This August I will turn 36 years old. I know a lot of people my age who are developing real hang-ups about getting older; their bodies are changing, they are starting to go grey or bald, a bit of extra meat in some areas, gravity isn’t their friend anymore. Me? I couldn’t care less. I’m starting to get a little salt with the pepper, I’ve got more than the standard number of chins, and my eyebrows are getting insanely long. But the truth is I’d be more worried if these things weren’t happening, the only thing I miss is being in shape. Growing up, I used to be one of the most athletic people I knew.
Here’s what happened, how it happened and what is happening now, but first lets take this back a few years…
I have always been exceptionally tall, but to be honest I’m probably shorter than I should have been, due to my VSD, which can cause slightly stunted growth (when I was about 13, my cardiologist predicted I’d make it to between 208cm (6’10”) and 213cm (7′). Anna also has a friend with fraternal twins, one of whom has a VSD and is significantly smaller than her sister).
I was the tallest student in my year level at school every year. In fact, on my very first day of primary school (pictured above, left) the teacher measured all of the students and concluded that there might have been some kind of mix up and I had been placed in the wrong year level, because I was already 132 cm (4’6″). She believed me when I told her I was only five years old, but made me keep the growth chart because she couldn’t believe how big I was. Most of my friends would eventually catch up with growth spurts, but I just grew consistently each year and was always tall… and skinny!
I always liked sport when I was growing up. My father played golf and tried to get me to play, having me take lessons on a Sunday mornings and going out for nine holes on a Saturday afternoon if he wasn’t working, but I really struggled to get the hang of it, I was just so uncoordinated. Have you ever seen someone swing a club, spin a full 360° and fall over? That was me. Dad had also played AFL football before he had children, he is still a big fan to this day, and I like watching it, too. By the time I was about eight years old a lot of my friends at school played footy and were asking me to join their teams. I really wanted to play, but my Mum said no, because she thought I’d get hurt. She was probably right. For those of you who have never seen it, have a look at this clip from back in those days (you might want to mute the music, unless you want a bowel-shaking dose of Pantera):
I was constantly getting told by people that I should play basketball because I’m tall (I still get it to this day and it is probably the single most irritating thing you can say to an exceptionally tall grown adult. I don’t tell short people to become jockeys, because that would be mean). Dad played a bit of basketball back in the day, so back in 1988 he wanted me to watch the 1988 NBA All-Star Game with him. His advice? “Watch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he’s tall and skinny.” It just so happened that Michael Jordan won the Dunk Contest the day before and went off for 40 points in the All-Star Game. My response? “I like that guy!” I was hooked.
In country Australia you don’t generally represent your school in junior sports, you usually play in age groups. That’s not to say there aren’t school competitions, but the age group competition is the main one. I started playing basketball when I was about nine years old for the Traralgon East Primary School Trotters under-12 team, the school’s ‘B’ team. I, like most of my teammates, didn’t attend this school, but our team was allowed to use their training facilities if we took their name, however, we sucked, big time. Our highest score in a game for the entire season was seven and I scored one point all year, our only point scored in that particular game! The following season I did a LeBron James and took my talents to RAMS Blue. I had a better season, was improving and now coaches from my home town, Traralgon, wanted me to try out for the squad team that represented the town. I wasn’t a very good player, I was like a human squid; All flailing limbs and secretions, but I was athletic.
Fast forward to when I was17 years old; I had reached the height I am now and was playing or training every day of the week. One night a week I played in a Traralgon junior competition, a senior competition another night. Friday nights I was playing in the metropolitan junior competition in Melbourne, weekends I was playing in junior tournaments for Traralgon where we would sometimes play four games in a day! On top of this, I was playing in the men’s state leagues, either the VBL, VBA or the CVIBL in that order of competition level and I was training on the other nights. Again, I wasn’t a great player. I was pretty decent on defence and a solid rebounder, but that was about it. However, I could play a full game and barely break a sweat, I could dunk a ball from the free-throw line, but I couldn’t shoot free throws. Hell, that one I hit in my first ever season as a nine year-old might’ve been the only one I ever made!
Around the same time I made it to the state high school finals in high jump, despite having no technique and the worst body type for it. At the regional and state finals there were extremely athletic private school kids measuring their paces, using textbook fosbury flops. Me, I was just running and trying to do what I’d seen on TV and it was working. All of the other boys competing were hoping to one day be accepted into the Australian Institute of Sport. I was just there to get a day off school
My dream was to be a professional basketball player. Several scouts were interested when I was young, but It was always met with the phrase, “If he puts some weight on.” Despite a voracious appetite, weight gain just wasn’t possible for me — Having a VSD prevented me from doing weights, I was just a natural ectomorph, and the heaviest my playing weight ever got to was about 80 kg (175 lb). After a brief stop on an NBL training roster, but not getting any playing time, I stopped playing basketball in about 2002 after a final season with the Warragul Warriors in the VBL to concentrate on studying.
