Letters from Boot Camp: I’m a Survivor

He did it! Michael finished his 10-week boot camp. So how'd he do? Check out his stats below.

Fine. I'm not that ripped. But let's pretend, okay?

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last. —Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

If I never do another burpee in my life it’ll be too soon. —Me, this past Tuesday

Lt. Eric got the dates mixed up, which I knew was going to be trouble the moment I read his email. We who had survived the trials of boot camp lo these many wearying weeks had been told we would have our final “assessments”—an apples-to-apples comparison of how fit we were at the end of this compared to what sorry shape we were in when we started—on June 5th. Alas, it turns out Lt. Eric is far better at fitness than he is at math (there’s a reason the hunky ones never do their own taxes, people), and sometime over the weekend he figured out the assessments would need to take place this past Tuesday—the day after a three-day holiday weekend most of us spent eating barbecue. (Though of course I am sure not Gavin, who no doubt spent it stirring a pot of seaweed stew.)

So it wasn’t that surprising, then, that attendance, which had been surprisingly strong as recently as two weeks ago (Eric told us he usually has four people still coming by the end, and we had been holding steady at 15), flagged at the finish line with about half that number. I could almost mentally picture some of my fellow Campers opening up Eric’s email with the moved-up date, then looking forlornly at their empty plate of ribs and potato salad and their empty beer bottle from their assorted Memorial Day picnics, and saying, “A weigh-in tomorrow? I don’t think so.”

I showed up, of course, more out of duty than anything else. I figured even if the assessment went terribly I owed it myself to see how I’d done, and that the only way I would be able to evaluate the whole experience was to get some sort of hard data to analyze.

In the end boot camp had turned into something akin to summer camp, without the color wars and bug spray. In ten weeks I had grown comfy with my boot camp family, with their alternating cheerleading and commiserating as we sweated, ran, jumped, lifted, pulled, pushed and planked our way to a better tomorrow. I mean, where would I have been without string-bean Phil, who laughed with me in those early weeks on the grassy knoll? Or Rachel and Cortney, who kept me going by their weekly carrot-dangling of post-Camp cocktails? (Note to you two: I am so taking you up on that.) Or Carmen Miranda, who kept telling me I was doing great even when I wasn’t, even as she drove me batty with her weekly declarations of the ten miles she’d run and the 14 workouts she’d managed to do?

And for God’s sake, what would I have done without the Champagne Ladies?

As we gathered at Fusion to get our final fitness verdicts, the only thing missing was each of us signing the others’ yearbooks. There was no way I was going to miss hauling my ass out of bed at 5:45 in the morning every Tuesday, or running around the perimeter of a playground with a backpack stuffed with 20 pounds of books. But the camaraderie, the willingness of people to push me, encourage me, humor me, prod me, and on several occasions hug me when the going got tough—this was going to be difficult to go on without. With fortitude and salty humor, I had stuck it out for the whole journey. But I only really got there because of them.

So I know you’re wondering how I did. Well, as in most things in life, there was good news and bad news. Since my default is always the bad news, let’s start there. There is a reason you do not see an “After” picture of me on this blog, to go with the horrible “Before” picture I somehow allowed to be published in Week One. That’s because while I look a tad better, I don’t look markedly so, objectively speaking. I weigh a little less (and no, I am not telling you how much) and my body fat composition is a tad less onerous, but I was never really able to break through the weight-loss plateau that so unnerved me midway through all of this. In an effort to cope with that, I stopped getting weighed, and because of that, I stopped being as vigilant about my diet. I managed to not binge the entire 10 weeks, a small victory but meaningful nonetheless, but the dramatic transformation I fantasized about, complete with shirtless pic, didn’t materialize. Or, perhaps I should say, hasn’t materialized yet.

What did happen is that I got stronger. Actually, a lot stronger. On March 27th, I could do 11 push-ups in one minute. On May 29th, I did 29. (Cue me bowing.) In March I did 14 sit-ups in a minute; on Tuesday, I did 21. I was able to box-squat (put my back against a wall, slide to a sitting position, and hold it there) for 25 percent longer than I did in the beginning. And in 12 minutes I managed to run a full mile, up from the .87 miles I ran back in March.

Look, no one is going to confuse me for a decathlete. Those numbers are all anemic compared to those of Allen, the Morris Chestnut-looking slab of beefcake I was paired with on the final day to clock the assessments. (Life, ever unfair.) I think Allen did something like 52 push-ups in a minute; he held his box-squat for five minutes. Yowza. Yet he seemed just as thrilled for me and my gains as he was for his own.

I wish I could tell you that this progress sent me right into the racks at Lululemon, splurging on a new workout wardrobe. But while I hate exercise less than I did (no small achievement), I am never going to be the kind of person who thinks a marathon is something to look forward to. A drink at Marathon Grill, now that’s another story.

But this much I know: There is something to all of this. I knew if I stuck with it I would feel physically better, and I did. But I also felt so much mentally stronger. I plowed through the tough moments when I wanted to quit because I bought into the general idea the Fusionistas sell, which is that living healthier will indeed let you live happier. That’s not always easy to remember if you’re someone like me, who finds plenty of happiness in a cheeseburger and isn’t ashamed to admit it. But I’m also smart enough to know that there is a difference between a temporary high, whether that’s someone else’s cocaine or my milkshake, and a steady one.

And now, a final reading from The Book of Gavin: “If we just focus on the rewards at the end and not the enjoyment of daily practice, the path will seem twice as long, we will be twice as likely to drop off and we will have missed the lesson all together. There is tons of joy in being disciplined and working hard.”

Tons? That’s what we in the publishing business call a bit of an oversell, though I am sure there is certainly tons of joy for Gavin every time he takes off his shirt.

But there is most definitely a reward in fitness, a singular feeling of achievement you really can’t get from your job or even your relationships. Which is probably why I signed up for a summer swimming program near where I live. I figure it will keep me going, while also giving me a break from the prison-yard glamour of Fusion. But I know there is some method to all the madness.

Because I am seriously contemplating going back to Boot Camp in the fall. Wanna join?


Philadelphia magazine’s executive editor, Michael Callahan, blogged his way through 10 weeks of boot camp at Fusion Cross-training. Read the series from the beginning here.