Saturday, February 20, 2010

...and the student becomes the teacher. Literally.

So, I realize that I've not blogged for a little while... it has been a few weeks at least, and admittedly, there's a part of me that wants to only write when I feel like I have something important to say. And since my last post, I've accomplished one of my goals for 2010.

I am now a certified indoor cycling instructor.

Very cool. As you know, I took up indoor cycling (spinning) last fall, and found very quickly that it helped to push me through a plateau in my weight loss journey, and catalyzed a motivation in me that propelled me to my goal of dropping 200 pounds before Christmas. The experience of indoor cycling has taken me out of the gym in many ways -- it has helped me move from feeling like my fitness experience is a solitary journey into one that includes being a member of a community. My fellow participants at Legacy Indoor Cycling in Toronto are motivating, inspiring, and fun to be around -- and the teachers there who have helped me accomplish my goals compelled me to take the certification course and head down the path of sharing my enthusiasm for this fitness activity with others.

So last weekend, I spent 10 1/2 hours at the Legacy Studio, under the tutelage of James Gekko (a Master Trainer with Schwinn) and the watchful eye of Andy (Legacy's patriarch), and soaked up what I needed to learn to become certified. I learned a lot about technique. I learned about how to structure a meaningful class for participants. I also learned that becoming an instructor presents me with an opportunity to do something that I think is going to be an important part of my journey from here on in: now is my time to really pay it forward.

I continue to acknowledge the tremendous fortune I have had in meeting people like Sebastien, the staff at Riverdale, Andy at Legacy and so many others who have been such an influential part of my journey. Call it serendipity. Call it luck. Call it the universe providing in some way shape or form... but my encounters with these fitness professionals, and the numerous other people who are fighting the good fight against obesity, have helped me to become the success story I am today. And while I recognize that I've still got a little ways to go before I get to what I think is my eventual weight loss 'destination', I can't help but feel like I am primed and ready to start actively coaching, sharing, and helping other people around me see the potential in themselves that so many other people have helped me to see in myself. And becoming a certified indoor cycling instructor was an important first step.

If you have been a regular follower of my blog, you will recall that one of the biggest struggles I've had over the past two years has been around feeling like I 'belong' in the world of health and fitness. For over 20 years, I've felt like an outsider to this incredible world in which so many people come to realize their fullest potential. And I've had many mental, physical and emotional breakthroughs along the way that have helped me to finally feel like an insider. Last week, someone approached me during one of my workouts and told me that I was their 'hero'... that they really admired how hard I worked, and that I 'showed up' for each and every workout -- physically and emotionally. I explained to them that it took me a while to get there, but that it's once you're in this incredible zone, it's a pretty powerful place where change and transformation can occur.

So, I guess I'm in the zone now. In a 'certified' kind of way.

And the zone felt really amazing this morning. Today, I had the opportunity to teach an indoor cycling class at a studio in the city -- I have taught one class in this location before, and knowing what I was in for, I invited Sebastien and his partner Sammie (owner of BootyCamp Fitness) to join me for the class. Always enthusiastic and supportive of the different things I've wanted to accomplish in this journey, Seb and Sammie were in from the start... and I have to admit, there was a part of me that was a bit nervous about having them do 'my class.' You have to remember... Sebastien has been my trainer for over two years. He has helped me get to where I am... and beyond. And to finally turn the tables a bit, where I was responsible for taking him through a training experience, was a bit daunting. Add Sammie into the equation (who's a bit of a fitness rockstar), and before I knew it, I was starting to feel queazy about what I had gotten myself into. Teaching an indoor cycling class to strangers was one thing -- teaching a class to two people who you admire for their ability and what they've accomplished in the world of health and fitness is something different altogether.

But, like all of my other challenges, I faced this one head on... trash talking and all.

For the past week, I've been taunting Seb that this was finally my moment of redemption. He has made me sweat, grunt, shout and sometimes cry... but he has taught me how to work... and how to work hard. Andy from Legacy has also taught me the same. He's the one who got me hooked on indoor cycling, and has coached me through my technique and helped me find a passion for this that both of us never imagined would have been there over a year ago. So, to honour both of these guys, I knew I had to bring it.

And I'm pretty sure I did.

I spent a good amount of time prepping my class. Knowing that this was Sammie's inaugural indoor cycling experience, I had to balance wanting to not work her too hard, with my desire to kick Seb's ass. Remember, the guy has put me through the paces for two years. And for the past week, I have taunted and teased him with the idea that today would be the day of redemption.

But it ended up being redemption in a different way altogether.

When the class was about to begin, Seb and Sammie were the only ones there -- which was a bit of a boon. It meant that I could stick to my game plan of offering a challenging class: a combination of interval springs and intense power climbs to two of the fittest people I know. I also had to remember that the role of an effective coach is not to 'kill' his students... but instead, my job is about presenting them with a challenging course, and helping them conquer it through instruction on good technique and coaching them to their limits and beyond. So, I left my quest for vengeance on Seb at the door, and embraced the opportunity to do what I had been taught to do -- coach these two people through a great class, with the goal of having them finish the intense cardio workout with a smile on their faces.

And I think I accomplished my goal.

