You don’t have to be perfect to be a role model

I was asked to speak at the Maine Municipal Association’s Annual Wellness conference on Tuesday. It’s for people who are the group leaders for the wellness programs back at their own workplaces.

When I was thinking about what I would say to them, I thought back to when I started my own fitness journey in the summer of 2010. It was that summer I started the Couch to 5K program — and the thing that actually encouraged me to start was my employer’s company wellness program.

This picture was taken on the day that I started running the Couch to 5K program.

This picture was taken on the day that I started running the Couch to 5K program.

Here’s how it went: In teams, we earned a “miles” for every time spent on physical activity. At the end of 8 weeks, the team that earned the most “miles” per team member won.

The first year I had done it was 2009, and that was a different time in my life because I was getting married and it was my first few months in a new job in a new career. But 2010 was different.  I was settled in, and I had so many people to look up to.

At the end of my first 5K in November 2010.

At the end of my first 5K in November 2010.

I loved the camaraderie and the competitive spirit at that workplace. There was a certain sense of pride in being the winning team — or being the person with the single most miles — but there was also a strong sense of encouraging others to do their best.

One of my co-workers had lost a lot of weight and ran her first half-marathon that year. I attended Weight Watchers meetings with her that fall. She lost the weight before I met her, and I couldn’t believe she needed to attend Weight Watchers meetings until she showed me a picture. She showed me that while staying thin and active can look so effortless from the outside, it takes hard work and perseverance long after you’ve reached your goal.

Another of my co-workers cycled 18 miles to work, some days each way. She had asthma but she never let that stop her. Covering the news can be a very a stressful job — not everyone is cut out for it — but she handled every tense, adrenaline-rushing news event with such nerve and poise. She showed me that regular exercise is a key component in managing stress, and that being a martyr for your work doesn’t mean you’re doing the best job you can do. You need to take time for yourself so you can give your other priorities 100% when it matters.

Another co-worker had taken up triathlons, and she was the one that introduced me to a community of people that made exercise fun.

We were the Midcoast Mooners for Reach the Beach NH 2012. Hence the moon shorts.

We were the Midcoast Mooners for Reach the Beach NH 2012. Hence the moon shorts.

No one can do this journey on their own, and it was with a wonderful community of people that I was able to do it. I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago, “It’s not your fault that your fat”, and my point was that it’s time to stop judging each other’s food choices and time to start taking care of our bodies in a way that makes us happy, not miserable (thank you for summing it up so well in your comment, Jackie).

You don’t have to be perfect to be a role model.

I think if told the three people above that I was writing this post about them they might not feel like they were the best people to be considered role models for fitness. That’s not true — they absolutely are — but we all struggle to look past our own faults.

After I had been running and writing this blog for awhile, people would tell me, “I wish I could run like you!” and I thought, “Seriously? I haven’t been running that long, and my marathon time is really pretty mediocre. If only I was able to stick to a strict paleo diet and could train 50 miles/week …”

This was probably the best shape I've ever been in my whole life but no way did I know it at the time.

This was probably the best shape I’ve ever been in my whole life but no way did I know it at the time.

And then I tell myself, “shut up! Four years ago you couldn’t run to the end of you driveway!”

Celebrate your victories with others, and focus on what you do and can do well.

Share your challenges.

Nobody is perfect, and if you were perfect, no one would like you.

The reason why I keep writing this blog, even when it is really really hard for me to do it, is because I want people to know that health isn’t as effortless as the media makes it sound.

Ice is the greatest. invention. ever.

The knee injury of winter 2013. That was a sad time.

Talking about my goals with others has really helps me keep perspective. A friend who has run more than fifty marathons told me that he still finds that there are days it’s hard to go out for a run. Still. I’ve developed a mantra from that — It’s the days that are hardest that count the most.

Encourage the progress you see in others.

If I have a friend who is interested in running, cycling, swimming, or any sport that I know even a little bit about, I try to ask them about how their training is going, especially if I know they are working to a big event. Because I like to hear about other people’s challenges, and I also want them to know that I care about them and what they are doing.

Support healthy lifestyle choices.

I know every workplace is different. But if you are in HR or management, or can have some kind of influence in your office culture, encourage your co-workers to get out and get exercise during the work day, and bring and share healthy snacks. A 30-minute lunchtime run might take a lot of time, but the benefits you will reap in increased brain function and creativity are worth it.

The Bangor running crew, which sometimes meets at lunch, though this was taken on a Friday morning run last September.

The Bangor running crew, which sometimes meets at lunch, though this was taken on a Friday morning run last September.

Do you have a meeting? Take a walk. There’s considerable evidence that a walking meeting helps encourage creativity, problem solve and resolve conflict.

Invite others along.

Before I started the wellness program that summer, a few of my co-workers invited me to join a team for a duathlon. I did the cycling leg with no training on a big heavy cruiser.

Our team came in last place, and I had the police car tailing me for much of my ride. I was the. slowest. cyclist. I am pretty sure that was the hardest and most embarrassing athletic event I have ever participated in.

Me with my cruiser before the LADU, June 2010.

Me with my cruiser  before the LADU, June 2010. This is my first race ever. Note I am wearing the race shirt and not cycling shorts or running shoes, or a water bottle with as squeeze valve.

I’m glad they didn’t get mad or give up on me, because I ended up doing that event again and several others with teammates from work over the years. And we performed much better.

When someone tells me they are interested in walking or running, I try to make every effort to invite them. Even if they always say no. Because one day they might say yes. And exercise is always more fun with company.

Even at the end. Especially when you feel like this.

Even at the end. Especially when you feel like this.

Pattie Reaves

About Pattie Reaves

By day, I'm the User Experience and Audience Manager for the Bangor Daily News. By night, I'm a soon-to-be first-time mom and renegade fitness blogger at After the Couch. I live in Brewer with my husband, Tony, and our two pugs, Georgia and Scoop.