Monday, March 17, 2014

Tri- Friend: Chris Vokaty's Story: Fit for Life

Our next tri-friend wrote an article about his transformation to becoming a triathlete and wanted to share with all of you.  Hope you newbies find inspiration in this!  Also, will be picking up the pace with posts now that life is settling down for me personally!

Tri- Friend: Chris Vokaty's Story: Fit for Life
Sometimes life has a strange way of getting your attention.  It was mid December and I was waiting to see the doctor.  I had a horrible bug of some sort but that was the least of my concerns.  I had been feeling generally bad for most of the year, my cholesterol was way too high and at the age of 43 I felt like I was 70.  As I stepped on the scale the nurse stated my weight to which I replied “you need to check that again! Without breaking even a hint of a smile she replied “you need to stop eating so much!” 

WOW, I don’t know what was worse; the fact that I had gained over 30 unwanted, donut laden pounds or that someone giving it to me straight!  Merry Christmas I thought to myself on the way to the pharmacy to pick up an assortment of “wonder” drugs and of course a soda, candy bar and box of Mike and Ike’s.
Fast forward to Christmas Day. I have always loved giving at the Holidays and of course receiving gifts is fun as well.  I was laying on our couch thinking about the year and how even though my cold was gone, I still felt absolutely awful.  I realized the best gift I received that Christmas came from my doctor that fateful day as I tipped the scales to new weights. 

He simply stated that if I did not make changes to my life, I would end up like my father!  My dad died of a heart attack at age 47 after gaining thirty pounds and letting his cholesterol rage out of control.  I was fast becoming a chip off the old block in ways I certainly didn’t like and I am sure he wouldn’t either.  I was 43, May and I were trying to have a baby and I was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. 
With stark clarity, I recalled having a decision to make.  I could either choose the path my father took or be dead in a few years, or I could take control of my life and make the most of the precious gift God had given me. 

The decision was made, it was time to get serious and get into shape!  I enjoyed that Christmas Day to its fullest, tomorrow would be a new, and healthy beginning for the rest of my life.

The plan was simple.  First I would implement changes to my diet and second I would run two miles.  That would be easy and a great start, or so I thought!  I went to bed that night with a nervous anxiousness that was scary yet exciting.  I thought to myself….”What have I done?  Can, or better yet, will I really do this?  What if the weather is bad? It’s still the holidays, etc.  No, no more excuses, there is no time like the present to start a new beginning.

As sure as I was out of shape, the sun came up the next morning and it was time to face my new beginning.  The choice was made, now I just had to do it. I managed to assemble some workout clothes and headed out the door for my first two mile run in over twenty years.  The day was sunny and cold and I set off on my run with the nervous energy of a child leaving the house for her first day of school. 
I learned quickly just how out of shape I was.  I managed to finish the two miles in just over forty minutes.  It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t pretty, I could hardly breath and my legs felt like deadened tree stumps but I DID IT!  I ran two miles and the burning in my legs and lungs felt incredible.  Tired, sore and completely energized, I rewarded myself with a healthy bowl of oatmeal and fruit….the breakfast of champions.

 As I finished my breakfast I could not help but be proud of what I had just accomplished.  I had not won the Boston Marathon or the Hawaii Ironman, but I felt like I had!  I set a goal and I achieved it.  I had to chuckle out loud when I realized while running I imagined I looked like the famous triathlete Craig Alexander, when in all actuality I  looked like Elmer Fudd wrestling a small raccoon on the side of the road…and I don’t have to tell you who was winning.  

I was a champion none the less and reveled in the moment.  I realized that eating better and running was not the hard part, the hard part happened on Christmas Day when I made the decision to make changes in my life, the rest was a formality. I reaffirmed the commitment I had made to myself and could hardly wait for tomorrow to get here so I could do it all over again.  One day a habit does not make, but YOU will never make a habit without day one!  

Fast forward a year to the following January.  Thirty pounds lighter, normal cholesterol levels and a much better mental state, I crossed the finish line of the Walt Disney World Marathon in three hours, fifty-nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds, thirty minutes ahead of my goal! I still did not look like Craig Alexander but I wasn’t Elmer Fudd either!  I was me, happy to be alive and in the best shape of my life. As I started that race, I thanked God for giving me the ability, discipline and motivation to change my life but I also realized one other very important thing,   enjoy the journey and the process. 

