Pursue Your Dreams
Most of us have goals of being healthy and fit. Unfortunately busy lives combined with convenient, less-than-healthy foods often contradict good nutrition and exercise.
I’m an example.
Growing up, I loved to walk, play tennis, rollerblade, snowboard and bike. I ate well, but didn’t pay real close attention since I was so active. In my late 20’s, things changed.
Workouts started getting lighter and food choices got a little lax. Along with that, my pants started getting a little tighter. I also began using food as a coping mechanism for stress.
I reached a point where I knew I needed to get my former “healthy me” back. I wanted to physically and mentally feel whole again. I met with my physician and after charting my weight for the past six years, it was clear I needed a change. Within the week I had an appointment with a nutritionist.
The first thing I learned was how to eat properly. I not only needed to burn more calories than I took in, I wanted to do it in a healthy way and be sustainable too. I learned how to measure my portions and track calories, fat, fiber and protein to ensure I was eating a balanced diet that was not only healthy, but would keep me satisfied. I kept a food journal to make sure I stayed on track.
The next step was re-evaluating my physical activity. Fortunately for me, exercise was always in my life even when I wasn’t focused on my weight.
I learned that camping out on a treadmill three to four days a week for 40 minutes wasn’t enough. So, I increased my workouts to five days a week for an hour a day. I joined a tennis league and started participating in boot camps, cardio classes and weightlifting. I added strength and cardio to get the best results, and the variety kept things from getting boring. Soon the weight started coming off – one to two pounds a week, to be exact.
I started my journey two years ago in April. I’ve lost 70 pounds and have kept it off for almost a year. It hasn’t been easy. I still carry my food journal and every day is a struggle. I had to find a balance between healthy food and exercise while still occasionally eating "fun” foods. Do I eat pizza, cheeseburgers and fries? Yes, but I’m smarter now about when and how often.
My newest challenge is running races. Not long ago, I hated to run. But I’ve discovered what an effective workout it is, and I like the competition. To date, I’ve completed several 5Ks, two 10Ks and am training for my first half-marathon!
Along my journey, I’ve learned plenty about myself. Even if I don’t always feel great every day, if I try to feel better and do better every moment, it’s easier to make my way to great.
If I can do it, you can, too. Once you make up your mind to do something, you can achieve anything.
I never grow tired of stories from those who’ve served in our Armed Forces.
As a young newspaper reporter, I met one of the last surviving veterans of WWI. Though 90 years had shriveled his frame, he stood tall and proud as I took his photo next to an American flag.
On another occasion, I interviewed one of the few surviving crew members of the U.S.S Indianapolis, the last American ship sunk by enemy forces in WWII. He recalled with vivid detail four days floating at sea until rescuers arrived.
And as a child, I listened intently as my father and uncle relived their war experiences from the Army and Navy, respectively. Though serving in a foreign land may not have been the optimal way to spend their youth, they never regretted the role they played in defending our nation’s freedoms.
I’ve met a good share veterans from my own generation as well – men and women who’ve served in numerous capacities, for many different reasons. Some, like me, were stateside in the Reserves, fortunate to have stayed out of harm’s way. Others weren’t so lucky – separated from their families for many months and by thousands of miles to serve our nation’s call.
As part of our 30 Days of Thanks, American Family recognized veterans for their service. We were pleased to hear from numerous people who have worn the uniform. Here are just a few comments we received:
- “I served in the Korean War on the front lines from late Feb 1951 until Dec 31, 1951, A VERY cold place – much like Minnesota – and we had no overshoes or winter sleeping bags....Brrr.”
- Sometimes we’re all forgotten about, and what we give up for our country. Family, health and life.”
- "I am a veteran – 4 years active duty, Security Forces USAF. I show my appreciation to Veterans everyday by acknowledging them when I see or meet them."
- "Yes, I am a Veteran of WWII – one of the few still alive. I was a medic and worked in a large Veteran's hospital as a surgical tech, so I saw the terrible results of war. I also lost some of friends I trained with."
- "Having served 21 years myself, I thank God everyday for these young men and women who keep us safe today. We must never forget however, all our veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and all the other victories forged by our gallant men and women in uniform."
Thank you to all those who took the time write. And thank you everyone who has served in the Armed Forces – in war, in peace, at home and overseas. We live the results of your service every day.
P.S.: Want to thank a veteran? Leave a comment, or head to our Facebook page and post a message on our Wall.
Imagine being told you have cancer. Just when you think it’s all behind you, imagine being told you have it again.
That’s the story of my 13-year fight with breast cancer.
It started innocently enough. During a routine physical, my doctor found a lump. She was worried and insisted on a mammogram.
The mammogram looked suspicious, so I had a biopsy. The news came back that I had breast cancer. Treatment for me was a mastectomy. Fortunately, my tumor was isolated, so I didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. I did, however, have reconstructive surgery.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a support group, because I couldn’t identify with people there. Many were mad at their doctors and the medical profession. I wasn’t. My doctor found the lump – she didn’t put it there! Also, most support group members were married with children. I’m not married and don’t have children, so we couldn’t relate to each other. I wanted those things too, but I felt like “damaged merchandise.” It took me a long time before I could even watch a commercial with a baby in it!
