This visit with you will be all about a topic which many people might not equate with Harry Carter. I will be discussing my personal battle with the twin demons of physical fitness and weight control. But Harry you might ask, aren't you fat? My answer to you will be quite simple indeed. Yes, I have had a weight control problem my friends and it is a problem of long standing.
However, it is one which I have decided to address as part of my march through the decade of my 60's. As an aging Baby Boomer, I have chosen to a better job of taking care of myself. I have many things I still want to accomplish. I also have two weddings and an ordination to attend. And besides, I am having too much fun to check out of this hotel yet.
There have been a number of downsides to addressing my volumetric dysfunction issues. The Carter's spend a lot of money on food. We always have. My clothes have always been more expensive. They still are. I can remember the 'joy' of having my Mom and Dad take me to the only store in Freehold, New Jersey which carried a limited line of 'husky' clothes. For my Freehold buddies old enough to remember, Two Brothers was the store and it was kind of a neat place for people to shop. For me, it was the only bet.
Weight almost kept me from joining the Air Force back in 1966. I had to drop about 30 pounds to make the weight limit. The funny thing here is that I found out that I could not have been drafted if I was found to be overweight. Unfortunately for me, the guy who told me this was giving me my physical at the Newark, New Jersey Armed Forces Entrance Station.
I can recall his remarks quite clearly. He told me that I weighed 249 and that this amount was over the limit for my height by four pounds. He said that he would waive the difference since I was enlisting. I then asked him if this meant that I could not have been drafted. He nodded his head, smiled a bit and then told me to move on to the next examination station. Son of a gun!
As you might imagine, being fat is not a problem which recently entered my life. Heck, I weighed 106 pounds during my first grade year at the West Freehold School. In my first grade class picture, I looked like a small fire hydrant with suspenders and a bow tie (yes, even then). I was always considered 'big for my age'. Funny, now that I am 63 years old, I am still a bit big for my age. Some things never seem to change.
Over the years my weight has managed to fluctuate more than the Dow Jones Stock average. During my time in Vietnam, I even managed to accomplish the exact opposite of what most other people did. While most people lost weight in country, I bulked up. Did you know that the U.S. Army Special Forces base in Nha Trang, Vietnam had both a pizza parlor and a Dairy Queen ®?
My friends, I arrived back in the United States quite the chubby, young lad indeed. As a matter of fact, years later, after I had lost quite a bit of weight, my mother confided in me that when I she saw me coming off of the plane at Kennedy Airport in New York, she turned to my Dad and said, "…what did they do to him over there, he is all swollen up?" Let me assure you that I am glad she did not tell me at the time. It was like the time that my buddies at the air base in Vietnam gave me a grey sweat shirt with a diamond on the back which contained the word 'Goodyear'.
My last Air Force duty station turned out to be a lucky turn of events for me. I was stationed at Blytheville Air Force Base in Arkansas. Through a fortunate set of circumstances, I was able to meet a really neat group of firemen in Memphis, Tennessee. At some point, they convinced me that I should consider trying to join the Memphis Fire Department after leaving the service.
A conversation with their Fire Chief about the matter of my size (something about a lard butt as I recall) led to me to a meeting their Director of Physical Education. After declaring me a lost cause, and giving me a harsh lecture about the error of my ways, he deemed me marginally worthy of receiving a copy their recommended high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. He closed the conversation with a brusque comment that he did not think I had what it takes.
Talk about being exposed to a master of psychological motivation. I tore into that diet plan and by the time I left the service in June of 1970, I had dropped better than 40 pounds. Over the course of the early 1970's I was able to corral my weight problems in the range of 240 to 275 pounds. At one point, I was down from my peak by over 100 pounds.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going on a fad liquid diet program during the late 1980's. I need to make weight for a National Guard physical and this was the only way (I thought) to get the job done. Let me assure you that the results were truly only a short-term fix. By the time I returned to regular food and got done rebounding, I was suddenly up near 300 pounds again.
This little faux paux led me to lose my position as State Fire Marshal for the New Jersey Army National Guard when I was passed over for promotion because of my failure to maintain a proper weight profile. I guess this was their attempt at saying that I was too fat to be promoted. Had I been a thin man, I probably would have retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, since I had completed all of the necessary educational requirements and worked in State Headquarters.
Let me suggest that being over weight comes at a steep price. Sometimes, the cost comes in the area of clothes and sometimes it is in the area of ones health. In this case, my lack of focus and motivation cost me a military career. Fortunately, I was able to lock in my pension rights and retire with my monthly stipend intact. Luckily I dodged a serious bullet there my friends.
