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By TED SILLANPAA

I’ve often complained to Christian pals who do the right things like go to church, read the Bible and pray consistently that God never talks to me. They tell me that He does talk to me, but that it isn’t necessarily in the form of a voice inside my head guiding me down a more righteous path. I believe them.

In fact, I’ve never believed them more fervently than I did Saturday night when I was aching from one of the just-don’t-completely-give-up workouts I’ve been grinding through the last many months. I nearly stood up in the newsroom and shouted, “I believe!” and ran around the office speaking in tounges … well, I’ve never spoken in t0unges and have severe reservations about that whole deal … but, I was sure God had spoken to me when I read about the death of 64-year-old college basketball coaching legend Rick Majerus.

Majerus has had a long history of heart disease. His first brush with heart problems came in 1989 when he was 41. He had a stent placed in an artery, to keep it from closing in his 50s. He took time away from coaching, but return to the St. Louis University where he stayed before finally being forced to step down for good due to heart problems before this season.

Majerus was a great guy, apparently. Life of the party. He was a brilliant basketball mind. I rode his Utah team reaching the NCAA championship game to a win in the office March Madness pool in 1998. Majerus had a fellow Finlander, Hanno Mottola leading his Utes, so the extent of my expertise picking winners in that tournament went with going with the only Finlander I’d ever watched star in a major American sport. (Hockey’s a major American sport. I never watch it.)

Majerus did all the right things all the time. He helped people. (Google him. Or, Bing him … your call. He was so helpful that word of his passing made me want to go hand my wallet to the homeless fellow who sits on the bench in our parking lot.) He took care of everybody. Judging by photos of him through the years, though, he didn’t take care of himself.

So, while I sat in the office with my calves sore from one of those yep-I’m-losing-the-battle workouts on one of those health club machines I used to mock, I was thinking that there was really no point, no point at all, to keep at it. I’ve got high cholesterol — especially the bad kind (triglycerides). My mom’s family has a heart-stopping (no pun intended, because it’s not funny) history of heart disease. My mom died of a heart attack in the hospital at age 54. I’m 56 right now. She didn’t take care of herself any more than Majerus did. He kept eating a lot and my mom kept smoking cigarettes.

So, I was sitting her talking myself about how elliptical machine workouts won’t make me look better and, if it did, there are gravely diminished returns on looking better when you look like I do right now. It struck me that I had a salad for dinner, with crumbled broiled salmon my son cooked. That heightened approach to healthy eating resulted in me losing … zero pounds in the month between doctor visits to monitor some minor health issues. Salads and avocado sandwiches tend to get lost in a pile of cookies and a Monsoon Burgers 8-ounce cheeseburger that really make me feel good. They call it comfort food for a reason.

Seriously, I was on the verge of giving up on fitness after having been a serious runner my entire life. Tonight was the night I might’ve thought, “Forget it! A salad after 35 minutes slogging on a glider next to a 70-year-old woman? What’s the point? I imagine lots of people with a history of heart disease in their family and high cholesterol … and controlled high blood pressure … live long lives. And, they don’t sit around sore, wishing they could throw back a steak with potatoes.” At one time, contrary to what this blog photo of me indicates, people assured me the running and raquetball and basketball well into my 40s kept me looking fit, trim, younger than my years and even appealing to far more members of the opposite sex than I ever imagined. Now? I’m invisible to young women … and middle-aged women … and most women in their 50s and early 60s with anything close to 20-20 vision.

I was thinking, “What’s the point?” I’ve never thought that way before. Working out to be healthier was a good enough reason to workout. Tonight, I was right on the brink of giving up.

Then, I read where Rick Majerus had died. I felt sorry for him and the many who loved him. His heart just … gave out.

As I read the early story on ESPN.com about how Majerus died at 64 after a battle with heart disease that came, and I’ll paraphrase, “despite the fact he swam one mile a day.” I’ve read frequently that Majerus was known to throw back a full pizzza. So, I was overwhelmed with the realization that Majerus hadn’t given up on fighting heart disease, thus, the mile swim every day. It seemed, clearly, like the coach felt the mile swim simply meant he could eat what he wanted, when he wanted and keep working himself into a frenzy in the very stressful career where he’d gained fame.

Majerus didn’t give up on fighting for good health — and he died at 64 on Saturday night. There was a pretty clear message in his sad demise for this 56-year-old writer, with a family history of heart disease and all that.

The message? Well, um, a half-fast workout on a machine once a week was giving up. Eating healthy once in awhile only to eat like carbs, sugars and sodium were going out of style a couple days a week was, er, is giving up. I keep that up and I see where I’m headed. I read about where I’m headed in the old Sports Illustrated story I dug up about Majerus where a recruit said how, after being diagnosed with heart disease, Majerus recruited him while eating an entire pizza.