In 2004, I celebrated five years without cancer! I learned the five-year mark means you’re practically home free. It was a bittersweet milestone. A few months before, I lost my brother in a car accident. Now, I didn’t have one of my best friends to celebrate with. Later that year, I was diagnosed with depression.
Fast forward six years. I noticed a bump below my breast I hadn’t seen before. I saw my doctor who thought it might be fatty tissue. It didn’t go away and became red. My doctor sent me to a surgeon for a second opinion. The surgeon said she’d remove it, but wanted to run some tests. Two MRIs, three biopsies, about six ultrasounds and a PET scan later, I was told that I had breast cancer again. The surgeon said it was already at Stage 3. I know that’s not good, but I wasn’t ready to give up my fight!
Since then, I’ve been receiving a form of chemo that’s non-toxic. I recently had surgery to remove the tumor and started taking yet another medicine.
I’ve tolerated treatment fairly well. Unless you know me personally or saw my name on a “Race for the Cure” poster, you wouldn’t even know I’m sick. I could be the person sitting next to you, your neighbor or your best friend.
My fight continues. I want researchers to find a cure. I need them to find a cure! Not only for the women currently fighting this dreadful disease, but for those who unfortunately will follow in our footsteps. I want to see my munchkins (my friends’ children) grow up and graduate from high school. I want to be one of the first out on the dance floor at their weddings.
I’m not giving up – I want to celebrate life!
Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamed of becoming a Madison firefighter.
Growing up, I was mesmerized by the stories my great-uncle, Mel Troia, told about his experiences as a Madison firefighter. It wasn’t hard to picture myself riding fire trucks, fighting the flames and most of all – helping people. As a firefighter, I’d save people’s homes, their possessions and even their lives!
First though, I had to grow up and prove I was firefighter material.
I was raised by a single Mom who worked three jobs to support us. She wanted to give me a good life and she led by example. She showed me no matter what your dream is, with hard work and dedication, you can reach it. Armed with her guidance, I was convinced my dream was always within reach. I didn’t realize though, that along the road to achieving my dreams, I’d have some bumps to contend with.
As a high school student, I attended a career day and met recruiters from the Madison Fire Department. That sealed it for me – I knew from that point on I wanted to become a Madison firefighter.
After high school, I enrolled in the Fire Science program at Madison College and landed an internship at the Maple Bluff Fire Department. My goal quickly became a passion.
I admit I didn’t have the world’s best background. I had some trouble in high school and my initial applications to MFD were turned down. I was also a single father of two wonderful kids. Like my mother did for me, I had to support them. Fortunately, I was able to find work in construction which allowed me to support my kids but I was away from home a lot and missed them desperately.
My goal of being in the MFD was now even stronger. My kids were the extra motivation I needed. I turned to the lessons my Mom taught me and applied again. A rigorous physical agility test and interview designed to reveal one’s core identity and character were my chance to prove who I really was, rather than be shadowed by a few questionable events in my past.
I’ll never forget the day when Chief Steve Davis called to offer me the opportunity to become a Madison firefighter. I couldn’t believe it. I called my Mom first and could barely keep it together. The proudest moment for me though, was when my 11-year-old son, Garrett, pinned my MFD badge on my uniform at the Madison Fire Academy commencement ceremony this past January. I did it! I reached my dream.
Although the road had a few bumps along the way, I never lost sight of my dream. With hard work, determination and dedication I reached it. If I can, you can. Your dream is out there. Don’t ever stop trying to get it.
Editor’s note: This is part of a Dream Protectors blog feature called Stories From DreamBank, which showcases real-life dreams from visitors to the American Family Insurance DreamBank in Madison, Wis. Visit DreamBank on the Square or online at www.amfam.com/DreamBank.
Once in a while, something happens that makes you stop and appreciate life, small pleasures and big hearts.
American Family really is a big family, and our community is part of that family. One of our American Family members, long-time customer Carol Suchomel, is in hospice care for cancer. In February, learning that her four-year journey with brain cancer was coming to an end, she made a bucket list. It included connecting with Ellen DeGeneres, whom Carol has admired for a long time.
Carol’s niece, Averie Churchill, wanted to help make that dream come true for her aunt. She made a video, reaching out to Ellen. It created a buzz on Facebook that caught the attention of some of Carol’s friends who work at American Family.
Could we help connect Carol to Ellen, and could we do it soon?
It happened this week. Ellen DeGeneres sent an autographed copy of her book “Seriously…I’m Kidding” to Carol. It turns out, Carol is not only a huge fan of Ellen, she’s an avid reader. It turns out, not only does Carol have a lot of friends at American Family, her sister Beth Churchill, works here, too.
I don’t know Carol, and I didn’t know Carol and Beth are related until I ran into Beth yesterday morning, thanking people for helping make this happen for her sister. But last night, I cried as I shared this story with my children. The love this family is showing each other, the love Averie is showing her aunt, the love Beth displays in talking about her sister, and Carol’s strength and passion for life and joy, it’s overwhelming.
Knowing American Family was able to make this dream come true and help bring joy to Carol and her family during this difficult phase of their journey … it’s immensely moving to me and makes me so very proud to be part of American Family.
Once in a while, something happens that makes you stop and appreciate life, small pleasures and big hearts.