The class unfolded in three sets... and after giving each student some basic instruction on how to ride, we were off. Admittedly, I was a bit over-zealous at the start, and had to scale back my own intensity on the bike; remembering, this wasn't my workout... it was theirs. Keeping that in mind, I settled into the role of coach -- encouraging, instructing, challenging. Of course, I had to take a few savoury moments to tell Sebastien to turn up the resistance on his bike a few extra times... I mean, who wouldn't relish the moment to make their trainer sweat!!! But by the end of it, I was thrilled that we slogged our way through three huge climbs, some intense intervals, and raced in to the finish of the course...all in an hour. 998 calories burned... with me as coach, riding by their side the whole way, ensuring that we got to the finish line as a team.

Even though Seb's grunting and the sweat dripping off Sammie's brow brought me tremendous satisfaction (because I knew each of them was working hard and pushing themselves), what brought me even greater satisfaction was the fact that I was up there... teaching a class to two people who have taught me a lot... and doing so with the confidence and stride of a professional.

I was comfortable.
I was myself.

I felt like... I belonged.

That's the redemption I wasn't expecting.
And it felt fantastic.

And so another chapter begins... while I still have weight to lose, and goals to accomplish, I am now thrilled to be playing with this new way of 'paying it forward'. In some ways, blogging has enabled me to do that to some degree -- to share my experiences with others, and hope that there's something to be learned from what I've already been through. But the experience of being in a room with motivated people who want to work hard....who aren't afraid to sweat...and who are willing to face a challenge head on and push themselves to the limit and beyond is a pretty spectacular moment.

Now I know why Andy gets such a high from it at Legacy. Now I know why he sometimes feels like he's king of the world.

'Cause I kind of felt the same way today. And hope to feel that way a whole lot more often.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Support me with my next goal... Riding 600km and Raising $2500!

Dear Family, friends, and followers....

The past 2 years have been phenomenal for me. I’ve managed to realize what is perhaps my life’s greatest accomplishment (so far) with your help and support… I know now more than ever, that even though I’m the one who sweats off over 200 pounds, I couldn’t do it without your support and encouragement.

For those of you who’ve been following my story on my blog you will know that one of my goals for this year is to participate in the 2010 Friends for Life Bike Rally. My friend Jonathan convinced and encouraged me to participate, and I am writing to you today to once again invite your support.

From July 25-30, 2010, I will join hundreds of other people in a 600-km bike ride from Toronto to Montreal to raise money for a wide range of accessible, direct and practical services that support men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS. And I hope that you will consider helping me achieve my fundraising goal of $2500.00.

Since the mid- to late-80s, AIDS as a disease has completely changed the ways in which we connect and relate to one another in the world. It has brought to the fore a wide range of difficult issues that society has been forced to contemplate and reconsider, and in so doing, come to better understand the ways in which we see people living with disease. HIV/AIDS is not just a disease affecting gay men – it is a disease that affects people from all walks of life, and the ways society treats and supports people living with HIV/AIDS inevitably shapes the ways we deal with people who live with any sort of disease or illness. This is part of why I’ve chosen to take on this significant challenge.

The other reason why I’ve chosen the Friends for Life Ride as a goal this year is because over two years ago, I never imagined that I would ever be able to ride a bike – let alone ride a bike 600 km between my two favourite cities in Canada. Doing so with wonderful friends by my side will be amazing. Doing so knowing that what I’m doing isn’t just about me achieving another goal, but will allow me to make a significant financial and symbolic contribution to an important cause is phenomenal.

So how can you help? There are two ways that you can help me to make this happen…

First of all, I invite you to consider a monetary donation to this important cause. Secure online donations can be made with your credit card by clicking on the link below:

Once completed, an electronic tax receipt for any donation over $20 (CDN) will be sent to you by email within a few minutes.

Secondly, if you happen to be in the Greater Toronto Area, you may want to consider joining me and my two co-riders, Jonathan Steels and Andrew Siegwart on Saturday, April 17, 2010, as we host a 3-hour spin-a-thon for Friends for Life. Bikes can be reserved for the 3-hour event for a donation of $150, and individual riders or teams of three riders ($50 each!) will have the opportunity to experience my newest fitness obsession! I discovered indoor cycling in September 2009 at Legacy Indoor Cycling Studio and have found a tremendous sense of energy, spirit, and community in this exciting activity. The event on April 17 will be fantastic – the opportunity to ride with some of the city’s best instructors (including me as a newly certified instructor!), to the most amazing music, with the chance to win a wide range of prizes… all while supporting me, Jonathan and Andrew… cannot be missed. There are only 27 bikes available, so if you’re interested in participating, email us at

I realize that as we all come out of difficult financial times, deciding where to direct your charitable dollars is an important choice. I assure you that not only is this a worthwhile cause, but it is also one that provides direct benefit (through services like foodbanks, health support, advocacy, and income support) for thousands and thousands of women, children and men living with HIV/AIDS. More than anything, I assure you that for every dollar donated, I will work harder, strive higher, and continue to achieve goals that I once thought were unachievable.

I hope you will help me achieve this goal for myself, and help make the aspirations of thousands of other people a reality. If you have any questions about the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation, please feel free to visit If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to email me directly at

Kia kaha (Stay strong)