Anyway, life has a way of allowing us to get lazy. Over the years, I drifted back up well over 300. I danced the dance of denial with my personal physician each year. She would say lose weight and I would say OK. What she could not explain was that even in spite of my heavy weight, I still had a blood pressure rate in the range of 118/68. All of my blood work was good and my resting pulse dazzled her. She kept telling me that this would go away one day, but it never did. My blood pressure, pulse, and test results were always on target.
Things began to change a couple of years ago. I stopped trying to diet and ceased my constant up and down, yoyo style of weight control. The results were not unexpected. The number of shirts and trousers I could wear dwindled to a precious few. The number of suits and sport coats I was able to don dropped off to just one (and I had to buy that one special).
Let me assure you that I knew I was in trouble when the tailor at Franks Big and Tall told me that he had done all he could for my three business suits. I ended up buying two suits at a size so big that I am ashamed to mention it. Further, my fire company uniform had also been expanded to the outer limits of its ability to wrap around my lard butt. I went to the uniform store to cure that problem.
Finally in September of last year I decided I had had enough. When I went in to my physician, the first thing the staff had me do was get on the scale. Since I had stopped weighing myself some time back, the results of this 'tipping of the scale' ceremony nearly floored me. As I sat in the little examination room, my spirits were sinking as surely as the sun sets in the west each day.
When my doctor came into the room, she looked at me and asked what was wrong. I made a really simple statement. I told her that I actually, "… felt fat." I told her that I lacked the energy to get my work done and that I was feeling especially clumsy lately. I told her about some spells of dizziness which I had been experiencing. I shared my simple feelings of being out of sorts.
Dr. Peters sort of smiled and nodded knowingly. She said, "… well I was going to mention that you had gained quite a bit of weight since the last time I told you to lose weight." She then said something which I believe set the tone for the rest of my life. "… But I am not going to give you a lecture Harry. You know what you have to do." That statement really let the air out of the balloon of my ego. As we left the exam room, I told her that I would do what I can. Let me share with you that this little with her visit took place on the Thursday before Labor Day.
When I got home, I told my wife what had happened and that I intended to start doing something about it on the day after Labor Day. Being a man of my word, I was up early and out to the fitness center at CentraState Hospital in Freehold. I had been swimming laps at the fitness center's Olympic-length pool for a number of years, but had fallen out of the habit a few months earlier. It is important to note for you that while I had not been to the center in many months, I had been paying my $75 monthly fee all along.
Anyway, I entered the swimming pool and did about a dozen lengths. I knew that the worst thing to do was to try and recapture my old many-lap-mode too quickly. It was not my intention to spend the next several days nursing the pains from muscles which had been rousted from a slumber of many months. Pain and I do not get on that well. I have the pain tolerance of an aging sissy-girl.
Let me also suggest that part of my motivation came from my buddy Steve Austin. A while ago he began walking. He felt the need to exercise and over the course of a number of months, he lost a lot of inches. I saw this and marveled at it. Of course I really did nothing about my issues at the time, but Steve's efforts impressed me. He now walks about five miles most days.
In addition, my best friend in the world, Jack Peltier of Marlboro, Massachusetts, had lost nearly 200 pounds between actually trying to lose weight and almost dying from an obscure medical condition. He indicated that losing weight while one is healthy is much better than being unconscious for a couple of months and waking up thinner. He also pointed out that I should try to lose my weight a little bit at a time.
Anyway, over the next several months I reigned in my eating and ramped up my swimming. However, at no point was it my intention to go on any sort of a crash diet. I was happy to see a pound or two drop away each month. I have managed to stop television-based grazing sessions at night and limit myself to the normal-human-being quantity of three meals per day. As a matter of fact, the manager at our local Dunkin' Donuts store must think that I have died or moved.
Now for the truth part of the story my friends. I am still fat. Given my body style, I will probably always look fat. Fortunately for me, I am not as fat as I was last year. I have lost nearly 40 pounds since Labor Day and am now wearing those three suits which the tailor gave up for dead last September. The same for my fire company uniform (the old one). I am now swimming three days a week and walking a bit on the off days. It is my intention to ramp up the walking a bit now that the weather is warming up.
My lesson for you today is this. Even the most lard-butted amongst us can have a Hallelujah moment. I have a lot to live for. I want to be at the ordination of my son in June when he becomes a Priest in the Diocese of Trenton. I am also suggesting that I want to be around to walk my two daughters (Ellen and Katie) down the aisle at their weddings. I want to dance to that old wedding favorite, "Daddy's Little Girl."
I do not want a line of duty funeral. I do not want to keel over dead from a heart attack at a fire. I do not want people to march in a funeral procession for me, at least not for another twenty years. And on a crass personal level, I want to keep collecting my fire and military pensions until I am a grey-haired little old man.
Let me suggest that it is never too late for any of us to come to the table. If chubby old Harry Carter can do it, anyone can