Written by Member Jeff Simpson
For those who really know me, I try to stay a bit humble, and I try to give credit where credit is due. Other than that, I tend to crack jokes, and most are quite lame. But as the adage goes, it’s the thought that counts. In other words, I hate talking about myself at all, which makes this request a somewhat difficult endeavor. My Elevate physical trainer, Patty Calabria, asked if I would mind documenting a sort of chronological biography about my health and physical issues. Moreover, how I’m attempting to overcome these problems, and my progress through time. As I said, normally I don’t like to speak much about myself, at least seriously, but I will for Patty. And perhaps you’ll understand why when I’ve finished.
Let’s start with the basics, and some of my history for a little context. I’m currently 60 years old, male, and terribly out of shape, even for my age. I was not always the sloth I consider myself now. I joined the Air Force right out of high school in 1978. I spent the next 20 plus years traveling the world. During this period, I was a sports fanatic. I wasn’t much into health or physical fitness per se, but I kept in fair shape competing in various sports. I definitely did not watch my diet, but I guess I had a high metabolism because my weight didn’t change much during my career. While at Little Rock, I played golf, but I traveled too much for team sports. At Andrews AFB however, I played softball, flag football, golf, and I bowled. While I was in Guam, I played golf and basketball, I bowled, and I was in two different softball leagues. I was also the fitness monitor for the squadron. I finished out in Florida where I continued bowling and playing both golf and softball. Aside from all of this we were required to pass various fitness tests annually, which required various exercises and running. I semi-reluctantly decided to retire from the Air Force in November of 1998. When I joined at 17 years old, I was six foot two and 180 pounds. When I retired at 38, I was six foot two and 220 pounds.
In January of 1999 my wife and I moved to the Liverpool, New York area from the panhandle of Florida in search of post Air Force employment and to be closer to family. I started working at International Paper in Oswego, New York in March of 1999. If you’ve never worked in a papermill, there is a lot of running, a lot of hard work, and a lot of sweat which helped me to lose another 20 pounds. I felt phenomenal. I found this the perfect time to quit smoking after decades, so I quit on December 27, 1999. This was my way of starting the new century out right. And this was where life somehow took that proverbial wrong turn.
Six months later, during a routine exam, I was found to have slightly high blood pressure. I had donated a kidney to my sister in 1989, and this elevated blood pressure caused some concern for my doctor. I was initially placed on Hydrochlorothiazide for my blood pressure. One month after that, while at work, I began experiencing severe pain and cramping in my hands. After waiting a few months to see a rheumatologist, in June of 2000 my bloodwork revealed I had Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). I was immediately placed on prednisone while my doctor tried numerous other medications trying to help relieve my pain. The pain I experienced from RA kept me from doing all those activities I once loved. All of the sports I once played came to a screeching halt.
The pain grew to be unbearable and I was bedridden from 2002 to 2003. For that year, I reIied on Social Security just to survive. The combination of the prednisone coupled with the lack of exercise resulted in a dramatic weight gain. Through the years I withstood a wide array of medications and some unusual injuries not normally experienced, had it not been for my RA and its treatments. Eventually, my RA became somewhat manageable, but the damage was already done. Over those years, I ballooned from 200 pounds up to 388 pounds, I was diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, I had an umbilical hernia, I broke ribs twice just from coughing, I dislocated my shoulder, and most recently, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib). I’ve had an umbilical hernia surgery, three surgeries on my shoulder, my ribs never healed, and I’ve had an ablation and two cardioversions for my AFib, none of which worked. Now I take medications for AFib and high blood pressure, I get two infusions every six months for RA, and I sleep with a CPAP, not to mention all my other medications. I reached a point of depression where I thought to myself, is this all there was left of me. My wife and a dear friend I considered my Guardian Angel stayed on my side through it all. I think it was the AFib that finally got me. When my cardiologist said this was all due to my weight. This is where Elevate and Patty came to my rescue.
In January of 2021, I got mad at myself and I told myself I’ve got to do something. I had to try to take control. I emailed Elevate to see what they had to offer. I was blessed when Patty returned my email. We set up a meeting at elevate to discuss my situation. When I first arrived, I was afraid to commit to anything, though I was impressed by the array of equipment. Patty and I sat down and began discussing my basic information, my health issues, my medications, and what goals I had in mind. When we finished, I felt she understood well what I was going through. She was so receptive and empathetic that she put me at ease almost immediately. At that point I was somewhere around 368 to 375 pounds. I knew I had to try.
That first day after we talked, she urged me to try some of the equipment and that was almost embarrassing. Fortunately for me, COVID restrictions and rules were still in place and there were so few people around. My first attempt at exercising in over 20 years was on that Elevate exercise bike and lasted only six minutes. But I told myself, this was my starting point. I asked Patty to be my Physical Trainer and set a schedule for every Wednesday. I told her I want her to work on my strength and stamina while I work on my weight. I started in the beginning of February forcing myself to workout religiously, frequenting Elevate anywhere from four to six days a week aside from Patty’s training. On my own I began with that exercise bike. I expanded through time to include a treadmill, a stair climber, an elliptical and all sorts of weight machines such as the tricep press, leg extension, fly, row machine and many others. And then there were Wednesdays. Patty worked me hard, she made me sweat, she made it fun, yet she knew and respected my limitations. I began shedding pounds the first week and that to me was exciting. So I started doing a few things at home to help.
I’ve limited myself to 1800 calories using my FitnessPal to track what I eat. Now, after four months, as of June 8th, I am at 310.2 pounds, and have much more energy. As a result of Patty’s commitment to me, and the many who have been in my corner throughout, that six minutes on an exercise bike has turned into 30 minutes on an elliptical at increasing tensions, 30 to 60 minutes on a treadmill with increasing inclines and speeds, 10 minutes on the stair climber at increasing speeds and three or four different weight machines, all within the same visit.
There have been some setbacks that, for a short time would make me question if this was all a just a futile effort. The most notable instance was when I snapped a tendon in my left elbow while flipping the tire. As soon as that happened, I wasn’t sure I could continue. I wondered for the remainder of that day if this was truly worth the pain and trouble. Patty tried pushing me, cheering me on, but this became a personal barrier. I remember thinking if Patty and my wife both vested so much of their time and effort on me, why didn’t I. Then I got mad at myself again and pushed myself that much harder. The doctor verified the tear in my elbow, but there was nothing he could do because the tendon had shrunk and couldn’t be reattached. I talked to Patty about the injury, and she began creating routines that worked the surrounding muscles to help strengthen my left arm. She has made herself available to me whenever I need to talk, to ensure I’m staying on track. She praises my successes and supports me in my setbacks. Now that COVID is over and work is returning to normal, I fear I may not be given the latitude to continue as I had in the past. But if I’ve learned nothing else, I am realizing it’s just another obstacle to overcome.
It’s exciting for me to be heading in a positive direction. I have made a deal with Patty that once I break that 300-pound mark, I get to treat myself to a chocolate shake. That has now become her fun way to push me. And I can’t wait until I get that chocolate shake, not for the shake itself as much as it means I’ve made it to that goal. So you see, I may have made the decision to ignore the pain from the RA, from the shoulder dislocation surgeries and all the arthritis, from the broken ribs, and everything else. I may have been the one who is slinging the battle ropes, climbing those stairs, kicking that bag, and doing those sit-ups for the first time in 20 years (all eighty of them), But it would never have been had it not been for people like my wife, my Guardian Angel, my friends, but most of all, Patty Calabria. I guess you could say she may have saved my life. God Bless her.