The Cornered Cat
“Round” is a shape

Monday morning, I got up early and went down to the gym. I don’t always go into town to exercise—usually I just use the elliptical at home—but I enjoy using the wider variety of equipment there, and especially enjoy the chance to get part of my workout in the swimming pool.

Exercise hasn’t always been part of my life. In fact, up until two years ago, I rarely exercised at all. My motto had always been, “No pain… no pain!” I joked that I would never take up jogging because the Bible was against it (“The wicked flee when no man pursueth”). I told everyone that exercise machines seem fundamentally and philosophically wrong; I mean, here’s this machine whose sole purpose is to extract energy from human beings. For this we invented modern technology? Couldn’t we just, you know, work for a living?

The problem was, of course, that I didn’t and don’t work for a living. I write during the week and teach classes on the weekend. If we measured my total caloric output from twiddling my fingers over the keyboard all day, it would probably be in the negative numbers. On range weekends, I stand in one place, talk a bunch, and blow a whistle for seven or eight hours. Not exactly aerobic. I was turning into a slug.

So one day, I put aside all my excuses, rolled myself off the couch, and got to work. It wasn’t easy. At that point, I was badly out of shape. (Well, maybe not entirely. “Round” is a shape, isn’t it?)

After a little research, I decided I needed to own an elliptical. When the elliptical arrived, we got it put together and I thought I would just start right out with a reasonable workout of  an easy 15 minutes with the elliptical on its lowest setting, as suggested in the manual.

No dice.

I’m not exaggerating here: I was so badly out of shape that I literally could not even plug the machine in, because plugging it in put a tiny amount of drag on the wheel, and even that tiny drag was too much for me to handle at that point. I could not use the machine with any drag on the wheel at all. Even at that, I literally could not peddle it, at any speed, for more than 45 seconds at a time. So that’s what I did, several times a day. I would get on the machine, peddle slowly until I was gasping for breath with my leg muscles on fire, and then go flop on the couch to recover. Then I’d hobble over to the computer to write a little more, then get back on the machine, then flop back down on the couch. Over and over again, all day long. Pathetic! (And ain’t working from home a joy?)

Before long, I had worked up to where I could keep the machine going for two whole minutes at a stretch. Then five. Then ten. Then I plugged the machine on and left it at its lowest setting and started over. My goal was to use the machines for at least two minutes, at least five times a day. But I did that every day without fail. Eventually, I worked up to ten minutes, three times a day. Then fifteen minutes, twice a day.

Six months after the machine entered my life, I was finally up to using it for thirty minutes in a row, once a day. I still had the machine on the lowest setting, but I was using it regularly. Better than that, I could breathe. I mean, I could walk up the stairs in my home without getting winded. I could go on a three-mile hike with my teenage sons and carry on a conversation with them while doing it. I could hurry from one end of the grocery store to the other without having to find an excuse to stop and pant somewhere private.

As time went on, I ramped it up, just a little at a time, until I was able to use the machine on the mid-range settings, and vary the workout just like regular people do. And that’s where I’m at now. I’m roughly 70 pounds lighter than I was two years ago, and a whole lot more energetic. I’ve stumbled a few times along the way, and my weight loss chart looks more like a roller coaster than the ski slope I’d hoped for, and I’m still not either the skinny supermodel or the super-buff athletic chick everyone seems to expect female self-defense instructors to be. I’m just a healthier me than I’d been in years.

I hesitate to post things like this, because athletic people love to give advice to non-athletic people, and I don’t want advice. I sure don’t want to be told I’ve been doing everything wrong. (“Well, you’ll never really be healthy unless you use this amazingly complex, time-consuming, and expensive diet. Plus, you need to follow this detailed workout plan that requires you to use 14 different workout machines every day …”). Heavens, no! In the same vein, thin people tend to either pity or scorn fat folks, and I don’t want to be at the receiving end of either of those, thankyouverymuch. So if you’re tempted to use the comments thread below to post something like that, please—don’t.

So why am I posting this, and especially, why am I posting this here, on a website dedicated to self-defense? It’s because the whole saga really illustrates the one big lesson I’ve learned in the past few years:  there are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going in life.

Everything worthwhile takes work. Some things, some of the most worthwhile things, take a lot of work. And that’s okay.

If there’s somewhere you want to go in your personal life, whether that’s getting in better shape, learning to defend yourself and the people you love, or becoming more prepared to take care of yourself should the need arise, you should know that it may take work. It might even take a lot of work. But just because a thing takes work, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. If it’s someplace worth going at all, it’s worth working to get there.

6 Responses to “Round” is a shape

  1. larryarnold says:


    And a good hiking pace is too fast to sing, but slow enough that you can carry on a conversation.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Congratulations! 70lbs (and greatly improved fitness) is a lot of work and great results!

  3. momwithagun says:

    Congratulations, Kathy! I’ve only shed about 30 pounds toward my weight loss goal, but already I’m seeing huge payoff in health and energy level. (The fact that my A1c number is back in normal range is one tangible measurement.)

    The point of your last couple paragraphs reminds me of an old story about drive and motivation. Long story short, a man has hopes of becoming a concert violinist, but when he plays for his teacher, the maestro says to him, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but although you have the talent, you lack the fire.” The man is crushed, but gives up on his dream and makes a successful life in business for him. Years later, he meets the maestro again, tells him about his success, and asks him “tell me, though, how could you tell from just a few minutes of hearing me play that I didn’t have the fire?”

    “In truth,” the maestro replies, “I tell that to everyone who asks me if I think they could become virtuosos.” The man is incensed. “That’s awful!” he shouts. “But for you, I could have gone on to become great!!” The maestro shakes his head sadly. “No, you don’t understand,” he says. “If you really had the fire, you wouldn’t have paid any attention to what I thought.”

    There are always obstacles standing in the way of our success, but success comes from putting in the work and not letting the obstacles derail us. At least, that’s always been my experience.

  4. jdalco says:

    Congrats, that is a lot of hard work! Good on you to hang in there!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Good job! And yes, it’s a process and it takes work. Thanks for the reminder that the tiny bites add up. Eventually, you will see real gains.

  6. JOHN says:

    Taking care of yourself is the most difficult part of self defense.

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