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Lessons From Dad: Making a Commitment to Fitness

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At 52 years old, my dad is one of the most (if not the most) in-shape people I know. He's not the kind of person who's content just sitting around and hanging out; Bob Turgeon wants to be doing something.

Athletics and fitness have always played a key role in my dad's life, and whereas my exercise growing up came mostly in the form of scheduled activities, the only person holding my dad accountable was himself. During high school, he saved up his study hall periods so he could leave school early during the winter season and spend his afternoons practicing at the nearby ski area in Bloomington, Minn. By age 18 he was touring with the Canadian World Cup Ski Team, competing freestyle for his home country from 1978 to 1982.

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Dad could've made it to the Olympics; unfortunately, freestyle skiing wasn't part of the games until several years after he'd left the world of competitive sport. It was too hard to make a living as an athlete back then, he says. But the drive to keep healthy and active had already long been instilled.

I of course grew up a ski bunny; my first time out on the slopes I was just 1.5 years old -- that's me in the pink snowsuit in the below slideshow. Dad and Mom were my instructors (she's a skier too). I played soccer in elementary school, and in high school I had dance practice six days per week. Exercise was part of my day-to-day life. It was assumed. I never had to think about how I'd fit it into my schedule, like my dad did when he was my age.

So it was a shock when, after graduation, I didn't have that schedule anymore. I didn't know how to stay active without a 2.5-hour practice to attend. The summer after my freshman year of college was around the time my dad introduced the concept of the "commitment to fitness."

A simple enough concept: Do something -- anything -- to move and get some exercise. The word "commitment" might sound a bit intimidating, but it really didn't have to be all that complicated or intense, Dad said; a Rollerblade around the neighborhood or a long walk would do. Because no one else could schedule it for me anymore.

Name a fitness activity and my dad's likely tried it, so in him I had a top-notch workout partner. And he used my competitive nature to goad me on. Take, for example, the "bike-blade," something I'd like to think we invented (but don't take my word for it). Near our family home in Minnesota is a park about six or seven miles round. Dad would wear his Rollerblades; I'd be on my bike. The goal? To see if I could make it around the park without him catching up to me. I'd get a two-minute head start. Each time I got progressively farther along the trail, but each time he'd inevitably catch up with a wave and a "Sorry! Maybe next time!" as he zoomed by. (I swear, someday I will beat him.)

A few years ago, my dad got in an accident while heli-skiing in Alaska and blew out his knee. I think my family released a collective gasp, wondering if the injury was going to prompt some kind of mid-life fitness crisis. Dad was out on the mountains the following winter with his fixed ACL. We shouldn't have been surprised.

My dad's taught me a lot of things: responsibility, determination, courage, how to make scrambled eggs in the microwave... But making a commitment to fitness is one lesson that stands out. It's a weekly challenge for me, fitting it all in, and probably always will be, but I know that whenever I get in a fitness slump -- usually because work is too busy or I'm just worn out and in a mental funk -- I can call him for a pep talk.

"You always feel good after you exercise," he constantly reminds me. Even if I can only get to the gym one day that week, it's better than not going at all.

The competitive spirit that once helped my dad work his way onto the Canadian World Cup Ski Team is definitely still with him, even if the goals themselves have changed.

"I'll never be what I was when I was competing," my dad says. "But when I'm out there I want to be skiing at as high a level as possible. Because that's what I enjoy: participating at a high level. I hate to suck."

If I'm in half as good of shape when I'm 52 years old as my dad is today, I'll be feeling pretty good about myself. Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Lessons From Dad: Making A Commitment To Fitness
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