By Bill O’Dea
Ed. note: Bill O’Dea writes about his 29 year old son Eric, who has Down syndrome. Eric recently joined the LuMind RDS Runners program and has brought a burst of energy and inspiration to the group. Bill relates Eric’s journey from overweight teen to enthusiastic fitness buff and terrific dancer.
My son Eric’s desire to participate in 5ks runs is the result of his journey into improving his health and wellness; which started with improving his diet and getting him to become more active, a process which has expanded over a decade. For Eric, as with most people, becoming healthier happened over time, one small step at a time. No magic pill,wonder diet, or amazing “three minutes a day” exercise program was going to generate the life changing results Eric would require to improve his health, his fitness, and his mindset. It took time, commitment, and hard work from Eric to transform himself from “Couch Potato” to “Fitness Buff.”
Eric’s transformation began when he was eighteen, overweight, out of shape, with a cholesterol level upwards of 240, and an underactive thyroid. He was looking at a future of obesity, taking medications, and being at risk for developing cholesterol and thyroid related health issues; as well as obesity related health issues. Not a very pretty picture for an eighteen year old, especially one with Down syndrome. We knew something needed to be done; but what? Where do we start? Where do we begin? How do we convince Eric to make the necessary changes to improve his health, knowing he dislikes change and strongly resist anything which requires him to go outside of his comfort zone?
We had vague ideas of the changes needed, better diet, more exercise and less junk food, the usual suspects. What we did not have was knowledge of how to get Eric’s cooperation, because without that, it was going to be a long hard slog with little hope of success. We knew getting Eric on-board was the key to unlocking the gate to a healthier life for him; but our thinking of needing to somehow compensate for Eric having Down syndrome, in order to improve his health made it harder for us to see what was right in front of our eyes, having Down syndrome was not all that relevant.
What we discovered was the changes to a healthier life for Eric would be the same changes to a healthier life for most people with or without Down syndrome – diet, exercise, and willpower. Eating healthy, being active, and the desire to succeed was what made it possible for Eric, at age eighteen, to lose sixty pounds, keep the weight off, and discover the world of fitness. It really had nothing to do with having Down syndrome; but rather having support and the correct environment, with environment being more important than support; since over time the support Eric required diminished as he became more willing, more independent, and more determined.
Fast forward twelve years and we find Eric sixty pounds lighter, enrolled in Crossfit classes, one hour sessions twice a week, participating in 5k runs, about one race per month, taking Hip-Hop dancing classes, three hours a week, and enjoying life more than he ever has.
To say fitness has changed Eric life for the better would be an monstrous understatement. Eric’s whole life has changed. He is talking more, reading more, writing more, spends more time on the computer and less time watching T.V., his transitioning times from one activity to another has diminished; as well as the time it takes him to give new activities, new people and new foods a chance.
Running, discovered by Eric at age 27, is just another type of exercise in his eyes, one of the many types of exercises he has added to his fitness plan. Participating in 5k runs, however, is more than just exercising – it’s about inclusion, acceptance, and determination. Eric feeds off the energy at 5k events, using it to push himself to greater personal improvement. He feels if he does not try his best he is letting down his follow runners. Over the last two years and twenty or so races, Eric has worked hard at improving his time and his competitiveness. He has managed to improve his run time from 1:20 (his first 5k) to staying under 0:50, with his best time being 46:13.
Eric also continues to achieve better results in his Crossfit and Hip-Hop dance classes. He has come to realize fitness is more than just exercising. Its a way of living; which makes all aspects of life better. Eric is learning the more he exercises, the better he runs, and the more he runs, the better he exercises, and the more he runs and exercises the better he dances; which is Eric’s ultimate goal. To be a better dancer is the driving force behind Eric’s motivation for fitness, sweeping him into a beautiful upward spiral of running to improve his fitness; so he can improve his dancing.
Fitness has transformed Eric from a spectator of life to an engaged participant.
To learn more about the LuMind RDS Runners program, check out the program page and the Facebook Runners Group (this is a closed group you will have to request to join), where you might see posts from Eric!