The race at that point was merely a formality, the real success came from enduring the process of setting, working towards and reaching a set of goals.  I was hooked and I changed my life for the better. For me, getting in shape took the form of running a marathon and other assorted endurance goals.  But that is me, the beautiful thing about getting into shape is you make it what YOU want it to be, and the motivations and direction will be different for everyone.  It’s YOUR life, YOU take control of it.  How Bad Do You Want It?

While I started this adventure in running, the triathlon bug would soon bite.  Not too long after taking up running as a means to get back into shape, I was watching the IRONMAN World Championships from Hawaii and was in awe of what these athletes were accomplishing.

I turned to my wife and said, “I’m going to do an IRONMAN triathlon!”  She looked at me, smiled and said, “I think that is a great idea, but you don’t swim!” Well that was one glitch in the plan but at 44 years old it was time to overcome my fear of the water and learn how to swim.  We were trying to have a baby and I didn’t want my daughter to be afraid of the water and I certainly didn’t want to be “that dad” that could not get into the water with his daughter.

I signed up for swim lessons at the local YMCA and began the arduous journey to conquer not only my fear of water but the daunting prospect of covering 2.4 miles of nothing but wetness.  Slowly but surely I kept at it.  Many days I left the pool with tears of frustration running down my cheeks.  All the other people made it look so easy and here I was, looking like I was wrestling a bear 25 yards at a time.  I would not be defeated and just like Dory said on Finding Nemo…..”just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

As I write this I have done two half IRONMAN races last year and today, March 12th, 2014 I completed my first 4200 yards ever!  Albeit in a pool, I am thrilled to have conquered this distance and actually look forward to my time in the water.  Although I learned to swim as an adult, the experience in training for triathlons, swimming in particular, made me realize the importance of strength training.
Always wanting to be the best I can be, I hired a personal trainer to work on my overall strength and conditioning. While enjoying my time with my trainer, I had a thirst to learn more about training and conditioning and my trainer recommended I get my personal trainer certification.  “Well, why not?” I thought to myself so I began studying in earnest and successfully completed my CPT certification, Group Exercise Certification and Spin Certification with the American Aerobics and Fitness Association.

While these certifications helped me improve my overall strength and conditioning, it allowed me the opportunity to help others improve their fitness and conditioning.  While helping many others get off the couch and get in shape, I have also had the good fortune of being the coach for The Running Princesses, a running club for women in Columbia, SC. Their goal is to introduce running and triathlon to all women, especially those that have never done anything of a physical nature and are looking to get into shape and be a part of a special community.  I have also been fortunate to have a weekly fitness column in the local paper as one more way to help reach and inspire others to get into shape and to introduce them to triathlons and other endurance events.

I have enjoyed sharing my story with you and my goal is to help others on their journey to fitness: from getting started, to competition in triathlon and endurance events and everything in between. I am in the best shape of my life at age 48 and I encourage others to do the same thing, regardless of where they may be in life.  

I have my first IRONMAN set for June in Coeur D Alene and plan to do REV3 Knoxville, Anderson SC and Venice in addition to IRONMAN Raleigh and Augusta 70.3 events in 2014. I will never be on the podium, but I do work hard to be the best I can be while supporting others to do the same. I strive to be a great ambassador to triathlon and encourage others to join our community hope to educate and inspire others as well as be inspired by many of your stories as we embark on this journey together.  My goal for 2015 is to make the REV3TRI Team as their mission and values align perfectly with mine, attracting new people to triathlon in a fun and family friendly environment. 

I am passionate about fitness, triathlon and endurance sports and use my enthusiasm and energy to draw others to join us on the journey.  My blog – Chris Vokaty – How Bad Do You Want wms13It (– is dedicated to the everyday warrior, encouraging them to get off the couch and make a life choice to get into shape and who knows, maybe one day complete an IRON distance triathlon.  

Just remember you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to, it all comes down to “How Bad Do You Want It?”  Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.

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