The Adult-Onset Athlete

When writing a book, it’s useful to create the ideal reader in your mind and keep referencing that reader as you develop the book. In my previous book about university startups (Research to Revenue: A Practical Guide to University Startups), the ideal reader was a university faculty member interested in starting a company.

For Average to Epic, the ideal reader in my mind was a man or woman in their 30s or 40s or even 50s (like me) who had let their fitness slip because of the busyness of life: raising children, developing a career, building a marriage, etc. For the book, I created Jim and Sarah, a husband and wife who had been fit in college but because of their hectic lives had let that fitness slip. They had fits and spurts of effort but nothing stuck. In my mind, they would pick up a copy of the book and decide to take on some epic goal like riding 100 miles, running a marathon, or doing a triathlon. In doing so, they would become an adult-onset athlete!

Can you relate to Jim or Sarah? 

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Meet Jim. Jim is 42. He’s has a successful career in sales, moving up the ranks from salesman to VP of Sales for a medical device company. On the home front, he has three children and is a devoted father. The last 15 years has been rewarding but hectic with raising children and pursuing a career. Jim’s athletic endeavors as a youth had been significant. He swam year-round in middle and high school. He was good enough to get a partial scholarship at a Division 1 university where his specialty was butterfly. During the early years of family life, he was still fit, continuing to swim and getting into running. But with the pressures of life, he had gone from doing sports to coaching sports to watching sports. His travel schedule made it increasingly difficult to get any exercise. He did the occasional stairmaster or treadmill at the hotel. Some weekends he’d play a game or two of basketball with some of his old fraternity brothers. He was reasonably fit, for his age, but “love handles” were starting to develop and he found himself taking the elevator more than the stairs.  At 6’-1” and 210 lbs, he was no longer the lean swimmer of his former years.

Meet Sarah, Sarah is 43. She and Jim met in college and married shortly afterwards. Sarah had the struggles of wanting to be a great mother but also wanting a career. She had gone to evening college while working to earn her law degree. To give her flexibility with the family, she worked part-time providing legal services to immigrants, one of her passions. Together, Sarah and Jim were great partners in raising their children. They communicated well and had similar values. Like Jim, the commitments of work and family had pushed Sarah’s fitness to the back burner. In college, she had run cross country and had stayed reasonably fit, at least for the first child or two. She had never really lost the weight she put on with the last child. She did yoga and an occasional palates class. On some weekends, she would “jog” with her girlfriend; not much of  workout but a great chance to talk about life.

In January, Jim and Sarah took a rare vacation together without the children. During their time away, they had a chance to talk about the future: college for the kids, retirement, aging parents. But one topic kept coming up, over and over: Their health. Middle-age had crept up on them. The busyness of their lives had ever-so slowly increased with each promotion, client, and child. Looking back they could see how this slow creep had affected their health and well-being. The mad dashes between soccer practice and violin lessons had reduced family to fast-food drive thru-s. Not only had their children’s nutrition suffered, but those calories had gone to Jim and Sarah’s mid-section. Travel, kids activities, and clients virtually eliminated any consistent aerobic activity. They both agreed, it was time for a change.

After their vacation, Sarah joined a gym and committed to three days a week of aerobic exercise. Likewise, Jim returned to his first love of swimming, joining a Master’s swim program, swimming twice a week when in town and finding pools to swim in when traveling. After six months, Sarah and Jim started to see some changes in their fitness. But to be honest, the workouts were boring and repetitive. There seemed to be no real point to the workouts, no goals, and no drive.

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What I like about this vignette are several things. First, it’s very realistic. You may find a couple like Jim and Sarah but there are plenty of Jim’s and plenty of Sarah’s out there. Second, Jim and Sarah are great candidates for doing something big. They knew what fitness looked like in a former era of their lives (I like to call it BC or Before Children). They also have the life experiences (raising children, achieving business goals) that will help them be disciplined to train for something epic.

Are you a Jim? Are you a Sarah? 

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