From 'Mr. Jowls' to runner for life


I don’t know his name. We often cross paths as we run, as fast as we can, around the perimeter path at the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve in Merrick, a 1.7-mile seashell-coated road that encircles the 50-acre sanctuary. He’s 70 or 80 years old, by my estimation, and he has become one of my heroes.

In hot weather, he runs shirtless and carries a water bottle. One minute he may be running along, and the next his slender frame will seize up, as if he were leaping in the air, before returning to running at breakneck pace. I have no idea why.

Now we wave to each other and offer hearty hellos, but we never stop. Neither of us is there to socialize. I first crossed paths with him last summer. I thought about asking his name, but to stop would disturb each of our workouts. Running at the preserve is a serene experience, an escape from suburbia’s sound and fury. Let us simply run, I figure.

Still, this man inspires me, largely because I see him as an older version of me. I only hope I can run as he does when I’m 70, 80, perhaps 90 years old.

I recently turned 46. I started running three years ago, after a more than decade-long hiatus from physical activity, during which I gained considerable weight. On Father’s Day 2010, I was 35 pounds overweight and lost my breath walking up stairs. A Herald colleague recently came across my old column photo, taken that year, before I began a serious running regimen. “Mr. Jowls,” he good-naturedly called the old me. I laughed. He was right, of course. People often used to tell me that I needed a new photo. What I needed was a new body.

Like so many working parents, my job and child care had consumed me. I stopped exercising in my early 30s after my kids were born. My diet went downhill.
Then, in the spring of 2010, a close relative died of a heart attack at age 60. I knew then that I had to get healthy. I had to lose weight and bring down my blood pressure and triglycerides (fatty acids bound to glycerol molecules in the blood). I had to save myself.

I’ve told this story before: I started by walking a few blocks, and worked my way up to a mile, then two, before I began running a mile, then two. Now I run four to seven miles a day.

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