Reinventing Myself at 50: Chapter Zero
Today, I did a 5K in 57 minutes.
It’s a terrible time — I barely averaged 3 miles an hour — and I’ve rarely been more proud of myself.
A few days ago, I posted an essay about the challenge of reinventing myself at the age of 50. As a freelance sports writer, my income is gone for the foreseeable future — I don’t expect games to return to Detroit until Thanksgiving.
I’ve found a few new sources of income, and I’m collecting unemployment, but I have to find a way to make this work for six more months.
The moment things changed
I’ve had to reevaluate a lot of things about my current situation, but that started with my diabetes diagnosis late last year. At 5-foot-6 and almost 260 pounds, it wasn’t a surprise — I’d been pre-diabetic for years — but it was still a slap in the face.
A few days after Christmas, I met with a dietician with a feeling of looming dread. I was sure she was going to tell me I had to follow a rigid diet, lose 50 pounds, and never again eat anything I liked.
She didn’t say any of that. As a matter of fact, she didn’t tell me I needed to do a single thing. She gave me two suggestions and changed my life.
The first was “eat what you love, but don’t go overboard and mix in some green things.” The second was “try to move around a little. You don’t have to run a marathon. Go for a walk.”
On her way out, she asked the nurse to check my blood sugar. It was 250, which sounded pretty high. The nurse went to tell the doctor, who sent back a message: “drink a big glass of water and go for a walk.”
That was it.
If she sent me home with a list of banned food, an exercise program, and a weight target, my blood sugar would still be 250, and I’d be walking toward the grave. With my obsessive personality, cravings and frustration would overwhelm me within weeks
Instead, I turned to my wife in the car and said, “I can do this. I just have to make some adjustments.”
I was right.
The appointment with the dietician was on Dec. 29. I weighed 258 pounds with a fasting blood sugar level of 250 and zero cardio fitness. I was panting for oxygen when I had to walk from the press box to the Pistons or Red Wings locker rooms after games — a distance of about 50 yards — and it was the middle of a Great Lakes winter. My diet was horrible, especially given I was eating several dinners a week in the Little Caesars Arena press room. The arena sponsor should give you a clue about the food I was putting away.
I started slowly. I bought a FitBit and downloaded My Fitness Pal (MFP) again — the combination that helped with my last successful attempt to get healthy. I was down to 190 pounds when a lousy combination of events put me in the hospital, which triggered my anxiety and depression. That led to me taking an anti-depressant with a side effect of weight gain. Every 20 pounds or so, I’d decide to do something about it. It would last about a week.
This time, though, I wasn’t going to aim for 154 pounds — that’s where I reach a “normal” BMI — or even 200 pounds. My target was getting my weight and blood sugar under 250. Once I did that, I’d set another goal.
The first week, I didn’t change a thing. I entered my food, my step count, and my blood sugar into MFP to get an idea of my baseline.
You know what happened, right? Seeing the data changed my behavior. I walked a little more to get bigger numbers on the FitBit. I ate fewer hot dogs at the arena and a few more salads. Angie started putting some chopped vegetables into our meals.
At the end of the “baseline” week, I was down four pounds, and my glucose levels were under 200. That was encouraging, which is all I needed.
I turned to my wife in the car and said, “I can do this. I just have to make some adjustments.”
I started walking the long way from the Pizzarena media entrance to the press-room elevator, then started getting to games a little earlier to do a full lap of the concourse before heading downstairs. While I was there, I might as well throw in a lap after the game. It was better than walking outdoors in the winter.
Suddenly, I was in the 240s. This was easy.
You should never think that.
Angie ended up in the hospital with a minor infection — she’s immunocompromised after a 2018 kidney transplant — and I had oral surgery to remove two wisdom teeth. That actually helped with the weight loss, but I don’t recommend it. I don’t eat when she’s in the hospital — I lost 15 pounds in the six weeks after her transplant — and I wasn’t eating much after surgery.
I hit 239 during all the chaos, but my blood sugar was all over the place. I got it back under control and didn’t worry when I went back up to 242 pounds.
I worked back into the 230s with excellent blood sugar numbers. On Monday, Mar. 9, I weighed 234.8 points, but there was an obvious problem.
Michigan still hadn’t had a confirmed case of COVID-19, but it was only a matter of time, and I had been at Little Caesars the previous three nights. My pre-game loops of the concourse took me uncomfortably close to early-arriving fans.
The Red Wings played again on the 10th — the first day of the NHL’s new social-distancing rules for the media. We couldn’t go in the locker room or within six feet of the players. It was weird that morning for pre-game skate, but it seemed reasonable.
When I went back to the arena that night, I immediately left the concourse to walk an improvised course on the arena level. It wasn’t great, but I’d figure something out.
I never had to worry about it.
That night, Michigan announced its first two COVID-19 cases, and Governor Whitmer declared a state of emergency. When the Red Wings and Pistons came back from their road trip, they were going to be playing in empty arenas. Dodging fans wasn’t going to be a problem.
On the 11th, the NBA postponed the game between the Jazz and Thunder when Rudy Gobert tested positive.
I had two thoughts:
1) “I’m not sure how the sports world is going to handle this.”
2) “I covered a Pistons-Jazz game four days ago. I’m glad I was in the Pistons locker room after the game.”
I didn’t have to wait long for the answer to my first thought — the sports world shut down on the 12th. I haven’t covered a game since the Red Wings-Hurricanes game on the 10th — almost two months.
Angie began working from home — her bosses didn’t want to take any chances because of the transplant — and we prepared for an extended stay. We weren’t worried about that — she’d been home for 10 weeks after the transplant, so we already had some experience.
On the 14th, Christian Wood tested positive. Being in the Pistons locker room on the 7th hadn’t been a great break after all. I hadn’t interviewed him that night, but I still had to go into self-quarantine since I had talked to him on the 4th. He had likely caught it from Gobert — they had been sweating on each other for the whole game on the 7th — but I stayed home.
I’ve barely left. Since I cleared quarantine, I’ve been inside a building other than my house exactly once. I went to CVS to pick up a prescription, but now I’m getting all them via delivery or drive-thru window.
We’re both high-risk — diabetics struggle with COVID-19 — so we’re not taking any chances. When we had issues finding things, our amazing friends jumped at the opportunity to make no-contact porch deliveries.
So I was trying to figure out my future, trying to control my blood sugar, and finding a way to exercise. So far, my glucose levels have been good, and I’m taking daily walks around the neighborhood park.
That led to today, which should have been our annual Kentucky Derby party. That wasn’t happening this year, plus my insomnia is so bad, I spent much of the day stumbling around like a zombie.
To make it even worse, I had committed to doing Walk For Wishes this year. I wasn’t in the mood for a walk, but it was virtual, so I could walk whenever and wherever I wanted. Angie joined me for the first lap of the park but headed home when her foot started bothering her.
I’d been stretching out my walks as it warmed up, but I hadn’t gone beyond two miles. As I made a second loop of the park, I realized I could do a 5K while still avoiding high-traffic areas. My mental map wasn’t quite right — I ended up walking past the house at 4.5K — but a quick loop got me to 5K in less than an hour.
All while wearing a mask.
That was a proud moment, and I’m also thrilled I was able to eat pizza for dinner and only have a blood-sugar level of 128.
I’ve lost 30 pounds, which has had an unexpected benefit. Not only has my blood sugar has come down, but my blood pressure has also dropped.
That’s why I’m confident I can reinvent my professional life at age 50 — I’ve already done it with my health.