As I wrote about in a previous Motivation Monday post, I had a lot of help, both big and small, during my transformation from potato to potential back in 2006. As the numbers on the scale grew smaller and smaller, and I became more and more active, I wondered what I should be doing next?

Weight loss isn’t just a matter of a smaller body. It also gives you a bigger soul. And having suffered the embarrassment and shame and unhealth of my old lifestyle, I felt determined to help others avoid the same fate I faced.

It’s easy in such circumstances to think you’ve not only invented lifestyle change, but to talk as if you did. And I can’t say I entirely avoided playing the expert at times. Fortunately my very real limitations and failings helped keep my ego in check. But I also made the conscious decision that any change I tried to bring would be as much with my hands as with my mouth. And since my hands are only two, I would focus on helping individuals. Anyone can post a blog on the Internet and claim to change the world. How often do they get their hands dirty and change a life?

Over the years I’ve led bike rides and hikes, ¬†taught adult beginners to ride bicycles, sent bike gear to people to help them get in the hobby, hosted them in my home or paid for their camping in a nearby park, met complete strangers for rides…. I even invited a complete stranger in Ohio to come out to ride for a weekend. In many cases I gained a friend, so the transaction wasn’t entirely one-sided, but then it wasn’t meant to be. If I didn’t want relationship I’d simply post on a website, and that’s it. No, I had to do something.

A good example of doing something, and something the mouths didn’t want to do, is below:

Chris

If you’ve read this website at all in the past 15 months, you’ve read about my friend Chris. He’s argumentative, eccentric in dress, employs bad logic – yes, my friend, you do – and undermines his diet constantly. But, as I wrote about in an essay here, the fact that he was talking about weight loss despite being routinely mocked on the bike message board we both posted to meant there was an interest and possible commitment to change. So the Saturday before Christmas in 2012 I drove ninety minutes to meet a complete stranger to talk about doing something.

As I sat in the car, staring at the key in the ignition, I wondered aloud “What am I going to say to this guy?” I then realized I wasn’t there to talk, but to listen. The guy had the assembled wisdom of Bikeforums.net thrust at him constantly, but the one thing that he needed was someone to listen. I turned the key and began the drive to Bucks County.

We met for a short hike at Core Creek County Park. We walked and talked in the cold. I recorded a mile of walking. Chris claimed it was two and argued with me about it. I took the photo of my super-obese friend you saw above. And I listened.

I listened to his concern about his health. About wanting to ride in the MS City to Shore, but not knowing how to train for a hundred mile bike ride. About spending the rest of his life at 455 pounds. I listened. And then I spoke.

“Chris, I can’t change you, only you can do that. I can only share what I’ve done, and how I did it, and help you get to where you want to go. If you want to lose weight, I can’t make you, but I can show what I did. And I can’t drag you over the finish line in Ocean City in ten months, but I can help you train.”

It wasn’t what I came out to do. I’d been struggling on a bike myself. How was I going to help a man I’d know for an hour?

Be there for him.

Be his friend.

Do something. Always do something.

I set up rides with Chris and other cyclists. I went on hikes with him. I worked behind the scenes to help him. And as always when I helped others I helped myself. Chris was there when I hiked to the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain. He invited me to a rocketry event. The rides where he stretched himself stretched me too.

There were some costs involved. The world hates success from someone it brands a failure, and Chris was so branded. I received messages from friends and strangers that I wasted my time with Chris, riding with him would hurt my training. I was attacked online at BikeForums.net and on Facebook for helping him. I was even cyberstalked. After seven years at BikeForums.net I had to close my account. When I launched A Taste For The Woods in June 2013 I received hate mail and threats and crank calls. I still occasionally receive such ‘encouragement.’

The record of my rides and hikes with Chris are in the archives. When September rolled around Chris wasn’t where we hoped he’d be. But he was so much better than before. He started the MS City to Shore. He rode his bike 85 miles that weekend. He did something.

We continue to be friends, although our paths have parted for now. His success or lack of success in weight loss and riding is on him, not me. I did something, which is all I could do.

It seems fitting to end this post with another photo. This is from January 2013. It was Chris’ first ride of 17 miles. And my first ride of that length since before my knee replacement. Chris prides himself on being unemotional, but the smile on his face is real here. I like to think this was the moment he realized he could change. I don’t smile much myself, but trust me, I was thrilled with my own success, as well as Chris’.

Chris and Neil