MARIETTA, GA. -- This column marks the last month for "Fit Over 40."
Instead, I'll be writing on various topics -- including health and fitness -- on this page occasionally. An expanded venue is always exciting for a writer, so I really look forward to that change and growth.
It scares me nevertheless because a lot of my own psyche is involved in Fit Over 40. Bloated and spandex-coated, I first put my picture and my thoughts out there for you to see in March 1986, wondering if anyone else worried as much about their body and mind as I did.
It wasn't easy exposing myself like that when my self-image, behind the camera smile, was so low.
Nearly five years and four Conchathons and 4,000 letters later, I'm still somewhat insecure about my body. But I no longer wonder if others also want to improve their body and lifestyle. The story of Fit Over 40 has become the story of thousands of you.
That's why my Dec. 17 and 31 columns are going to be about you. If you've challenged yourself or had some fun during the past years, write me (briefly) with your own update, and I'll do my best to include it.
I'll even leave off your name if we need to protect the innocent. Or the guilty, as it may be. Take the seven single Conch Out ladies, all feeling better about themselves after participating in a Conchathon, who decided on the spur of the moment to run an "ISO" ad in a local paper. "Active, vivacious, lively, sports-oriented women seek men with similar interests, 30-45," this particular ad said.
"We were at a Conch Out party with about 60 others when the idea came up," the group's anonymous but healthy spokesperson said. "We wanted to meet some active guys, not couch potatoes." Within a week of the ad, more than 90 men responded, "including one guy who had done the Iron Man and sent us his picture.
"Since we only wanted seven men, we drew up a chart ranking the guys by certain characteristics and held a voting meeting at a local restaurant to choose the seven."
The characteristics for the ranking?
"I can't tell you that," she said with a laugh, "but the Iron Man guy was top on the list."
A month later the ladies held a cookout for the seven prospective Conch Men. "It was a really nice, lively party in a funny way," another anonymous Conch said. "We all swore we wouldn't do it again, but do you know what? Conchdom gave us the courage to do it in the first place. We're not afraid of anything now."
And then there's the Conch Out who first read Fit Over 40 the day her husband told her he was leaving. "I wanted to die that day," Pat says, "and I knew I didn't want to feel that way a year from then." And she didn't.
Though she wasn't an athlete, Pat started training for the Bahamas Conchathon (swim a mile, bike 10, run 4), completed that event, and went on to complete three other Conchathons. Pat's now training with a group of Conch Outs for the Winchester Triathlon in May. "I knew I had to grow and make new friends," she says, "and I've done both. It's been a great time in our lives -- my life and those of these friends I've met while Conching Out."
Don Broomall of Rockville had been "doing as little exercise as possible" when he read the first column about the Bahamas event three years ago. "I'd never competed in anything since high school," Broomall says, "but that day, I finished 145th out of 400 and I'll never forget that electrifying feeling when I crossed the finish line."
Broomall, who just turned 40 last month, still keeps "running into Conch Outs everywhere," literally. He's also training for the Winchester Triathlon. "Though I lapse all the time, I keep coming back to the routines and goals this Conch thing gave us. Achieving these goals makes a difference in other things I do," he concludes.
Jane Burke, 34, who lives in Atlanta, first heard about Conchdom in 1988, and though (as many of you) she has never participated in an event, she (also as you) is a true Conch. "I had been really overweight all my life, and was on medication for blood pressure problems, too. But my blood pressure, even with all that medication, was too high. It scared me. I didn't want to die before I was 40."
"Then a friend started telling me about Conch Outs who had changed their health dramatically," Burke says. "I decided to try the MUD principle you were writing about: gradually modify up the good things like exercise and modify down the bad." Burke began short strolls with a friend, not vigorous, but in a conscious effort to exercise. "We walked for a set time, say a half-hour, not distance at first."
She changed her diet, too, and in 10 months lost 106 pounds and no longer needs medication to keep her blood pressure normal. "It's like breaking out of prison," Burke says. "It's changed everything -- the way I move, the way I feel and, most important, the way I think about myself," she says adding, "though I still turn sideways at times to get through spaces even when I don't need to any more."
Make gentle changes in the way you eat and move, and your body will change faster than your mind can see. The key is steady, long-range effort, regardless of your schedule.
"Are you still keeping it up?" I asked Carol Boyd Hallett on the phone.
"Boy, are we!" Three years ago Carol Hallett was United States ambassador to the Bahamas, a busy job. She and her husband, Jim, completed the Bahamas Conchathon anyway, rising at 3:45 each morning to ride stationary bikes together and swim laps in the embassy residence pool.
Now, Hallett is U.S. commissioner of Customs, an even busier job. Last Wednesday she flew in from Mexico with President Bush on Air Force One. The next morning she took off again, "but I'm still up at 3:45 riding my exercise bike," the commissioner says.
Why does she do it? "High energy exercise gives me high energy." While most of us would take a high-tension, frenetic job like Hallett's as an excuse to neglect exercise, this lady insists she couldn't do the job without it.
You probably aren't flying off with the president today, probably haven't participated in a Conchathon either. So what? If you've taken a grip on that slippery slope of resolve and made some changes in your life, your story is just as important. Write me with it today: Remar Sutton, P.O. Box 77033, Atlanta, Ga. 30357.