Let me first explain why I am telling you the inspiring story of Walter The Whale.
I mentioned a number of weeks ago (May 21 to be exact, read Tortoise and Hare), that I’m in debt to those of you who have directly, and indirectly, inspired me to connect with wellness. Today, I celebrate reaching the “40 laps” milestone (1 lb. lost = 1 lap completed) with a total of 41.5 laps completed already. Not bragging, just celebrating.
I especially want to thank the ever-increasing ranks of readers of this blog and, of course, all the fantastic commentors. I often wonder if those visiting 98.5 laps are catching up on my weight loss journey from obese to overweight to normal, or more likely listening in on what the regular gang of 98.5 laps commentors (wise folks named AllSouledOut, CJ, HAP, PNE and Scooby-Doo) are preaching. Please consider joining them by regularly adding your comments – all for the good intention to help inspire me through my remaining 57 laps. Seriously. Thanks!
I’m especially in debt to those who inspire wellness by example. Let me introduce you to one such person … Walter The Whale.
Walter and I attended Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa our freshman year in college. We were both out-of-state students, me from Wisconsin and Walter hailing from Illinois. I was 6’2″ about 165 lbs. Walter was 6’5″ about 330 lbs. Two of me able to fit into one of him.
There once was a time when Physical Education 101 was a required class for freshmen at many colleges. And that’s how Walter and I first met, in the freshman Winter swimming semester – or shall I say, non-swimming semester class. Walter and I were classic non-swimmers. Couldn’t tread water, couldn’t dog paddle, couldn’t float, couldn’t open eyes under water, just couldn’t swim.
Walter and I were mercifully separated from the rest of the swim class and given stern instructions to stay put at the shallow end of the pool and practice blowing bubbles. Now you real good swimmers may not be aware that the most important part of learning to swim, the primary building block, is to practice blowing bubbles. Here’s how it goes: While holding tight to the side of the pool, you take a deep, deep breath and force yourself under water. And then you practice slowly releasing a few air bubbles through your mouth. And then a few more. And a few more. Untill you get that feared drowning panic attack and kick hard off the pool’s murky bottom, violently breaking the surface and gasping for air, while knuckles dig the chlorine out of burning eyes.
So Walter and I got to know each other fairly well as we bonded blowing bubbles underwater. However, Walter excelled much faster than I at blowing bubbles. His notable technique became a thing of beauty. Gaining confidence, he added sound effects, sad bellows that echoed underwater. Then he started extending his uncanny ability to hold his breath underwater. Tenths of seconds turned into full seconds turned into full minutes. He became a non-swimming bubble blowing breath holding rock star. The entire swim class would applaud him each time he eloquently surfaced for air. I couldn’t resist. I affectionately knighted him Walter The Whale.
Actually, Walter thanked me for his new nickname, saying that during his high school and middle school days, he had been called a lot worse. Cruel names like Flabby. Chunky. Plumper. Tubby. Chubby. Blubber. So Walter accepted my kinder nickname for what is was meant to be: a friendly compliment. And soon Walter’s unique bubble blowing escapades spread throughout campus. Walter The Whale had become a non-swimming legend in ocean-less Iowa.
Walter’s fifteen minutes of campus fame was indeed dramatic and ego enriching, but very short-lived. Because once Spring semester arrived, the non-swimming swimming class ended abruptly and was cruelly replaced with distance-running running class. Which didn’t bother me at all because I was a long distance runner in high school and still in great shape. But poor Walter. A bubble blowing whale, distance running out of water, didn’t attract too much attention at all.
And now Walter was cornered, forced to truly train and try to get in running shape. Because the semester final exam would be the dreaded half-mile run, where if you were observed walking instead of running, you were disqualified and received an automatic F-grade. Walter could barely run 88 ft without stopping to catch his breath, let alone 880 yards. I distanced myself from Walter, not wanting to be associated with this non-running, non-celebrity whale out of water.
But without mine or anyone else’s training assistance, Walter The Whale took all of us on the distance run of our life. On the day of the final exam, on the day that I finished first in the half-mile run and Walter finished last, it was Walter The Whale who once again stole the limelight. And I couldn’t have been happier for him.
The entire class had all lapped Walter and easily crossed the second lap finish line by the time Walter came pass slow motion jogging on his first lap. All of us were finished, congratulating ourselves on our A, B or C-grade race times, while slow-poke Walter only had one lap done and still one lap to go. I couldn’t resist. It was time to return to a friendship. So I started the cheer that sent Walter streaking into his final race lap … “Whale! Whale! Whale!” And the rest of the class spread out around the inside of the track and increased the volume, following my lead. ”WHALE! WHALE! WHALE!” Now the whole campus could hear us cheering and many wandered over to see what the ruckus was, spotted Walter The Whale barely chugging down the back-stretch, and joined in on the cheerleading.
You could sense Walter feeding off the growing, cheering crowd as he rounded the last turn and headed down the home-stretch for the finish line. We all screamed and jumped and pleaded that he keep running. And he did. He finished running in tiny, tired, plodding steps, but never once stopped to walk over that terrifying half-mile journey. Unfortunately, his half-mile time was so horribly slow, he was awarded F-grade despite his incredible efforts. F-grade. He could have stopped and walked early on, been properly disqualified and settled for F-Grade without even trying. But Walter The Whale had trained very hard and didn’t want the training to go to waste, so he pushed himself to finish this half-mile test, knowing in advance of the start that his finish time wouldn’t make the grade.
We were all proudly screaming as he wearily crossed the finish line. If we could have lifted him off the ground, we would have shouldered him once around for a deserving victory lap, because each of us knew he was the true half-mile final exam winner that day. Walter just shrugged off the F-grade, congratulated me on my A-grade victory time, and said, “Let’s go cool off in the swimming pool. This tired running Whale could really use a little bubble blowing fun with a non-swimming buddy right now.”
Walter and I did just that. And luckily, I learned the fragile relationship between friendship and fitness and fun that day in just one half-mile run.
I’m looking to add a little running spice into my weekly workout schedule and I’m looking for creative suggestions on how best to keep it fun. Your advice?
Each “98.5 laps” blog entry also features
wellness success stories and key resources
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