Countless movies, books, and fairy tales feature magic mirrors of one kind or another. Some are portals to another world. Others have a spirit living in them, or can show the past, or reveal events far off but important to the mirror’s user. The full-length mirror in the men’s locker room at the Park District’s Rehm pool in Oak Park isn’t any of these. It can’t even work the mundane magic of a department store mirror in making clothes look better on you than they do anywhere else. But it’s where my fitness journey began.

I remember the date. It was Memorial Day weekend 2015; the pool had opened for the summer that day and I had my three kids with me. We’d all just changed into our suits and were heading out to have some splashy fun. I happened to glance in the mirror as we moved to the door.

A fat old man stared back at me from the glass. Everything that wasn’t flabby was sagging, and the lingering winter pallor and fluorescent lighting didn’t help. I was shocked. Like fork in the outlet shocked. I couldn’t move, in fact, because I couldn’t believe what I saw. After a certain age and weight, you tend to avoid mirrors unless it’s necessary.

Okay, appearance isn’t everything. But it wasn’t just how the fat old man looked, it was how he felt. Here I was with my kids just exiting the locker room, hadn’t even waded in yet, and I was already tired. The act of equipping at home, transporting, and transitioning my kids from street clothes to their pool stuff had exhausted me. I was ready to lie down on a chaise and have a nap.

I had just turned fifty a couple months previously. This was no way to enter the decade (what Spalding Gray called “the Bermuda Triangle of life” meaning that it’s the time that something tends to go wrong that’ll dog you for the rest of your years). There are still plenty of experiences I’d like to have, plus the kids to launch into life.

Right then and there I decided to change.

Now, I’d bounced around a lot in the previous twenty years, gaining twenty pounds way too often, losing ten far too rarely. That ratio needed turning around, and quick. My doc was making noises about blood pressure medication and the word pre-diabetic had been thrown into the health mix. When I went to see him the next week (he was happy to hear I wanted to turn things around) he suggested just some walking to start off and a step counter. So I went to CVS and used a coupon from one of their Legion of Honor Sash-sized receipts to buy a cheap heart rate monitor. And I was off.

Related: check out this infographic to see why it’s worth considering a heart rate monitor.

Steps to Lasting Change

I started just trying to get 10,000 steps in a day and to quit snacking at night in front of the TV. Within a week or ten days I could feel a difference in me. I started swimming laps and doing things like not using my car or parking way, way out at the edge of the lot. I lost ten pounds and hit the same plateau I always seemed to hit. The scale quit moving, no matter how many steps I had on that cheap wristwatch.

After some loin-girding I joined FFC Oak Park so I’d have more options for training to keep my body off-balance. I started a strict intermittent fasting program (I found out about that from Terry Crews – I like to read celeb workout programs now and then, like how Jason Momoa turned himself into Conan). I did a little bit of everything, types of exercise I’d never tried in my life, from ballet barre (kind of a twofer, I was researching ballet for a book anyway) and battle ropes to kickboxing.

It took time. It took steady effort. It took constant change and challenge and training from people who knew a lot more than me (most of my barbell knowledge dates to the 80s). Happily, my effort and constant shifts in my types of training paid off: the weight kept falling off, and better yet, the muscle started growing. I said “hi” to my abs for the first time in decades.

Hopefully three years of new habits means this is permanent. I’d like it to be. I feel great, and now it’s the kids who can’t keep up with me.

I keep this on my desktop. Yeah, it’s refrigerator-magnet philosophy, but it reminds me of where I was and that moment in front of the glass. Maybe it was a magic mirror after all.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Eric Frisch.

Eric F is an author who lives with his wife and three children in Oak Park, IL.

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