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“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~ Arthur Ashe

Physical health is a bedrock for wellness. You may think that exceptionally fit people are qualitatively different from you. Maybe they are younger, or have more time, or better genes, or fewer physical maladies than you. The truth is, superior fitness is accessible to most of us. We all get the same 24 hour day. Genes are rarely a legitimate barrier to attaining phenomenal physical conditioning. And as for the health problems, you don't become an aging hero without taking some hard knocks. Erica and I are not exceptions. Here are a few of our issues.

asian, middle age, exercise



Deformed vertebrae from a motorcycle accident


A missing tendon in one calf from an old injury

Major depression

Randolph Harrison, Rusty Harrison


Hemiplegic migraines

Chronic injuries in both hips and knees

Chronic injury to left foot

Eating disorder

Erica Schwarting

Urige Buta
Photo by Matt Kieffer


Urige Buta (left), the Norwegian champion marathon runner, also worked as a janitor 10 hours a day to provide for his wife and young child. If you haven’t trained for a marathon, you can’t possibly appreciate Mr. Buta’s amazing feat. Marathon training requires running for hours most days, followed by periods of extreme exhaustion. Working 10-hour shifts while training for marathons is incomprehensible!

Before achieving fame and fortune as an actress and the biggest name in mixed martial arts, Rhonda Rousey (below) worked three bar-tending jobs at once while also training and competing in the MMA. Rhonda Rousey not only achieved success in a sport formerly dominated by men, but she also advanced the sport more than any athlete, male or female!

Rhonda Rousey
Photo by PedroGaytan, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

A recent study found that busyness improves the brain. Busy people were found to have "better processing speed, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning, and crystallized intelligence" than their less engaged counterparts. In the same way that working the body improves physical performance, working the brain enhances its abilities.


Tamae Watanabe was 63 when she broke the world record as the oldest woman to climb Mount Everest. At 73, she scaled Everest again and broke her own record! Climbing Mt Everest represents a capstone achievement for most climbers regardless of their age. For Tamae Wantabe to do it twice and break the age barrier both times is beyond incredible!

Sixty-eight-year-old Cathy Skott (below) rode her recumbent bicycle from Miami to Maine with Myron, her husband of forty years. They averaged biking 50 to 60 miles per day during the trips. In less than two months, she completed the 2300 mile trek!

Cathy Skott

Ernestine Shepherd (below) was overweight and suffered from depression, panic attacks, high blood pressure, and GERD. She and her sister started working out when Ernestine was age 56. She said, “Instead of lamenting about our bodies, we decided to make a change, get into shape and become the best version of ourselves.” Through exercise and diet, Ernestine was able to stop taking medications for her health problems. She became a competitive bodybuilder and competed until age 80. After winning many titles, she retired as the world's oldest female bodybuilder. Now in her mid-eighties, Ernestine continues strength training for 45 minutes to an hour 4 times per week and she runs 10 miles every morning!

Ernestine Shepherd

Many of the conditions considered to be caused by aging are related in large part to disuse. Exercise improves every aspect of heart and circulatory function, increases bone density, improves muscle mass and strength, improves metabolism, decreases body fat, regulates insulin and blood sugar levels, decreases bad cholesterol, increases good cholesterol, improves the quality of sleep, and decreases depression and memory lapses. Exercise decreases the risks for stroke, heart disease, and even cancer! HEALTH ISSUES ARE NOT OBSTACLES Swimmer, Eric Shanteau (below), won an Olympic medal for breaststroke in the 2004 Olympics. He then competed in the 2008 Olympics two weeks after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. Eric had chemotherapy after competing and was cancer-free before the year was out and won Olympic gold in the swimming relay in 2012.

Eric Shanteau
Photo by JD Lasica

Despite pain and fatigue caused by the autoimmune disease, lupus, Shannon Box is a three-time Olympic gold medal winner and a highly decorated player in US women's soccer. After suffering for years, Shannon went public about her condition before the 2012 Olympics where she helped her team win the gold. She continued to compete until 2015 and retired at age 35 after her team won the World Cup.

With chronic Crohn's disease, Carrie Johnson (below) competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics in the 200 and 500-meter kayak events. She then won gold in the 2012 Pan American Games. She was the first person to qualify for her event for the 2012 Olympic Team. Carrie is quoted as saying, “Falling in life is unavoidable. Staying down is optional.”

Carrie Johnson
Photo by JD Lasica

In 2003, Dana Vollmer had surgery to correct a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia. She later won an Olympic gold medal for swimming as well as a gold medal in the World Aquatics Championships. She currently holds the world record for the 110-meter butterfly. Volmer’s motto? “It’s what you do with the rough patches that will define what kind of athlete you’ll become.”

Scott Hamilton (Below) was adopted at age six weeks. At two years old, he contracted a mysterious disease that stunted his growth. The condition was corrected with diet and exercise and was later found to be caused by a congenital brain tumor. Scott went on to win four US Championships, four World Championships, and an Olympic gold medal in figure skating.

Scott Hamilton

After having a stroke at age 36, Russell Winwood heeded the wake-up call and immersed himself in physical fitness. For about eight years he competed as a triathlete and marathon runner. When he noticed that he was often short of breath he went in for a medical checkup and was diagnosed with Stage 4 COPD. COPD is a progressive, incurable, and ultimately terminal lung disease. Stage 4 means that lung function is below 30 percent. Six months after this crushing diagnosis, Russell competed in his first full ironman race! As a fellow sufferer of COPD, Russell Winward is one of my heroes!

Wilma Rudolph (Below), who became known as the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s, required physical therapy due to childhood polio. Wilma was the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals in the same Games.

Wilma Rudolph
Photo Credit

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can reduce symptoms of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, back problems, and arthritis. Exercise also improves mental health. The National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates that anxiety, depression, and negative mood can all be reduced through exercise by improving self-esteem and cognitive functioning.

Regardless of your age, your job, and your current level of fitness, you have the potential to make dramatic improvements! I have realized that the only genuine barrier to my success is my own mind. Given the opportunity, I easily rationalize poor choices. Overcoming this obstacle required making healthy decisions automatic and not up for consideration. In the morning, I do not have an internal debate about brushing my teeth. I just brush them. Likewise, on workout days, there is no internal dialogue about whether or not I will go to the gym. I just go.

Regardless of your age, your job, and your current level of fitness, you have the potential to make dramatic improvements!


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