For the past couple of years, I’ve been doing the fitness-buddy thing with my niece, Xanthi, now 19. It started with me giving her some basic pointers on heart-rate training and running form, but it rapidly evolved into a full-fledged mutual support system — and then into something of a transformation story.
Over the course of the past two years, Xanthi has lost a ton of weight. But more important, she also became an all-around fitness fiend, AND turned into a serious athlete (recently, she was named the University of Wisconsin-Stout Women’s Rugby Team’s Rookie of the Year, and this summer, she made the Wisconsin Women’s All-Star team).
I interviewed Xanthi last week about her experience, and during the course of that conversation I realized something: Having a partner in crime — whether a buddy, a mentor, a trainer or a coach — may be the single most powerful advantage both in getting satisfying results from the start, and in maintaining a training program over time.
The accountability factor is huge, of course (most of us are far less likely to skip a workout if we know someone is waiting for us), but I think there’s also something to be said for having a constant companion and witness for the process, and for the transformations that inevitably take place.
Some of those transformations are physical (see the videos and pictures, below). Others are more subtle, and in some ways more profound.
Video: Our first fitness-buddy training session, December 2008
Xanthi and me after our first 5K, spring 2008 — Xanthi had already lost about 25 pounds.
Xanthi (and rugby teammate), summer 2010 — now super-fit and 65 pounds lighter than when we began.
For example, one of the things Xanthi shared with me during her reflections on our experience together was how dramatically her sense of identity shifted as she grew stronger, more confident and more in touch with her athletic side.
What I got out of this experience was pretty transformative, too. For one thing, at some point I realized that Xanthi had come to see me as something of a fitness mentor — something I would never have predicted was possible.
I’ve always considered myself a bookish, not terribly athletic person. And from my point of view, all I did was show Xanthi how to strap on a heart-rate monitor and point her in the right direction.
But working out with Xanthi over the course of a couple of years, encouraging her, helping her take stock of her amazing progress, sharing with her the bits and pieces of fitness and nutrition wisdom I’d picked up during my years editing Experience Life and that I felt might be helpful to her — all of that shifted my own sense of identity, too.
For one thing, it really drove home for me that the simple act of maintaining a relatively regular exercise schedule, of eating well and taking care of myself over the course of the past decade had made me — at least in Xanthi’s eyes — someone to look up to, a role model of sorts.
And that made me see myself in a new light. It made me want to stay my course, to stay true to my own health-and-fitness commitments, and maybe even ratchet them up a notch.
It also made me keenly aware, in a way I hadn’t really taken stock of before, that the commitment I’ve made to being healthy has been transformative not just to me and Xanthi, but ultimately to everyone around me.
It’s helped me be present, energetic and level-headed at work. It’s helped me show up for the people I love. It’s given me the strength and focus and optimism to keep driving toward the bigger goals that matter so much to me.
And that, of course, is the whole idea behind the magazine’s new tagline: Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act. (I’ll write at greater length about that soon, but you can read the basics in my Thoughts From the Editor column, if you like.)
Anyway, I have loved every minute of my fitness-buddy experience with Xanthi — well, except for a few of those final kettlebell reps and a couple of killer sprints. And I look forward to many more years of being goaded by this beastly child into working far harder than I otherwise would. (When she’s outrunning me, I take comfort in reminding myself that she IS more than 20 years my junior.)
So what about you? Do you have a fitness buddy? Do you wish you had one? If so, what’s keeping you from buddying up? I think there’s an article in this, so send on your stories and thoughts, please!
P.S. For those of you who go way back and may remember my writing about my earlier fitness-buddy experiences with my dad, now 80, you’ll be happy to know he’s still working out — three to four times a week with two different trainers for strength and balance — and he’s in terrific shape. He’s made an excellent recovery since his accident, and although he now has to cope with a slight limp, we still take walks together on a regular basis.