First Things First

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Sunrise Over Bomber Field



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What I know would loosely fill a tea cup and store conveniently in Aunt Petunia’s china closet. If knowledge were power, I couldn’t light a match. School wasn’t my favorite diversion, I did the minimum time and was free. Mistakes, accidents, curiosity, wandering, risking and testing have been my haphazard teachers. What they lack in structure they possess in honesty.

About Draper: "He’s not dim, mind you, but he’s not the brightest dumbbell on the rack, either." ~by Alfred E Newman

While boasting about my intellectual development, might I note that growing older day by day does not add to one’s wisdom so much as it adds to the gathering of skin around one’s eyes, tris and kneecaps? I don’t mind, really, though on some days I consider offering a Bomber Makeover Kit along with the Draper Dungeon. It would include a box cutter, needle and thread, a bottle of Mercurochrome and assorted Band-Aids. Possibly instructions.

I couldn’t be happier with the courses provided by daily living. They are free, abundant and various; you need not stand in line to apply and you are never refused. The sole university accepts everyone. The lessons are often tough, especially when you’re dedicated and aspiring. Sadly, participants have been known to hang out, drop out and fail.

At an early age I chose a Harley over a career in nuclear science, accounting or city management. When standing at the crossroads of a life in university classes, dormitories and libraries, I took the sandy path to Muscle Beach. Hollywood knocked on my door and I furiously persisted to execute dumbbell curls in a dungeon. Asked to be a corporate achiever, I turned and positioned myself under the squat bar and knocked out another set.

Today, 45 years later, I can walk into any gym and with little more than a 10-minute warm-up, proper wrapping and sufficient psychological preparation, do a workout that will shake the cane right out of my arthritic hand. Bragging again, but I’ve had years of practice.

Enough personal history; allow me to compose a hasty yet instructive list of the Things I’ve Learned Lately. Ha! This should be quick. "Lately" would be, say, since age 60, or the past three years of my life. I’m 63 mid-spring.

A cause for pause: Does that sound old? To teens and the 20-some, the 60s rouse impressions of bent, broken and bewildered. The 30- and 40-some are more understanding and sympathetic, and agree 60-plus is not that old. And the 50-year-olds are starting to quiver in their own shorts and look for hope and encouragement anywhere they can find it -- to the 60-year-old, in fact. The 60s to the 60-year-old is, at last, a precious stretch time with many things to do: fix, save, improve, observe and cherish. It’s a truthful time, life is a keeper. To the man and woman experiencing 70 or 80 years, 60 is young. "Oh, to be a kid again," they say.

The Things I’ve Learned Lately. The list goes something like this:

~ Life is time. Time is quick. Grab it, hold it and it appears to slow down as you catch up. Conversely, ease your grip, let it go and it fades out of sight, as you haplessly sit in regret. Wait for me.

Don’t fall for the lie that you’re over the hill, past your prime, or worst of all, an old f_ _t (I can’t bear to say the word out loud). Thinking is believing -- I’m 60, I’m old -- is an over-statement, but it certainly contributes to the calamity of old age. Renew your mind and renew your body has a nicer ring to it, if you’re into adages and cliches. Instead, be real; 60 is 60, another season, another day, another time for faithful blasting.

Sometimes -- and sometimes only -- it does no harm to recall those days when things were less bright than they are today. Travel back 5, 10 or 20 years. At 40 I was going downhill fast without brakes: no net, no spotters, no hope, no way. It happens. I know some folks reading these lines who weighed 350 pounds at 30, sat around and ate garbage. What a mess. We all know others who thought weights were handy heavy objects used to hold stacks of paper in place on breezy days and regarded cold, black cast-iron barbells as grotesque devices from hell.

Get ye behind us, trouble. We observed our plight and pulled on our bootstraps; we grasped the weights, tossed the junk food, practiced fortitude and overcame. Today, at every age, stage and time, the iron is our shield, the workout our fortifier and the gym our refuge and stronghold.

~ 60, like 50, is stacked with promise. This is becoming evident as my drive and efforts have not been thwarted with time. I am, if anything, more capable, and stronger and in better shape in many ways than I was three years ago, five years ago. Why is this, I wondered, and the answer has been shaped by theory and guesswork. I’m not way older simply because I’ve entered a new decade. To suddenly age is to submit to the notion -- the conditioned thought, the commonly accepted belief, ordinary science -- that I’m old. I am, after all...gasp... six-oh.

