LEFT: 2009 - RIGHT: 2011
Charlene: Sam, you have come a long way in your fitness journey. Please share with my readers, where and how it began. Were you an athlete in your youth?
Sam: I was a runner in school from 1976-1981. I don't know that I would have called me a true distance runner, or course, in those days, "Distance" topped out at 2.5 miles in Cross Country, and 2 miles in Track and Field. I also had a wish to sprint too. So, I ran the 220, 440, 1 mile, and 2 miles in Track; and also ran XC. Note that we still used YARD measurements back then, no METERS!
I did a very short stint, 1 year in college, in which I briefly got into cycling, but never competed.
After that 1 year in college, I went into active duty Army, and did some Unit competition runs, along with my Physical Fitness Tests, and ran 2 miles in about 10:50 up until the mid to late '80s.
It was late 1980's and a combination of alcohol, laziness, and depression set in, and the weight began to come. Now, I was still in the Army, so we are not talking a lot, but definitely not in good fitness. That would be the end of my running for almost 25 years.
Charlene: What happened next in your life?”
Sam: I left the military at the end of the Cold War, exactly, April 1993. Coming back home and adjusting to small town life in Indiana again, leaving the Intelligence Community for a factory job, and having to put actual roots down took its toll. Again always battling in my mind to replicate the life I once had professionally and not getting it, depression and alcohol became worse.
Then, in 1994 I went into Law Enforcement, and where most would think that good, it isn't really beneficial to pulling you out of that rut, rather you fall deeper in. Not only that; although so many people think you should be fit to be in Law Enforcement, not many in the profession are! It was 1995, and the passing of my father that tipped the scale (no pun intended, or is it). My mother had died when I was 9, and I had traveled most my life with my Army Chaplain, later local Pastor, as we hopped all over the country. We had our moments, but we were also close. We couldn't help but be, since most of my life it was he and I. Losing him left me with a void, and I began to tumble even more, and with depression worsening, meds came, meds that put on weight - just what I needed.
Now the ultimate irony is that my father died of an Aortic Rupture at the age of 63 from years of heart severe hypertension brought on by a weight problem (450 pounds at its height) and an alcohol problem. Now here I was tumbling out of control weight-wise, and also an alcohol problem.
Charlene: I am sorry to hear about your tragic losses. Was that your turning point or something else?
Sam: Time went on and by 2000 I decided to do something, and went on one of those fad no-carb diets, took the fat burning supplements, and hit the gym. I lost what I thought was quite a bit of weight, getting down to 220 from 250.
I was playing in a softball game that summer, and I rounded 3rd base and both knees blew! I, like many, didn't do the research and blindly followed the carb denying diet not realizing that it was slowly destroying my joints. That injury began the real downward spiral.
From 2000 to 2009 I would go from that 220 to 300. I would develop Osteoarthritis in both knees, and be diagnosed with severe hypertension that required 5 different medications to try and control my blood pressure.
At 300 pounds, walking at times with a cane, having to stop halfway up a single flight of stairs to push on an inhaler and press on, my blood pressure was - even medicated - 158/90 with a resting heart rate of 100.
Charlene: I am glad you pointed out the no-carb diet fad. Many do not realize how dangerous it is to their joints and overall health. Thank you for sharing your experience. What happened next for you?
Sam: November 2009, I had just finished taking part in a TV popular reality show about building homes, and while on that, I had felt several times like I would have to call an EMT.
I went to my doctor during that week, and the test results told the story. Even medicated, I was not improving. We began to reflect on my father's health and his death at a younger than normal age. If I didn't do something, I was heading to repeat a family history. That day, it began. We decided that I would have to lose at least 25 pounds before I could start working out safely.
I went on a nutritious 1800 cal/day plan fully balanced and monitored by my doctor. By December 15th, 2 days before my 46th birthday, I went to the local YMCA for the first time. I tried walking on a treadmill at 2mph and only lasted a half a mile and had to stop! So, the next day I went back, and went a little further, then the next week a little faster, then farther and faster, taking it one step at a time - literally.
Charlene: Wow! Such determination, when so many would of stopped. That’s quite a leap – going from barely being able to walk to running Half Marathons. When did you decide to run your first race?
Sam: It would be in January 2010 that a few work friends at Motorola said, "You should run the Chicago Rock and Roll 1/2 Marathon with us". It was a bar room dare, I didn't realize it at the time, so I said, SURE! Now I had to actually think about a real exercise program, so I went back to the gym!
