03 Apr Featured Athlete: Mike Poulin
Every individual that walks through the doors of a CrossFit box has many emotions, they all have a story, they all come from a different place in their life, and they all have a reason they are there. We see most athletes at boxes will range in age from 20-mid 40’s. You don’t see many 50 or older at CrossFit. We would love to show you that you can do it at any age. For those of you in this age bracket questioning if you could do this, please read Mike’s Story.
Let’s see, how do I begin to tell you about this incredible path I am currently on? Perhaps beginning with a brief history lesson will start this story out best.
THE VERY, VERY, VERY EARLY YEARS
In high school I was a star athlete. I excelled in both football and track. In spite of my small size (138 lbs. my senior year), I was all-state in football. I also was State Champion in the pole vault, setting a new state record. I was incredibly strong for my size- one example- I use to do gymnasium height rope climbs repeatedly with my feet over my head, wrapped around the rope, using only my arms to lift myself. I am only telling you this to say that I do have something to work with.
SINCE THE EARLY YEARS.
Once I graduated, I just stopped working out. I lived a party-hardy life-style and did not workout at all. I also started smoking. In the military, if you smoked, you got to take “smoke-breaks”. If you didn’t smoke, you got less breaks. So I started smoking (I like breaks). I smoked off and on (mostly on) for 30+ years. I never smoked a lot and I’d quit for a year or so every now and then, but I never really stopped. The only work outs I ever did were 12-ounce recliner curls (and I got really good at them). I relied on my amazing metabolism to keep me fit and trim — it didn’t work. Once I retired from the Air Force, I started gaining weight. 175 to 180; 180 to 185; etc. etc. etc. until I maxed out at 206. About 2000, I decided to do something about my weight and started a workout program on my own. I went to the gym at lunch every day. I did well, I lost weight and got motivated and started to also watch my diet. I started long distance hiking. I’d do an 8-9 mile hike every Saturday morning. I was also doing 2-3 day section hikes on the Appalachian Trail regularly. I lost 30 pounds and was feeling great.
I got sick. I had no energy and stopped working out. My joints swelled up. I felt like crap all the time; zero motivation. My neck hurt, my ankles hurt; my elbows hurt, my everything hurt; but my knees were the worst. I would lie in bed at night in complete agony because my joints were killing me. I went to numerous doctors and they were no help. Finally, three years into this agony, I found a doctor who correctly diagnosed my illness. Yes, you guessed it— Lyme’s Disease. At my worst, I had difficulty walking up stairs. Luckily, I responded really well to high dosages of antibiotics (many do not). It took about 4 years and a reoccurrence before I finally got this disease under control. For 4 years, I was just unable to work out. For another 5-6 years, I used Lyme’s Disease as an excuse not to work out. My weight went back to 206. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. I also still had joint pain constantly but I figured it was something I had to live with. I figured it was residual damage from my disease.
Last fall, I went to a Warrior Dash. No, I did not compete. My rationale was how could an old, fat guy run a 5K with obstacles. There was no way. I was a cheerleader, a spectator resigned to my fate – my lot in life. I’m not sure why, but something about this race got my juices flowing. I think it was seeing how much fun my daughter Michelle and her gang had. I quietly asked Michelle if she thought I could possibly do this race next October if I prepared all year for it. Of course, my daughter said “Well Ya”. So I made a promise to her (and to myself) that I would at least give it a try.
FIVE MONTHS LATER
I was at least smart enough to go see a doctor before doing something really stupid like work out. After all, I was a 59 year old fat guy who was so out of shape. Yup, the Doc confirmed it- I was still way over weight with high blood pressure and joint pains. I asked her if I could work out and she said “I wish you would”. So like any scared, careful, doubting 59 year old, I went to CrossFit Assateague. On October 7th I gave it a try. I know Coach Betsy took one look at me and said “Lord, what have I gotten myself into this time.” And yes, I was pretty pathetic. I could not run, I could not lift, I could not do anything. Betsy had to invent scaling low enough to get me going. But I started and even came back a few times. Every day, I got a little stronger; I could run a little farther, lift a little more, take fewer breaks. My improvement was dramatic and quick. It was a combination of both working out and completely changing my eating habits. I lost nine pounds my first month, and eight my second month. Since then I have steadily lost, but at a slower rate. This is with both Thanksgiving and Christmas in the mix. On Thanksgiving Day (1 ½ months into my new lifestyle) I ran the Ocean Pines Toys for Tots Turkey Trot. I was supposed to run it with my daughter and a couple of other fellow CrossFitters but they all bailed for one reason or another. I showed up anyway, alone and scared that I would utterly fail and embarrass myself. I finished!!! I was dead last, but I finished. I was stoked; I was hoping to run a 5K next October and here it was 11 months early and I did a 5K (with burpees thrown in just for fun). One month later, I ran another 5K in Berlin. This time some other CrossFitters actually showed up. Anyway, my goal of running a 5K next October has been slightly modified. Now, my next goal is to run a 6-mile Savage Run as a 60th birthday celebration this May, and I look forward to doing this with my son and daughter and my CrossFit family.
Since October, I have lost 27 pounds, my blood pressure is lower than it has been in 20 years, my joint pain has completely (and I mean completely) gone away, and my strength and stamina have improved beyond my wildest expectations. I have muscles where I never expected to see them again, and have lost fat where I never thought possible. I wear compression shirts for the first time ever because I CAN, without looking ridiculous (at least I don’t think I look ridiculous and that’s all that matters). I work out four times a week and look forward to each session. I am still slow, I still take breaks, and I lift light, but I feel I am consistent and am willing to do the work.
SEVEN MONTHS FROM NOW
I still have long term goals, albeit revised. On my one year CrossFit anniversary I hope to be down another 15 pounds. I really want to increase my weight-training (did I mention the Incredible Hulk minus the green tinge) and perhaps (I say again, perhaps) do a “Tough Mudder”.
Betsy – for tolerating me and my wise-ass ways. And for your amazing coaching and encouragement.
Michelle – for your belief and encouragement.
My Fellow CrossFitters – for your friendship, support and encouragement. You all make it fun.
My Wife- for your Love and support.
It’s been an amazing five month ride. I am soooooo looking forward to continuing this journey.