It has taken a while for me to work up the nerve to begin writing my story. I can’t exactly pin-point why. I am not ashamed of my past; maybe it is just hard to relive it. I think my hesitation has been that my memories may be recalled differently by the people that lived through these events with me. I found the quote below nearly 10 years ago when I was reading a memoir and it has stuck with me ever since.
“There are three sides to every story: yours. . . mine. . . and the truth. No one is lying. Memories shared serve each other differently.”
— Robert Evans
Before I jump into telling how I started running, I think it is worth telling a little bit about how I became a 14 year old that was 5’3″ tall and weighed 230 pounds.
Long before childhood obesity was a buzz word and the primary concern being addressed by the First Lady of the United States, I was an above average sized kid. I guess you could say I was a trend setter. 🙂 I came of age as the first Nintendo Entertainment System entered living rooms across the country, planting the seed for a future generation of children that got little to no exercise while sitting in front of their television sets. While my brothers only occasionally played the Nintendo, I developed a deep personal relationship with it. When I was not at school, I was playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out and The Legend of Zelda for hours on end.
Sitting in front of the TV playing video games did not make me overweight on its own. As you can see in the picture below where I am looking at a bag of Peanut M&M’s like a grown man looks at a Victoria’s Secret model, I have always had a natural pull towards a wide variety of foods, both healthy and unhealthy.
One of my earliest memories involves my two passions, movies and food. I remember standing in line to see the movie E.T. in the summer of 1982. I don’t recall much about that day, just that I had Hot Tamales during the movie. I remember very well how much I loved those Hot Tamales.
My love for food continued to blossom as I grew. The stories of how much I can eat have become family folklore. I think it is possible I was born without the part of the brain that tells you when you are full. My mother has often told the story of when I was around 3 years old and we were eating out a buffet style restaurant. My parents and the other adults that were there marveled at the amount of food I was consuming. Long after my brothers had finished eating, I was still going strong. Eventually, I slowed down and looked at my mother with eyes that said “everything I just put down is coming back up and you have about thirty seconds to get me to the bathroom.” Unfortunately, we didn’t make it. This very well may have been the first sign to my parents that I had a different relationship with food that my two brothers. Other signs soon manifested themselves.
When I was about six or seven my family had the tradition of attending our weekly church meetings and going to the local Burger King when the meetings were over. I still remember being so excited to get the “Burger Buddies” that I had seen being promoted on TV (I was an advertisers dream. A highly impressionable youth with a insatiable hunger for food of all kinds). After my family ordered and sat down, I quickly opened the box that contained my “buddies” and shoved the first bite in my mouth. I must have exhaled strongly, because as I took my first bite one of the buttons on my white dress shirt popped off and flew across the room. The burst of laughter my family let out when this happened was deafening. I was so EMBARRASSED! I tried to laugh along but in the end I ended up crying. Even then, I already knew my body and my eating habits were much different than my brothers.
In response to this incident and likely sensing my embarrassment/shame my oldest brother and my mom sat me down and put me on my first diet. Together we all made a list of foods I could eat and foods I should avoid. At the same time my mother, father, and brothers all became fond of saying “Slow down Nick. No one is going to take your food away from you.” I HATED that saying then and I HATE that saying now. I would sit in silence thinking, why are you making fun of me? I’m just eating.
Around this time my parents marriage was falling apart. I remember them sitting my brothers and I down in the living room and telling us that they were going to separate. My brother’s cried and I sat there not fully grasping what was being said. As a way to keep our minds off of their separation, my parents took us to the movies. As we stood in line waiting to get our treats, I looked up at my Mom and asked “Mommy, what does separate mean?” My mom burst into tears. It was only at that point that I realized that something serious was about to happen. This event was likely the start of my using food as a source of comfort.
Shortly after my parents divorce, my mother moved our family to Utah to live with my grandparents. My relationship with food only got worse after the move. You see, my grandparents liked to keep lots of good treats in the house. I was all to happy to eat more than my fair share of these treats. I would regularly eat so much that I would go to bed and throw up in my sleep. I was such a deep sleeper the only reason I would wake up was due to the fact that I shared the bed with my brother Matt. He would get covered in vomit and would wake me up with his threats of killing me for throwing up on him again.
Our stay in Utah only lasted a year until my mother remarried and we relocated to Denver with our new family. Combined there were seven children in our family. Chronologically I was number 6, so it was easy to slip through the cracks. While we all adjusted to our new living arrangement, my brothers and I, once again, had to switch schools. I was in 5th grade and making new friends had never been my strong point. I was intensely introverted and hated starting over at yet another school. My grades dropped as a result of my unhappiness at home and my ever sinking confidence due to my constantly growing waist line. I retreated to the basement of our home with my favorite treats and my Nintendo; the only two things in my life that were constant at that time.
The difficulty of the transition only intensified the following school year when my older brother Matt moved to the middle school. For the first time in my life, we were not in the same school. I never really understood how much my brother protected me before this. Once he was gone, the bullying began. It started with the usual stuff 6th graders do, name calling and rumor spreading. Within a few months I would try my hardest to get home as quickly as possible because, one boy, Mike, was starting to move from calling me fat and other derogatory words meaning fat, to name calling while shoving me to the ground. Before things got too bad with Mike, my brother Matt came to my rescue. One day as I was walking home, Mike, pushed me to the ground forcefully. Out of nowhere, Matt, who had been walking from the middle school, pushed Mike to the ground and threatened to kick his ass if he touched me again. Like a true coward, Mike backed down and he never bugged me again. The bullying died down a bit after that but the name calling had taken its toll on my confidence. You can only be called a fat ass so many times before you really start to believe it.
During this time, I was starting to become more aware of the girls in my classes and I developed a few crushes. I still remember Jessica Cornish. She was a cute blond girl that lived a couple of streets down from me. She was the sister of my step-sisters best friend so I was lucky enough to see her outside of school every now and then. Eventually, I worked up the nerve to ask Jessica to “go out with me”; you know, the 6th grade equivalent of having a girlfriend. “I’ll go out with you”, she replied, “if you lose weight first.” OUCH! Needless to say, I didn’t lose the weight, we never “went steady”, and I retreated further into my comfort zone of eating and playing Nintendo in the basement.
I never really got settled in during our time in Denver but it didn’t matter, less than two years later we moved to Utah because my step-father had lost his job. My mother’s second marriage was already struggling significantly by this time. I kept to myself and ate, played Nintendo and became the class clown in school. My logic was simple, if I made fun of myself and my weight first, the other kids would not make fun of me.
My brothers began calling my father regularly with their complaints about my step-father. One of their chief complaints was that there was no food in the house and that they were starving. I know my father was just being logical, but when I heard his response as my brothers recounted their phone calls to my mother, it hurt, to put it lightly. My dad’s reply to the complaint of there being no food in the house? “You guys, there has to be food in the house, Nick keeps gaining weight.” My father had also taken to calling me “slim” when he came out to see us. I know he was just being playful, but it hurt. I didn’t need a constant reminder or friendly jab from my parent reminding me I was fat; I was already painfully aware.
Within a year of moving to Sandy, my mother’s second marriage ended. My oldest brother, Ryan, was almost done with high school and was staying with family friends. My brother Matt had been shipped off to boarding school on the east coast for ditching too much class and having a little too much “fun” with drugs and alcohol. This meant that my mother and I would not only be starting over, we would be starting over alone.
Continued in: Part 2 – Why I Started Running