New York, Rum Cake, and the Power of Selfishness

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I was in New York this past weekend. This particular trip to New York was filled with many emotions. After teaching the REVO2LUTION RUNNING™ certification at the beautiful Chelsea Piers Sports Center in Manhattan, I spent Sunday with some of my family. I started my day with a run in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park while my twin brother worked on writing his next play. (If you’re in the U.S., keep an eye out for my brother’s plays. He’s a very talented playwright.) After my run, I sat with my brother in his apartment, talking about some unresolved issues. Then we went into Manhattan to meet with my Uncle Richard and my aunt to talk about my dad, my uncle’s brother, who died of a heart attack in Brooklyn when my twin brother and I were 8 years old.

Sitting on New York subway with my twin brother.


Going back to New York, and especially to Brooklyn, is always hard for me, because Brooklyn is my original home. It is where I spent the first 9 years of my life, and it is where my father died, which was, perhaps, the single biggest defining moment of my family’s life. But I wanted to hear from my dad’s brother, an uncle that I was never particularly close to, what my dad was like and what made him who he was. I knew it would be hard to have this conversation. It wasn’t easy to see my 83-year-old uncle cry over his lunch. I tried to hold back my own tears. I admit, my reasons for wanting to have this conversation with him were selfish. I needed to know things about my dad.

On Sunday night, I went with my brother to a dinner party in Brooklyn, just a handful of blocks from where we grew up. It was close enough to be a little nostalgic, yet far enough to look like a neighborhood I hadn’t been in. As we entered the apartment building, that familiar old Brooklyn Jewish woman apartment building smell brought me back to when I was a kid. The apartment building had it all—that smell, the large foyer with the dirty tiled floor, an old-fashioned elevator with the heavy door you have to open yourself with a second sliding gated door on the inside. It was like being 7 years old again.

Brooklyn apartment building elevator.


At the dinner party, we laughed as we drank wine and ate salad and tilapia and delicious homemade rum cake that was more rum than cake. And I met someone who made me realize just how lucky I am that I get to pursue my passion every day. When she discovered I’m a runner and what I do for a living, she asked, “How do I start running?”

People often ask me this question as if there is some special wisdom that needs to be learned, like what a Jedi Master learns from Yoda. They are always surprised when I say, in my best Yoda voice, “Just start running, you will.”

Running, or even the thought of running, can be very intimidating to many people. Truth is, running may be the easiest activity to do. As I told her at the dinner party, you start running by putting on a pair of running shoes, stepping outside your door, and running. It’s really that easy. If you’re out of shape, don’t worry. So what if you can’t run for more than 30 seconds? You don’t have to run like a Kenyan. Only Kenyans have to run like Kenyans. Run for 30 seconds if that’s all you can do. If you can run longer, then run longer. Then walk for five minutes. But not a sunset stroll on the beach; the kind of walk you take through the airport when you are late to catch your flight. You walk with intention. Intention to burn the fat off and become leaner and fitter. After five minutes of fast walking, run again for 30 seconds, or however long you can. Keep doing that run-walk-run pattern until 30 minutes have passed. Then do the same thing tomorrow. Over time, as your body adapts and your fitness improves, you can run for 60 seconds at a time. Then two minutes. Then four minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be running your fat off for the entire 30 minutes.

And that’s how you start running.

[tweetthis]You start running by putting on a pair of running shoes, stepping outside your door, and running. It’s really that easy.[/tweetthis]

I’ve been asked this question so many times that my response has become well-rehearsed. Indeed, the above paragraph appears in my forthcoming book, Run Your Fat Off. But this time, at the dinner party, it was different. There was more intention behind my words. And that was because, while I was talking to her, I heard a voice in my head say, “I have a chance, right now, to impact this person in a positive way.” And that’s when I realized how lucky I am to be in this position. So I spent more time with her, articulating the power of running to change her health and her life, sharing some of the wisdom in my book The Inner Runner with her, and telling her that she really can run, even if it is slow at first. I wanted to inspire her to turn my words into her action. I even told her to email me to share her progress.

Which brings me back to being selfish. Despite our best intentions, humans don’t do things for purely altruistic reasons. Sure, we may want to help other people, as I wanted to help the girl at the dinner party, but I believe we help others mostly because of how it makes us feel, how it helps us.

As a fitness professional, we have an amazing opportunity and responsibility to positively affect people’s lives. After all, exercise is the single best thing a person can do for his or her health.

[tweetthis]Exercise is the single best thing a person can do for his or her health.[/tweetthis]

So listen to that inner voice. Be selfish. Help others achieve their dreams. And while you’re doing that, take a ride in an old Brooklyn apartment building elevator. You never know what’s on the other side of the gated door.

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