May 2010, I decided I'd better see how I was doing, and entered my first competitive run since High School, the Finish Line 5K at the Indianapolis 500 Festival. In fate or karma playing with me, the evening before when I got to the hotel it was 65 and wonderful, the morning of the race, 42 degrees and 40mph gusting winds. But, I ran, and I pulled a 23:09 5K finish. Not a great time, but at 46 years old, 225 pounds, having been 300 pounds not even 6 months prior, I thought, that isn't a bad time. Well, I WAS HOOKED!
Charlene: That’s a great finish time, especially for your first 5K. I know many men who cannot finish in 30 or 40 minutes. What happened next for you?
Sam: I ran a few other 5K's and 10K's in the summer, and then came August 1st, 2010 and the Chicago Rock and Roll 1/2. I had set a lofty goal that night in January, and while at the time not even running, said I'd finish in less than 2 hours my first time out. Well, I was 85 pounds lighter at 215 and finished in 1:50:24. Now I was determined and loving the 1/2 as a race.
I was realizing that running was going to be a permanent part of my life.
With that, I thought, let's make it official and go the ultimate serious direction, and so at the end of August 2010, I joined USA Track and Field, the governing body for the US Olympic Running, and became a part of their Master's Program (40 years old and above).
My first USATF event was the 5K Masters National Championships in Syracuse, NY October 3rd. This was a game changer for me. I had now gone from just losing weight, to running for fun, and now I was at the breakfast table at a Syracuse hotel race day morning with John Tuttle (1984 Team USA Marathon) and Pete Magill (current Masters American record holder sub-14 minutes at 48 years old). The fact that I could run in the same race with them, and better yet pick their brains was mind boggling. The most important thing this morning did for me is that it taught me what I now know and live when it comes to running, that the running community is one of the most close knit, loving, and respectful group of people there is. I feel that everyone in the serious running arena truly understands and shares what it takes us to do what we do, and because of that, we all respect each other! Additionally, this was my first chance to truly see the Masters Program in its totality, and it also changed my perspective on everything. I remember during the race, I felt really good, and was running a sub-20 minute 5K pace when I was smoked by 3 gentlemen in the 80-89 age group! They ran in the 17's.
That really makes you put things into perspective and realize, yes, I can do better! The highlight of that morning was a 92 year old Masters Athlete that ran a 41 minute 5K - amazing!
I topped off the year with a celebratory running of the Rock and Rock Las Vegas 1/2. But, my story has never been easy; I got snowed in on the way in Milwaukee, almost didn't make the race, started a Twitter war, and ended up on the Vegas evening news the night before and after the race.
Many would have thought that was the end of the journey, but now, I am 175 pounds, 125-135 pounds lighter. I have 28 races scheduled, in fact have already finished 6 races, including 4 half marathons. 2011 will bring my first Full Marathon in Chicago.
Charlene: what determination and achievement, Sam! So proud of you. I know you blog, what is your blog so others can follow you on this incredible journey?
Charlene: In addition to your running goals, what are some other goals you have?
Sam: It is my goal to rid the mentality that it takes surgery, extreme fad diets, and other senseless approaches to lose weight; that you literally can do it by just good nutrition and starting one step at a time with exercise.
The real misnomer about weight loss for those that are in the danger areas, and especially those addicted to food, is that it is something you just do easily. The reality is that it can be, and is in most cases, more like an intervention not unlike what smokers and alcoholic’s experience.
Charlene: In closing, what piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering running?
Sam: The best piece of advice to a new runner is twofold.
First, get to a true runner's specialty store and have them do gait analysis to put you in a correct shoe.
Second, get yourself linked up with a running group, club, or training program. The reason for the later is that you want running to be fun, and getting in with a group will bring you not only a lot of fun times, but some of the strongest friendships you will ever have. If running can be fun and interesting, you will stick with it reap the health benefits that comes with it!
Charlene: Thank you so much for your time and sharing your amazing story and for helping me celebrate my first year of running! Continued success to you and see you at the Rock ‘n Roll Vegas race day!
To watch a recent TV interview with Sam in his hometown of Indianapolis, IN CLICK HERE
Live and Run Strong,
Charlene L. Ragsdale - Las Vegas, NVHalf-Marathoner, Business Blogger, Public Speaker
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