First of all, I’m not talking about that song by Olivia Newton-John that came out after her famous appearance in Grease! I’m talking about the role that physical exercise has played in my life with Asperger’s.
Here are my questions: what role has health and fitness played in your life? Did you ever dread going to P.E. in school? Were you frequently picked last in team sports? Did you ever want to play with others but were afraid to because you didn’t know how?
Well to answer that, yes, I did have those less-than-fulfilling experiences during school P.E. classes. Today I’m proud to be in the shape I’m in and I’ve been growing from strength to strength with knowledge I have gained from consistent healthy eating and exercise. But it wasn’t always this way; indeed my story is probably one that is told by many an awkward kid who tried desperately to get through one day of school.
I was probably in 2nd grade when I started feeling out-of-place during team activities. This was due to the fact that children on the Spectrum are prone to having difficulty with balance and coordination; I was no exception. It’s also a fact that Spectrum children can be prone to having low muscle tone. Needless to say, I’ve always had problems with a “soft” body that takes a long time to show results from frequent exercise.
These problems became more evident as I grew older. Until about Spring in sixth grade, I was frequently picked last for teams, and that only added to the lowering of my self-esteem. Being so unsure about what was different about me only made things worse.
I did have a few small victories here and there. There were a few times where I was the last kid standing during dodgeball. One time when I played four-square, I defeated a boy named Russell, who was the kid who stayed in the prime position the longest time until I unseated him with one well-placed serve.
Going into middle school, my head was filled with too many examples of kids on TV who got run over by overly enthusiastic coaches during P.E. Thankfully, the reports of those types of teachers were very exaggerated. I was also surprised to get my first taste of the strong mentor figure; the kind of coach who sees potential in every student and brings it out of them. I feel like this is one of reasons why I developed a healthy respect for fitness trainers.
Entering high school and then community college, I began to really blossom in certain areas. Unfortunately, this was also the time that my physical and mental health problems became worse.
I was put on more anxiety and depression medication, and there were too many days that I purchased unhealthy junk food from the commons. To make matters worse, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, so I had to take more prescriptions to stop the tumult inside my head. Adding insult to injury, the biggest drawback was that weight gain was a side effect.
When I was finally brave enough to weigh myself, I had reached a peak of 250 pounds. Now I’m six feet, one inch tall, and I should have looked strong, but husky. The problem was the extra weight was all fat with very little muscle. At that point, my self-esteem & self-image had reached an all time low.
It was in the Spring of 2003 when I had my first awakening. I had just turned 21 and I knew that something was making me feel left out of life. To this day, I don’t know what happened, but I had an epiphany.
When it happened, I began looking at exercise videos that I could enjoy doing at home. The first one that stood out to me was the original Tae Bo, created by Billy Blanks. I purchased the two-pack of tapes right away and began to learn the moves and stretches. Before I knew it, by the beginning of June, I was on my feet learning to defend myself and getting healthier in the process.
Believe it or not, by the time Christmas rolled around, I was down to 210 pounds, which meant I had lost 40 pounds in just over six months! I’ve taken pride in that achievement every day, because I used fitness and better food choices to do it right, and it’s a lifestyle that’s worked wonders for me since then.
It was in 2005 that another part of my transformation took place. To tell you the truth, when I said I was born a geek, I really meant it. For years I had no clue about making a good 1st impression, and my self-awareness about my appearance was almost nil.
By the grace of God, Mom introduced me to a hairstylist named Alberto. He taught me how to style my hair and purchase certain products. I also had to buy a whole new wardrobe because of my continued weight loss. Ever since I met Alberto, I’ve been more conscious about how I present myself and my sense of style has matured, but I’ve kept a youthful polish to it.
For the past few years, I have continued to evolve inside and out. As far as workouts go, I’ve kept myself busy with a lot of different activities. Ever since 2001, I’ve run the 5k Race for the Cure every November. Breast Cancer awareness is something very close to my heart, but I’ll explain it more at a later date.
I’ve had a gym membership for six years now, and I even ran my first marathon in 2009! A great personal victory for myself, if I can do that, I can do even more! Through it all, I’ve become a better version of myself. I was able to strengthen my mind and body with diet and exercise. I no longer take medications, and I’ve even done a few internal cleanses to purge myself of toxins, in a healthy way of course.
I’ve come a long way from being a kid who was picked last for team sports. The worst of my health problems are over, and health and fitness are a top priority in my life. I encourage anyone on the Spectrum or those who know somebody on the Spectrum to just get moving! Exercise can make a world of difference to your self-esteem and self-worth. You are worth it!
I look forward to continuing on this journey and passing on my knowledge to my own children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren! With all I’ve learned about living a full and healthy life, I wouldn’t be surprised if I lived that long!