Thank God, bombers, we’re not the typical product of society. How many of you over 50 and 60 and 70 feel over 35 going on 25? Yeah, we have our dings, limitations and aches, our bad days. That’s what you get for being fully alive and dancing on the face of the planet. Imagine if you didn’t work out and eat right and think like a kid; what a mess you would be.

~ With careful attention -- scrutiny and vigilance and seeking -- and consistent effort, you can and will improve. You step backward one day only to take two steps forward another. Where you lose a toehold, you gain a foothold. And so it goes. The arms aren’t as round and full, but they’re harder and more defined. Curling power is down, but the squats and deadlifts are up. The pec development shows no improvement, but the rear deltoids are responding to specialized training. What you didn’t overwork in the past is ready for action in the present. What you did overwork is ready for steady and sufficient stimulation and timely rebuilding. Goodbye heavy bench presses, hello thoughtful dumbbell pressing and cable crossovers. Focus, invent, discover, improvise, finesse, calculate, modify, seek and find.

~ About doubt: as usual, don’t. Though we know better, there seems to be more about which to doubt. There are not more things; there are just different things. Substitute doubt with tough, uninterrupted pursuit. Be positive, be realistic and don’t be dumb; you aren’t old, though youth has left the building.

Doubt is not to be confused with honest, well-meaning caution. A little caution and wise consideration go a long way. Doubt, however, seizes our resources, freezes our minds and mortifies our spirits. The body becomes its final victim, limp and powerless. Calculated risk and daring in training is interesting, adventuresome and fun... and most constructive. Recklessness is still reckless, something some of us must recall when loading up the squat bar and bench press.

~ Continued meticulous practice with high hopes, AKA relentless bomber training, produces results in more areas than one might expect. Push that iron, don’t give up, never give in and press on are the maxims we live by. They’re not trite clusters of words to repeat, but powerful commands to bravely enact.

I train smarter and apply growing finesse with the passing time; I learn moment by moment and set by set, exercise by exercise and rep by rep. Due to the increased savvy gained by the years, my tendonitis is circumvented, my structural limitations are extended, the maximum muscle exertion responsible for hypertrophy is enlarged, ability to improvise effective exercise grooves and exercise substitutes is expanded, and my willingness to train when down and my craving to train when up has grown like zeal at a rock concert.

Don’t be a fanatic, but do break the chains that bind. Don’t let your training desire decrease because you expect your efforts and effectiveness to decrease. Be strong, stay strong.

~ Giving up the heavy weights for lighter weights to achieve maximum muscle exertion within the muscle is no big deal. Time and the repeated impact of lifting weights takes its toll and we make appropriate compromises and adjustments to accommodate the rules. Recently acquired injuries, coincidentally accompanied by pain, gain our attention, causing us to learn and re-learn patience, disciplined movement and compromise. They’re sharper than us, listen carefully. I’ll grumble for a second on occasion, only to reprimand myself for my ungracious and vainglorious attitude.

Being pleased with and thankful for your achievements gained by hard work and sacrifice is fair pride. Bow inwardly.

Being discouraged and thankless for your compromised ability and slowed progress is vain and pouting pride. You deserve the pain. Press on.

Arrogance is pride in its most devastating form. Kill it before it kills you.

Know the difference between the three, draw the line and stay on the right side where you belong, Captain. Know thyself.

~ Training must be consistent, but training must have freedom. With the investment of many sound years of exercise, I am able to rely more and more on my instincts to complement my well-programmed training methodologies. Knowing when enough is enough in the process of muscle-loading is increasingly important, as age gathers in your gym bag. Too much load is more critical as your long-hammered muscles endure work. I like to take my training to the edge, give it one or two more stunning reps and pull it back before it goes over.

I am more workout-enthusiastic, workout-energetic and workout-hungry when I train four days a week than five or six. I train more intensely and achieve greater muscle overload, which I calculate judiciously, and am, thus, more productive on those glorious days. Swell!! The throbbing muscles are relieved and supported by three smartly placed days of rest and recuperation. Super swell!! I’m getting a pump thinking about it.

Who sez you’re too old to lift weights once you’re outta high school or college or your mid-40s and 50s? Like kids and bombers, training is forever.

Grab some air and fly high... God’s speed... DD

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