Welcome to another installment of #WhyIExercise School Year Edition. We’re excited to be spotlighting two phenomenal educators. Join us in celebrating the fitness journeys of guest bloggers Andrew Arevalo and Justin Birckbichler.
#WhyIExercise . . . Andrew
Please welcome Andrew Arevalo from El Centro, California. Andrew is a fourth grade GATE teacher at McCabe Union Elementary School District. Andrew earned his BA in Liberal Studies and Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential from San Diego State University and his M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Follow him on Twitter @Gameboydrew.
Before I entered public education, I worked as a different type of educator. I was a certified fitness trainer. Instead of teaching kids how to multiply and divide, I helped adults learn how to take care of their bodies. I had my loyal clients. I even had my own weekly fitness class with its very own cheesy name, Abs with Andrew. This was my life, and I was hooked to helping people transform. More than that, it was somewhere I went to forget about everything and just hit the weights. It was my serenity. However, once I entered my credential courses and started my first full-time job as an educator, I had to step back from this world I was in love with.
I said goodbye to the barbells and hello to the books. I didn’t have a choice. I was taking 25 units and trying to survive the treacherous first-year waves. I thought my goodbye was more of a temporary departure; however, I was completely wrong. After the credential program, I immediately began my masters. The stress slowly piled on. The gym life I had known so well became completely foreign.
Fast forward right around the end of my masters. I remember the day when “it” first happened. It is forever implanted in my mind. I was trying to eat and my food just wouldn’t go down. I thought I wasn’t chewing well. However, after another attempt, I realized, I couldn’t swallow. Within a few weeks, I was in a operating room getting an endoscopy. From there, everything was like a blitzkrieg; it happened so fast! Doctor-after doctor, appointment-after-appointment, and there was no clear consensus. One doctor diagnosed me as having an autoimmune disease. Another said it was a gastrointestinal problem. Regardless, I needed to do something because the problem persisted. I was weighing around 140 pounds and struggling to maintain my weight. One doctor recommended I should try the 6-food elimination diet, which should really be called the ALL-food elimination diet. In the diet, one must eliminate the 6 most common allergens (e.g., fish, nuts, dairy, wheat, soy, and eggs) from his/her diet. Do you know how hard that is?
After a few weeks of trying this insane diet, I decided to become plant-based. I thought it would be more realistic given my lifestyle. It wasn’t until about the sixth-month of trying this diet when I noticed my swallowing returning back-to-normal. However, I was also on a heavy dose of GI-related medication as well. After another endoscopy, my GI doctor said my symptoms were brought on entirely by stress. I couldn’t believe it. Was the stress in my life this debilitating? He went on to further explain that my symptoms would be kept at bay if I found a way to destress.
It was at this point in my life that I realized everything was in my control. The stress, the symptoms, I could control it all! I decided it would be best to find a familiar outlet that would allow me to destress. So, I turned back to the lifestyle I had given up. I started back up at my local gym. I was embarrassed my first few weeks. I remembered how I once was, and I kept trying to compare myself to that. No more abs with Andrew, here though. In addition, I was completely sore. My body felt like it was going to fall off. However, I didn’t lose focus. I had too much riding on the gym. Within a year, I was feeling the best I had felt in very long time.
Since returning back to the gym, I have been able to gain weight and get off some of my medication. The gym is where I go to destress, to lose myself, and to focus on the clink clank of the weights. I don’t think about anything there. I go and workout because I love it. I can’t make it every day or even every week. However, I’m ok with that. What I’m not ok with is letting stress run my life. This is why I exercise!
#WhyIExercise . . . Justin
Please welcome Justin Birckbichler from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Justin is an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher at Lee Hill Elementary School in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Justin received his BS in Elementary Education from Shippensburg University, his MS in Curriculum and Instruction from Western Governors University, and is a Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer. Follow him on Twitter @absotTC.
Let’s hear from Justin.
I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 25 in November 2016, after discovering a lump on my testicle during a routine self-exam. (If you’re a male and don’t know how to do a self-exam, you need to - click here. It needs to be part of your health and fitness regimen.)
While most people consider cancer to be a terrible thing, it was actually quite the blessing in disguise for me. It helped me balance myself and regain a long lost commitment to fitness.
Throughout my middle and high school years and college, I was really invested in exercise through various sports and activities, but once I moved to Virginia from Pennsylvania and started my Masters program in early 2014, I let my healthy habits slip.
Though I finished my Masters in August 2015, I did not make a sustained effort in restarting a regular exercise regimen. I would jog for a few days, but it never lasted. I always had an excuse … not enough time and no energy were my go-to.
After experiencing 10 weeks of grueling chemotherapy and knowing what it truly feels like to have no energy, I realized I couldn’t use that as an excuse anymore. Physically, I was honestly ashamed of my bloated and flabby body, lack of endurance, and pitiful amount of strength post-chemo. I decided to make fitness a priority, so I joined a gym and found sticking with the new habit wasn’t too difficult.
I go directly to the gym after work, which helps me keep the positive momentum going. In the beginning, I found if I come home from work and sit down, I was less likely to get back out there. Now, since I actually looked forward to working out, it doesn’t matter when I go, but I still find the consistency is key.
While at the gym, I usually split my sessions between weightlifting and running. While hitting the weights, I usually pair a major muscle group, such as chest, with the inverse minor group, such as biceps. In the running realm, I’m a big fan of negative splits and intervals, while watching Netflix, of course. Watching The Flash definitely makes me run faster!
Another big change I made was in how I ate. I eat more whole foods, home cooked meals, weigh nearly everything I eat, and put it all into my FitBit app to help track nutrients and calories. I do allow myself to indulge, but in more moderation.
Since making all of these changes in August 2017, I’ve shed over forty pounds, dropped nearly ten percent of my body fat, increased my running stamina, and nearly doubled my maximum lifting stats.
Yet, why I exercise is much more than just the physical benefits. It’s my form of self-care. As a cancer survivor, I’ve found that applying habits from chemotherapy (such as keeping detailed records, repurposing items that came with me to infusions, and continued goal setting) helps keep me motivated to stay on the ball with my fitness regimen. You can read more about these concepts here.
While I am exercising, I often think about what I’ve been through and what kind of person I want to be. It’s an intense moment - both physically and in the reflection aspects.
Cancer isn’t something I would wish on anyone, but in my case, it was only honestly exactly what I needed. Now, I’ve grabbed my life by the ball(s) and made a commitment to making my post-cancer life the best it can possibly be. Fitness plays a big part in this journey.
Thank you so much, Andrew and Justin, for sharing your #WhyIExericse stories. We truly appreciate your vulnerability. You are clearly two men that have taken control of your lives after unforeseen medical issues. Although the complications were different, the commonality is that you both got back up after the setbacks. You not only recovered, but you are both thriving. Exercise, diet, and self-care are now the new norm. You are both truly inspirational. Thank you again for sharing with the #WhyIExercise readers.
For more information on testicular cancer, visit testicularcancersociety.org.
I hope you’re all having an amazing start to your school year. Be sure to follow the #FitnessEdu, #FitLeaders, and #RunLap tribes for weekly motivation.
#MuchLove . . . Marilyn
As educators, we know the importance fitness has on both our bodies and minds. This blog is a celebration of educators and the role exercise plays in our lives.