So one year ago, I weighed in at around 238lbs. Today I’m around 218. So I dropped 20lbs just by exercising. My diet has fluctuated from being very rigid at times about that and then not paying much attention at all. Being on a college campus doesn’t help as food is always a nearby temptation. But at least I’m eating healthier than I used to.

So the other side of this is that muscle is much heavier than fat and I’ve gained a ton of muscle. One of the things that I’ve noticed is how much weight I can push these days. When I started it was all I could do to bench press the bar 5 times with no weights on it. Now I’m pushing 155-160lbs that many times for three reps.

I can squat 135 lbs now 3 times and a bit more for one time.

Some days I get disappointed that the scale isn’t down as much as I’d like it to be. But as diet improves this year I hope to lose another 20lbs and improve my personal bests. I’m running better than ever in terms of sprinting and my agility is really good during drills. I’m really looking forward to our faux “NFL combine” drill that our great trainer, Ben Woods wants to put us through at some point.

But here’s the tell tale sign. Here’s me in 2008 after climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge–which had me slightly winded walking up so many stairs.

I love the fact that I climbed that bridge and it was a great experience. But I look so fat in that horrid gray suit they make you wear. It helps you blend into the bridge so you don’t freak the traffic out.

Recently a student snapped this picture of me with my students at Glenmary:

OK—now I believe that seeing is believing. I look a lot thinner. Still a bit of a paunch, but for a man of 42 who has only gotten back into shape, not so shabby. 20lbs makes a difference and if I can do it again this year, then I’ll be below 200lbs by year’s end–a very realistic goal.

So today, let’s pray for better health and for those who push us to be healthier, trainers, doctors, therapists, spiritual directors. I am especially grateful to Ben Woods, who pushes me and our crew of young students who work out with “the old man” in the morning.

A final story from the gym:

I was doing rows the other day. Now when I started doing rows I think I started with a 20lbs dumbbell. I’ve graduated to 50lbs recently. Ben looked at me the other day and pushed me to do 15 reps with that weight and I successfully did it. But that means only one thing. The weight is too light. “Up you go to 55lbs!” Ben triumphed.

“Ugh!” was my first thought. I struggle to do 12 reps with the 55lbs. As I finish a young student comes over and asks, “Hey is that a 60?” And I say “Nope, 55.” He turns his nose up at my weight–mind you, a personal best, for me. And heads over to get a 60 pound dumbbell.

OK, now I’m not very competitive in general, but the student pissed me off. I looked at Ben and said, “That little (word I shouldn’t say), I just do the most I’ve ever done and he made it seem like I was lifting a pillow!”

Ben’s simple response: “Well, ya think you can do 60? Cmon, you’re strong today. Go show him that you can lift as much as him.”

I grabbed a 60 and began to row. I got to 10 with my left arm and I thought it would explode. The student got a glimpse of me rowing and smiled. I switched arms to my stronger right arm and started rowing away.

“10, 11, (grunt) and 12!” Then I glanced at the student and fired the weight into the floor with a thud and said “There! And I’m twice your age!”

He laughed and said, “Way to go! Now you’re motivating me.”

Someone told me he went and got a 65 pounder soon after that.

I knew my limits and went upstairs to do some running.

But that’s the kind of community that we have. We push each other. Men and women, faculty and students, ministers and athletes all supporting each other. It’s beginning to break down a lot of doors, mostly because I’m mouthy. If I’m running behind someone, you’ll hear me saying “Don’t let me catch you, Doc!” to one of my colleagues who is a former athlete and in great shape. He’ll realize that I shouldn’t be close to him and push that much harder, making it harder for me to catch him, but ultimately giving me a better workout.

I’ve never felt better, in a number of ways. I can’t imagine not being at the gym three days a week and even feel a bit lethargic when I’m not there.

So pray for my community of friends and our trainer, Ben as a new school year starts. May we be able to stay healthy and move more swiftly and strongly as time goes by.