I wonder if Majerus swam his mile the next day … after coaching a game, recruiting that kid and eating an entire pizza?

It could be just a clear conscience shining through, but I’m not exactly known for letting a clear conscience be my guide. Like my Christian pals say, God speaks to me. I just need to listen. I heard the message sent my way Saturday night in the form of the death of one of my favorite coaches.

Now, I’m overwhelmed by the thought of how I’d explain to my kids that, “Well, I just gave up,” and then wound up in the same place Majerus was Friday … before heading for wherever he went, sadly, Saturday night.

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Comments

11 Comments

  1. Kathy

    His body’s barely cold and you have to come in with this smug, judgmental commentary?

    December 2nd, 2012 9:52 am

  2. Coach

    I see a cheap shot by a snob! Hate and bullying is a very poor way to pay your condolences Nice Ted!

    December 2nd, 2012 12:13 pm

  3. overtime

    Coach…You totally misread what I wrote. I was touched by Majerus in life and his passing really touched me. I wasn’t specifically expressing my condolences or writing his obituary. I wrote about how his passing, how his life, impacted me. You read that I am living my life, in regard to health, like the late coach, correct? It could be that his untimely passing will move others to do all the great things he did for people and take care of their health. TED

    December 2nd, 2012 12:35 pm

  4. overtime

    Kathy…I experience our mortality differently than you do. I was touched by Majerus…his life, his deeds and his approach to his own healthcare. His death touched me deeply. I didn’t write a long, sad opus … because that’s not how I experienced his life or news of his death. Matters of life and death, living and dying, don’t strike us all the same way. I just wrote about the coach, who I admired, like I knew him. I wrote about how I experienced news of his passing because it struck close to my own heart. TED

    December 2nd, 2012 12:39 pm

  5. B. Brown

    Thought the story was a very nice commentary to a very giving coach and man. There’s just a little of all of us in this story…or at least in my opinion there is a piece of me here. My thought process SEEMS to work like his may have…swim a mile = eat a pizza…I’m OK! I got the message, Ted. Nice story!

    December 2nd, 2012 7:48 pm

  6. overtime

    BB…Thanks for reading it. The people who got snarky were looking for a eulogy or obituary … or just don’t want to think about mortality. I liked the guy and fought/fight the same fight he did with food and exercise. Some people want to just grieve death, but this time I feel like maybe we can use it, too, to inspire others. TED

    December 2nd, 2012 8:49 pm

  7. Kathy

    Well I guess you’re calling me snarky now, just because I thought your post lacked class. Nice.

    As for my sense of mortality, I’ve survived cancer twice, so I’d bet my sense of it is a little more honed than yours. I wasn’t looking for a eulogy or obituary, just commenting that with the man dead less than 24 hours, it would have been gracious been to write something less self-involved and leave out gratuitous comments about his eating habits.

    December 2nd, 2012 9:08 pm

  8. Paul

    Wonderful commentary. I keep a a 2007 National Geographic titled “Healing the Heart” on my nighstand that regularly reminds me of the very real impact of coronary heart disease. (I’d encourage anyone to Google it…or Bing it, as you say.) It reminds me that even I – at 38 years old, and a relatively in shape 6’3″, 185# – have to watch what I cram down my gullet if I want to meet (or be active enough to enjoy) my grandchildren.

    December 2nd, 2012 9:34 pm

  9. overtime

    Paul…Thanks a lot. I really appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts. I was wildly fit at 38 and I didn’t do what you’re doing … so, now, I read about the coach’s passing and immediately remind myself I can’t kid myself into thinking that I’m the guy who’s going to beat the odds in regard to heart disease with no regard for food intake, exercise, etc. Now’s the time to BE fit and stay that way. Way to go! Ted

    December 2nd, 2012 11:43 pm

  10. overtime

    Kathy … You completely misunderstood the point of what I wrote, but most everyone else did understand (and seemed to appreciate) that I was processing and experiencing his passing in a way that can be helpful to us. I’m guessing he was a man who would want his passing to do some good. (Both my parents died when I was really, really, really young … I’ve experienced dealing with death and you don’t like how I process it. That’s OK.) Ted

    December 2nd, 2012 11:46 pm

  11. Paul

    One last thing– I keep on thinking about how Rick Majerus (and most of us, for that matter) engage in dietary algebra: If you add in X hamburgers and Y donuts, but take away B exercise and C helpings of spinach (plus D helpings of aspirin or Crestor), it all evens out. Turns out, it doesn’t. (Keep up the great writing.)

    December 3rd, 2012 9:46 am

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