Flight Club and More February 25, 2013

Friends and Family,

A couple of years ago my office moved from the first floor to the sixth floor. Duncan, one of the guys in the office, decided that this was an excellent opportunity to get a group of people to exercise. He started the “Flight Club”.

It was a pretty clever idea. He set up an Excel spreadsheet with everyone’s name along the top line, and listed every day of the year along the side. Each day, you count how many stairs you climb and plug the number into the spreadsheet. It automatically calculates how many total steps you have climbed since Flight Club began. He had it set up so that it would also calculate how many times each person climbed the equivalent of the Empire State Building, for a little extra inspiration. To make it easier to count, he had a cheat sheet that told you how many steps you climbed, depending on which flight of stairs you started on. That’s where the “flight” part comes in.

Today I celebrated a milestone. Since I began the Flight Club just under two years ago, I have climbed 100,000 steps. That’s more than 53 times up the Empire State Building. I tell you this not to brag, although I’m quite proud of this. I’m telling you this in the hope that it will offer motivation.

Those stairs have helped me through the nausea, the low energy, and the low mood points that came with chemo. The catch is this: If I hadn’t started five months before I was diagnosed with cancer, I never would have started. It’s just too overwhelming dealing with a new diagnosis and feeling sick to say, “I think I’ll start an exercise program now.” It doesn’t matter how good it is for you.

The same thing applies to the gym. I started working out regularly 11 years ago, which made it much easier to keep going when I needed chemo and surgery the first time, almost seven years ago. Since the exercise program was still in place, it worked the same way when I needed chemo and surgery this time around. In fact, both times before the surgeries I stepped up my exercise, telling myself that I was in training for surgery. This probably helped my recovery, but even more than that, it helped me to feel that I had control over at least one thing that would contribute to my health. The mental part was probably the biggest piece of it. And again, the takeaway is that this is another activity I wouldn’t have started if I had waited until after I was diagnosed.

Duncan, who started the Flight Club, left the company awhile back. Until then he was a daily stair climber. He is also an avid runner. And one more thing: He had cancer many years ago. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that someone who has learned how precious life is, would do everything he can to make the most of it.

There is only one other person in the office that has continued Flight Club with me since Duncan left. That’s my buddy John. He recently had a heart attack. That doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation for the stairs, but it will when you hear the rest of the story. His doctor told him that other than having a faulty heart valve, his heart was in great shape. The valve how now been repaired, and he’s back on the stairs again. He barely “skipped a beat.” The day he got back to work he looked just as good as he did the day before the heart attack. What kind of shape would he be in if he hadn’t been exercising?

This brings me to my point. You may be the picture of health right now. More likely, you’re thinking, “I’m not in as good of shape as I used to be, but I’m still doing pretty well.” Further down the road, and in this case the hall, there’s Terry, who works in another office. Recently he told me, “I’m in pretty good shape. Round is a shape, isn’t it?”

Regardless of what shape you’re in, at some point something will change. If you’re already doing some exercise, you will have a much easier time coping with whatever comes your way. Better yet, you will improve your chances of preventing problems. Cancer, diabetes, the heartbreak of psoriasis. You name it.

Find something that works for you. Do it while you’re healthy.

To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb, a journey of 100,000 steps begins with a single flight.