The Lighthouse Fitness Project is an opportunity to share and grow the vision, mission and focus of the Platte River Fitness Series through the stories and photographs of 10 individuals who have generously agreed to let us share their journey to wellness and the “Lighthouses” who helped guide them. Click here for more posts from the Lighthouse project.
When we asked Jeremy Spurgin to share his story for the Lighthouse Fitness Project, he did so in a way that spoke to everything the Platte River Fitness Series has tried to teach over the last 13 years. Health is a decision. A choice. A willful act of a determined soul. A process that should — must — include both exercise and healthy eating. A new approach and sense of personal accountability to one's self and one's life. Writing a richer, fuller life story. Lived best in community with others. His story is so compelling, as are the photographs he shared, it seemed appropriate to share most of that story in his own words. This is Jeremy Spurgin's journey.
"It is quite difficult not to be bombarded with hyperbole in today's world,” Jeremy says. “There are many with a vested interest in making people believe that this summer's blockbuster movie is 'epic' or 'life-changing' or that this model year of a vehicle is 'revolutionary', or even that a fast food sandwich is 'the best thing that ever happened to lunch.' While we may become jaded to what could be considered an overstatement of the attributes of things we come in contact with, it does not impact the effects of the truly profound moments in our lives. It may be true that we use the same words to describe them, but the semantics are NOT the same.
“I was sitting in the waiting room of the clinic doing what the title of the room implied, 'waiting' to get checked in. I wasn't particularly nervous, as this was my third impromptu trip to the hospital in the last year, the first two having been to the emergency room. I was once again displaying signs of having a heart attack but having already passed a stress test, which was scheduled and not included in the aforementioned visits, I wasn't concerned about anything immediately life-threatening. I WAS, however, very angry that the doctors weren't able to find anything wrong with me.
“What was wrong with them, I asked myself, that they couldn't fix me? This was the lament I was chewing on when I was asked to come back to the examination room. As I followed the nurse back, she was reviewing my chart. I heard her mumble under her breath, 'Geez, we don't usually see stuff like this until people are in their 60s...' My whole body went numb, my field of vision blurred, and I'm not sure how I stayed on my feet. I had the health of a 60 year old? I was 29. At that moment, nearly passing out in the middle of the clinic, I suddenly realized that the person who needed to fix me was ME! 'Mr. Spurgin,' I thought,' I'd like to introduce you to accountability. You didn't really think that this sedentary lifestyle and horrible diet came without a cost, did you?'
“On a typical day before my epiphany, it would not have been unusual for me to eat fast food three or four times per day. This would not typically include breakfast, which was usually donuts provided by my employer. Many days, I would eat two double cheeseburgers on my way home to … eat supper! The cost was extensive on the monetary side, but it was absolutely devastating to my health. As far as exercise was concerned, I would only move if I absolutely had to, and this usually ended up being from my house to my car for work and vise versa.
“I'm not sure why it never occurred to me that the reason I was feeling lousy was because I was horribly mistreating my body, but that realization came crashing down on me in that one moment. The doctor ended up diagnosing me with Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Luckily for me, this doctor had a bit of a holistic approach to medicine and told me that he would give me 2 months to change my lifestyle and diet before he would put me on drugs. I was determined to avoid drugs.
“At first, all I could do was walk. So walk I did. I would walk 45 minutes to an hour every night. This usually ended up being around two miles, but my stamina started to grow and I started working towards three miles. After a month, I decided it was silly for a 29-year-old to be walking, so I started to jog for a minute and then walk for two. I slowly built my endurance until I could jog for 5 minutes straight, take a short rest, and do it again. My epiphany happened in the middle of September and things were going well through October, and then I hit a snag, as it were, which was daylight savings time. I was doing my walking after work but my wife didn't want me to walk after dark. When daylight savings time hit at the end of October, I didn't have any daylight left after work. What was I to do?
“The only thing I could think of was to go to the gym at noon. This was incredibly intimidating because gyms were 'beautiful people land' where only accomplished athletes were allowed. Twenty-nine year old fat guys who would struggle getting through a 5K in under an hour didn't count as accomplished. I fully expected the jukebox needle to slide off the record and the collective judgmental gaze of true athletes to swivel towards me as I walked into the building.
“My first day at the gym, I got lucky and no one was there. My second day started the same as the first, but just as I started my walk/jog (wog), in strolled an appropriately beautiful and fit college girl. She chose the treadmill next to mine, not that there was much choice as there were only two of them at the time. She turned towards me with what I was sure to be the expected 'you don't belong here' attitude. Instead of the chastising stare, I simply heard her say, 'Can you help me get this started?'
“From gym outcast to gym expert in two-tenths of a second, I sprang into action and was able to demonstrate the proper operations of that machine. I was also able to destroy the 'judgmental gym person' stereotype I had come to believe in. Actually, I was able to recognize it for what that belief was. It was an excuse. That recognition has also helped me identify more excuses along my journey. I am thankful for the experience.
“While exercise was and is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, the bulk of my weight loss happened as part of a diet change. When I first started to clean up my act, so to speak, I focused on making sure I ate vegetables at every meal and that I reduced the amount of food I was consuming to something more normal. A turning point came when I started viewing my food as fuel for my body and not as entertainment.
“I worked out and steadily lost weight for 4 years before I attempted any sort of competitive athletic endeavor. I did my first 5K in just under 29 minutes. Determined to do better, I started to focus my training and started to approach the mid then low 20's. Then, one day, a friend of mine asked me to be in a relay in a triathlon..."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Jeremy Spurgin decided that he wanted to live. As he changed his diet, and continued to train, he discovered what is at the core of the Platte River Fitness Series, he discovered himself. He discovered that he was an athlete. He discovered that he was in charge of his own destiny, and his destiny held for him a true talent for the sport of triathlon. Jeremy did the James O'Rourke Memorial Triathlon, then he did more.
This summer, Jeremy Spurgin went from a young man living in an old man's body to the pinnacle of endurance sport — he became an Ironman, placing 29th in his age group in the Boulder Ironman Triathlon. He personifies the words of Dr. George Sheehan, "Running (or triathlon) has made this new me. Taken the raw material and honed it and delivered it back, ready to do the work of a human being. I run (or bike or swim or eat in a way that nourishes me) so that I do not lose the me I was yesterday and the me I might become tomorrow."
Lighthouses can light our path, sometimes, in the most unexpected ways. That beautiful young girl in the gym who needed Jeremy's help to use a treadmill gave him a gift. She was a lighthouse. Her gift was an affirmation that he was capable of "doing the work of a human being," that he belonged and he deserved to become all that he was designed to be. That one friend who offered a simple invitation to be on a triathlon team was a lighthouse.
We can all be a lighthouse with a simple invitation. Fast food and sedentary living was killing Jeremy Spurgin. Instead of a dead man, Jeremy chose to be an Ironman.