mind is, there’s no way this guy is 91. I was guessing 79, maybe 80 but not 91!
In fact, he looked like a lumberjack as he was dressed in a red and black flannel shirt, suspenders and a baseball hat but he also looked lean, strong and fit and still capable of felling a tree if he wanted to.
“Now what did you want sonny?” He said.
“Just a few minutes of your time to do a quick health assessment” I said with a smile.
“I told you sonny I don’t need an assessment” the lumberjack looking man who apparently thought my name was Sonny said.
“I’m beginning to think you might not”, I said.
“But you need to know something sir. Over the last few weeks I have been visiting the homes of people far younger than you, but in far worse condition than you. And…if you would spend just a few minutes with me and share with me some of your secrets, maybe I could go back and help those people.”
“What…you think there’s a secret, he exclaimed with a degree of shock.
“I don’t know sir, you are a stud.” I said.
At that he smiled and said, “OK, come on in sonny, I’ve got just a few minutes, but I’ll tell you about my secrets”.
He walked me down a narrow hallway into a room. It was a room set-up for fitness success.
Hardwood floor with a row of dumbbells in a rack along one wall with a mirror above them, a heavy punching bag hanging in one corner and a Nordic track ski machine along the other wall.
He went about quickly showing me his proficiency on all of this equipment and he was impressive, especially on the ski machine.
I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t know if I can keep up with this guy?”
After getting off of the ski machine he came up to me and said, “You want to know my real secret sonny? When I was 55 years old I decided to go back to school and get my PHD in physics. I did and then for the next 20 years I taught physics at UCLA. I know a few things about how to keep things moving.”
With that, he turned and walked over to the wall where he had a sheet of laminated paper hanging, which he took down and then handed it to me.
It had four things written on it. They were:
1)Just show up.
2)Beginning is half finished.
3)A body in motion stays in motion.
4)A body at rest stays at rest.
“Sonny, I am 91 years old. There are many mornings where I don’t feel like getting out of bed. But I found something out. The most important thing for me to do is just show up. So, I get out of bed and drag myself into this room and then think to myself. Hey, I’m here, I may as well do something. And that brings me to item two on that list. The hardest part in life sonny is to start. And most days, I don’t really feel like starting. But once I start, I’m always glad I did. And I can tell you something clear as day sonny. There has not been one day that I have come into this room and started that I regret. No, the times I tend to regret are the days I stayed in bed too long. And I have learned something sonny at 91 years old and that is that life is way too short to be long on regrets. Number 3 and 4, everyone knows those. Newton’s laws of physics. A body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest.”
“Sonny”, he concluded. “I am not ready to rest just yet. In fact, it is now time for you to go. I’ve got to go to work.”
He went on to explain to me that he worked down the street in his son’s saw repair shop (Hence the lumberjack lookJ.
“Sir, I will go, but I have one last question for you. How long have you been at this?” I asked in reserved amazement.
“Sonny, I am so glad you asked that question. I did not start this tell I was 79 years old. All my life I said I didn’t have time. All my life I said it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. I know two things now. How untrue that was and what a mistake that was. My biggest problem now is that I have no one my age to hang out with.”
Afterwards I sat in my car for a few minutes looking back at his home and smiled. His “secret” it turns out, was that he had built systems into his life to daily enter into his own high performance health, wellness and fitness zone.
We never got into the specific system of how he used his fitness equipment but what he did share with me was perhaps the most valuable part of his system, and that was his motivational mindset system to keep himself moving forward each day.
Do you have a system built into your life for entering your own high performance health, wellness and fitness zone to keep yourself moving forward and upward?
If not, start today to get one in place. If you do, it may not be long before others are asking you, “What is your secret?!!!”
Stay Strong, Fred
Fred Schafer, MS, CFT
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