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John White: Why are my lungs on fire?

I’m at the precipice of getting back in shape after 20 years of relative inactivity.

Remember that old Participaction ad campaign that suggested the average 60-yer-old Swede was in the same shape as the average 30-year-old Canadian?

It aired in 1973, and it was a shocker for many.

I remember thinking at the time, “Ha, 30 is sooooo old.” I likely just came in from playing hockey or football in the front street for the previous three hours when I viewed it on our 26-inch console TV with the channel-changing plastic dial. In fact, I bet I burned more calories changing channels on that TV than I do in a given day moistening my chair in sector 7G at the office.

So here we are, 44 years later and I’m 50. I’m at the precipice of getting back in shape after 20 years of relative inactivity, unless you count competitive curling for a few years there in the 2000s.

The last time I exercised to a sweaty pulp was likely moving boxes around whilst packing a few weeks back. But the most recent lung-burning workout would date back to 2014 or so. Yes, I know that is bad.

When you look back on my childhood, you’ll wonder, like I do, how things went so off of the rails.

When I played junior football in 1987, I was ripped. I was likely 165 pounds and fast as the wind. We ran miles in every practice and I was working out several times per week. I actually had abs. Seriously. I also had a painfully trendy centre-parted, shoulder-length, feathered haircut and forehead acne, so it was not all Guns and Roses for this athletic dynamo.

I vividly recall one of my more dynamic returns to fitness. It was 1998, and we were living in Calgary. I was working as a copy editor at the Sun and was working evenings. A bunch of the evening staff played ball hockey each week and asked me to come out. I hadn’t played in a few years but I figured I could shake off the rust in a few shifts.

The first shift had other ideas.

Because I’m ultra-competitive, I went all out from the drop of the ball. I grew winded after about two minutes and came off. There was a forest fire going on in my lungs. I thought I was going to pass out and or vomit, maybe both and at the same time. I had to walk it off, for about 10 minutes. It was humbling. There was little mercy shown from my coworkers after that display.

I got into competitive curling when we returned to Winnipeg a few years later, and around 2003 I was back in fighting form. I was working out and practising every day at lunch. I was playing several games a week and getting in a lot of very intense sweeping, so my arms and shoulders were rather Hulk-like. I injured my back and left curling in 2014, and have been a squishy desk jockey since.

Since the entire Castlegar office has collectively switched to a healthy eating plan, I’ve been dropping fat. I’m now inspired to take up curling again (I’m looking to skip a team in Castlegar, if you know someone looking for a fourth) and play seniors hockey here, if there is such a thing.

I realize I’ll need to work my way up to full-out strenuous exercise, so I’m not laid out by a twister after my first shift.

Maybe by the time I’m 60 I can be as fit as an 80-year-old Swede.


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