My Gold Medal.

I came to fitness and athletics later in life. As a younger man, I smoked a pack a day and was more than 50 pounds overweight. I drank too much. I ate terribly. And I was depressed and anxious, and generally unhappy. Around the time I turned 33, I knew I had to make changes in my life, or I was going to follow the footsteps of my father, who spent much of his life disabled from advanced diabetes.

So one thing after another, I began to make changes. I stopped drinking and smoking, and I changed my diet (some). And I began to get in shape. At first, it was just a few push-ups and sit-ups each day. Eventually, I started running. In the beginning, I couldn’t make it to the end of my block without having to walk. It took me months before I made it a whole mile.

But eventually I found I could run reasonably long distances as long as I ran slowly. So I did. I’ve always been satisfied with incremental progress; being able to go one mile, and then two, and then three. The first time I ran five miles was amazing. Not too long after meeting Melissa – and discovering our natural paces allowed us to comfortably run together – we decided to sign up for my first half-marathon.

That was a long slow day in Pittsburgh, but within a few weeks of finishing, I knew that I wanted to do it again. We signed up for another race, and another. Always running them together, step-by-step. Eventually, we attempted a full marathon. It took us nearly five hours (4:59:23!), but we conquered the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC in 2015.

I am not a fast runner. And I’m ok with that. I want to do as well as I can do, but I recognize that I’m not out there to win races. I’m only competing with myself. I’m trying like hell not to get diabetes. So far it’s working.

And I care most about spending time with my partner, Melissa. Seeing amazing places, doing amazing things, and enjoying the life we’ve built together. Now that we’re in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve been taking to trails. We signed up for an ultramarathon. We’re discovering that trail-fitness is a wholly different animal than road-fitness. It’s work. But it’s exciting work.

Finishing is my Gold Medal. I just want to cross that finish line, prove to myself I could do the difficult thing. Prove to myself I’m not the tired, lazy young man I once was. I’m going to keep throwing myself against the wall until I find a challenge I can’t complete. Is that the 50km race I just signed up for? Maybe. It’s definitely a challenge. But I was afraid a marathon would be my limit, and it wasn’t. I was afraid a half-Ironman would be my limit, and it wasn’t. I still have challenges to complete.

I have a wall full of medals now. And they’re all gold to me.