I have a friend who has refused to eat anything but lettuce and carrots for the last three weeks. He’s starving himself for the “Fat Dad Challenge,” a weight-loss competition among a dozen middle-aged fathers hoping to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle through some friendly competition. The rules are fairly straightforward. The dad that loses the highest percentage of body fat in eight weeks wins a $500 pot. It’s like The Biggest Loser, only the contestants aren’t as fat and the trainers aren’t as hot. The challenge started with a group weigh- in where everyone stripped to their skivvies. Bellies were pinched with calipers. Incriminating photos were taken. One dude wore a speedo. Another found out he was carrying roughly 75 pounds of fat on his body, about the size of his oldest son.
I should mention that there are no fat dads in Asheville. Even the guy carrying around an extra nine-year-old child around his belly isn’t fat in the classic sense. This city is an uber-healthy bubble in a region famous for its fried foods and large bellies. I’m sure we have obese citizens in Asheville, but I rarely see them, probably because there’s no good place for them to eat downtown. Looking for vegan tamales? We’ve got those in spades, but you can’t get a decent pulled pork sandwich downtown.
The guy that designed the “Fat Dad Challenge” is a marathoner. Nobody would ever consider him fat, except maybe ultra marathoners. And that’s the problem with living in Super-Fit-Ville: you lose perspective. Skip a lunch workout to actually eat lunch, and you start to think you’re getting lazy. In this town, we’re very proud of ourselves for escaping the typical corporate rat race that’s so prevalent in larger cities, but really, we’ve just traded the corporate rat race for the athletic rat race. We’re still keeping up with the Joneses, but we’re just more concerned with their 5K PR and new carbon fiber bike than their bank account and new Lexus. While the rest of the country is hard at work contributing to the GDP, Asheville is filling Monday afternoon yoga classes to capacity crowds and swarming trail systems for group rides.
The lifestyle sounds great, and it is, as long as you don’t take it too seriously. One day, you’re knocking off work early to hike a mountain outside of town, the next thing you know you’ve hired a coach and quit that day job for a gig at Subway because it allows you more time to “train.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself thinking my job is really getting in the way of my mountain biking.
“Let’s face it, none of us live here because of our jobs,” says my buddy Mark, one of the Fat Dad Challengees. “We live here because of the other stuff.”
For Mark, the “other stuff” is biking. Road biking, mountain biking, track biking. I’m sure I’ll see him on a tandem before too long. Recently, he’s taken up running thanks to the Fat Dad Challenge.
“I’m up to five miles a day,” he told me recently over beers. Well, I was having a beer. He was drinking water.
He gets up at 5 a.m. for gym workouts, then typically runs at lunch. Ask him why, and he’ll look at you funny. “It’s $500.”
Money that he’ll instantly parlay towards a new road bike if he wins. And all of my friends in the Challenge would do the same thing. Well, all except Eric. He’s the black sheep, following a strict “no exercise” regimen since leaving high school. Eric’s in the Challenge too, but he’s taking the anorexic approach. Strictly lettuce, and the only exercise he’ll submit to is mowing the lawn once a week.
“I hate running. Why would I do it?” he says. “Not even for $500.”
I have a hundred friends who share that sentiment all around the country, but Eric’s an anomaly here in Asheville. It’s actually refreshing. In a society where the men constantly discuss split times and gadgets that monitor heart rate and urine color, Eric’s my go-to guy when I want to discuss the finer points of the Cartoon Network. Eric’s exercise apathy is downright inspirational.
Regardless of the amount of time and energy I put into “training,” a podium finish isn’t in my cards. Maybe, if I’m still healthy and running at 92, I’d have a shot at taking my age group in the local road race, but for the next 60 years, I’m going to have to accept my place at the back of the pack. It’s one thing to realize you’re a mediocre athlete, but it’s a different ball game altogether to actually be comfortable with that athletic mediocrity, which is probably why my friends are creating calorie charts and hiring trainers in pursuit of the Fat Dad Challenge cash purse. Sometimes, it’s just fun to win something. Even if it’s a Fat Dad Challenge amongst dads who aren’t that fat. I’m sure there’s something deep about the human spirit and the need for competition that I could glean from the situation, but who has the energy for deep thought?
So, friends, good luck as you starve yourself and hit the gym at 5 a.m. I’m pursuing a different path that is decidedly less aerobic. I’m toying with the notion of not working out at all. Maybe I’ll experiment with watching more TV. Maybe I’ll order another basket of chicken wings.