The Finish Line

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My Path to the Starting Line

Posted by Bill Skowronski on September 19, 2011 at 7:15 PM

I never met Andy Polk--until his funeral in June, 2010. He was an incredibly well-liked teacher and I worked directly with his school, but we never crossed paths. He was close friends with my wife's best friend and a few of my golf buddies, but we had never met. We were going to meet. We were supposed to spend three days in early June together golfing, drinking and bonding the way guys do when they swear they've known each other for a lifetime. Our foursome booked accommodations for an all-inclusive golf packagein Illinois--my good friend Roger, his father-in-law (and Andy's best friend) Jerry, Andy, and me. It would have been the first time Andy and I met and I'm told I would have loved him. He was in his mid-30s, passionate about his family andfriends, had a young daughter and golfed about as badly as I did.

Andy died in an accident on his family farm the week before our scheduled golf trip. I never met him, but he helped change my life.

Andy's funeral and wake--an event attended by so many people the School District of Westfield (WI) had to have it in the gymnasium and still had people lined up outside the building. The next week, I took these pictures.


The first reads "June 14, 2010 232.2 lbs C25KW2D1 (Couch to 5K Week 2 Day 1)". The second picture is what I looked like at 232.2 pounds. I knew I was overweight and I had battled my weight for what seems like my entire life. In the past when I dieted, it was for the sake of vanity. I couldn't stand to look the way I did.This time it was different. I didn't just want to lose the weight. Andy and I seemed to be about the same size proportionately. He seemed to be a little taller. But, as I sat in the high school gymnasium that night, I watched his wife and daughter--both young, like mine. I couldn't help but picture myself in that coffin and my young family mourning my loss. I saw how sincerely the entire community missed Andy already and how deeply his family felt the loss. But, I didn't feel fortunate to be alive. I felt ashamed. I felt like I was coasting towards an early death (much sooner than necessary at least), while everyone in the building wanted nothing more than to have Andy back. It didn't seem fair. I was disrespecting the life I had and that had to change. For me. For my family. For my friends. For Andy.

I was never a runner. I was an athlete, but I never understood anyone who 'just went for a run'. In 2009, A  friend pointed me towards the Couch to 5K Running Program, which promised to take me from couch potato to 5k runner in 9 weeks. I thought, if nothing else, I'd be able to lose some weight. So, I started it--and completed it, running my first 5k in around 35 minutes in 2009. Then, the cold Wisconsin winter hit, I stopped running and gained back whatever weight I'd lost.

The problem was, I was a quitter, it's what I did. I quit karate, football and even baseball in college when I wrecked my shoulder and decided it wasn't worth 12 Ibuprofen a day. Before that Thanksgiving TurkeyTrot, my wife even told me, "It's not like you're going to keep running.You quit everything you do." That hurt. It was true, but it still hurt.

Then, Andy died and I sat there at his memorial service feeling like I needed to regain control over my life. I weighed myself, started following the Weight Watchers diet plan and went back to the Couch to 5k Program--but I wasn't going to stop there. I graduated to the Bridge to 10K Program and moved on to the Cool Running Half Marathon Training Program with an April 2011 target date. I figured, if I could run a half marathon in 2011 it would set me up to run a full marathon in 2012. Then I remembered Andy and imagined all the things he was planning to do in the future--all the things henever got to do.

The night the web-site opened, I registered for the 2011 Chicago Marathon and chose Hal Higdon's novice training program as my bible.

On June 14, 2011, I weighed myself again. I didn't photograph it this time, but you'll have to take my word (and an updated picture) that it read 192.0, an overall loss of 40 pounds in one year.

What the scale didn't show was the overall change in my health. Now, it's important to notethat I fully realize the impact Weight Watchers had on my weight loss. But,eventually I quit using Weight Watchers. [Remember, I'm a quitter--it's what Ido] I've kept the weight off though because I've made running part of my life. I often say "I'm not running, I'm training." So, I've made races part of my life. People now recognize me as the guy they see running around the neighborhood every morning in whatever weather--but always dressed in all black.

Gradually, as my training has intensified and my mileage has increased, I've stopped losing weight. People have also stopped noticing my weight loss. But it was never about simply losing weight. This was about regaining control over my health--and to some degree about proving my wife wrong. Maybe I am still a quitter. I'll find out on October 9th when my only goal is to finish the Chicago Marathon without walking or stopping. Either way, I'm carrying 40 less pounds with me and I owe that to running, and Weight Watchers, and my wife, and Andy.

*Note: To her credit, my wife has been increasingly supportive after seeing how much work I've put into my marathon training. Without her willingness to care for our daughters each morning and rearrange schedules so I could fit in my long runs, I couldn't have gotten here. She's even started running herself--though she swears she has no interest in running a marathon--ever.


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