I met Anna in 2003 and both her and her friends were worried about me; Anna and her family thought I might have marfan syndrome, her friends just figured I was a drug addict. Because I was a student I couldn’t eat like I used to and my weight got down to about 70 kg (155 lb), tiny for a 200 cm (6’7″) or so guy. People were worried about my health, I had an extremely low BMI, but I felt fine.
Four years later, however, that would all change. After I developed epilepsy in January of 2007, I had to take a substantial amount of medication, of which one of the side-effects was weight gain. In the next 18 months I would gain about 40% of my bodyweight and the bizarre hours I was working made it difficult to exercise. In October last year I went to my neurologist for a check up and he weighed me — I was 108 kg (238 lb)! Not only was I a traitor like LeBron, I was about the same size as him, too! My cardiologist also suggested I lose some weight, I thought it was a good idea, too so I changed my diet and am now hovering around 100 kg (220 lb), which still isn’t an ideal weight for myself and I’d still like to lose a bit more.
Things came to a head in February. I was in Canberra for the wedding of my longest friend, Shane Worthington, where I was to be the best man. We all played basketball at some point in our lives and another groomsman, Adam Wojcinski, was bouncing off the walls and acting like he had had a Red Bull colonic the day before the wedding, he just had to let off some steam so we decided to play basketball. We were shooting around when a 14-year-old kid showed up, so we asked him to join us so we could play a 3-on-3 half court game, first team to 21 wins. A full court game of basketball equates to about 40 minutes of repeated 30m (94′) sprints. A half court game played by men in their mid-30s usually means not much movement at all and even after this 15 minute game, I felt like I was going to barf. I needed to get back in shape.
Now, back at the beginning of this rant, I mentioned people my age dreading getting older. Life expectancy for an average Australian male is 80.5 years, so statistically, I still have more tomorrows than yesterdays, I’m not technically ‘middle-aged’ yet, it’s not a “middle-aged spread,” but I’m rapidly hurtling toward that point. I need to get in better physical shape, but I’m too old for team sports; with the exception of the above mentioned occasion, every time I play basketball now I get injured. The previous time I played I broke my left pinky finger so badly that it’s now permanently bent at a 90° angle at the second joint. Once, when I was walking in a hurry at Frankfurt Airport while swinging my arms frantically, it got stuck in the belt loop of some woman’s jeans! I do a lot of walking, I love it and always have, the pedometer on my phone says I am averaging 6 km a day this year, but I need something more and I now have plenty of free time to exercise, which brings us to…
Anna suggested we do pilates, there is a class about a 15-minute walk from our house in Bonn, Germany on Wednesday evenings. I didn’t even know what pilates was, but it was a form of non-competitive exercise so I went with it.
Two weeks ago we arrived where we thought the class was, but that turned out to be someone’s house. They ended up locking their gate and we were briefly trapped in their front yard before eventually being released. A few more people started to arrive at the correct location, about five in all, and we were let in the building. I thought it was just a coincidence that they were all women, but there was a communal change room and these ladies of all ages had no qualms about stripping off as if I was’t there. I thought maybe I should wait outside until they were all done, then I came back in and got ready.
Because it was our first class we had to fill out a form stating medical conditions. I’m not sure if they ran out of men’s forms or if they just have one form for everybody, but I had to tell them if I was pregnant or had given birth recently. I told the woman in charge, “No, we’ve been careful” and maybe something was lost in translation, but it wasn’t met with a smile. The class began and, because my German is terrible, I had to watch what the others were doing, as I couldn’t understand the instructions. Some women there thought I was a creepy guy who attended just so he could watch chicks in yoga pants.
The class concluded, I waited outside while the women stripped, then I got ready and we went home.
We returned again this past Wednesday, April 22, 2015, and there were more people there, but they were still all women, all shapes, all sizes. The room being crowded on this occasion made it slightly more difficult, as I take up a fair bit of space; there was one move where we had to lie on our backs with arms spread out and roll over, keeping our arms straight, but because I had to watch the instructor rather than just follow her instructions, I ended up completing the move a split-second after everyone else in the class. I have a wingspan larger than my height so this, combined with my delayed reaction, resulted in me copping an underhand boob-scoop of a middle-aged German woman and flipping her tit like a pancake. Not my proudest pilates moment.
Overall, I think pilates could be beneficial for me, it is showing me how unfit I am, there are women in their 50s in better shape than me there, but I’m still not sure what it even is. Which leaves me with one question…
Do men even do pilates?