Changing your life and deciding to do something different because you yearn to is something you read about, but I am here to tell you it can happen to you at any time in your life. Most of us all say to ourselves, "One day, I'd like to do that."
One day two men meet for the first time. One, a 52 year old Catholic priest and the other a 28 year old Navy SEAL Lieutenant. The two could never have foreseen the effect they would have on each others lives. I personally know first hand because I am Stew Smith, the Navy SEAL lieutenant.
The priest, Father Hoog, who was from St. Mary's in Annapolis, waited at his table at the Naval Academy Restaurant. I was stationed at the Naval Academy and in charge of the remedial physical fitness program at the time, so I was accustomed to talking to people about fitness. But never had I undertaken such a project. Father Hoog's goal was to become a Navy Chaplain after almost 25 years as a civilian Catholic priest. I knew this was not going to be easy to accomplish and I figured I would put as much into his program as Father Hoog did.
Our first visit, was spent getting to know each other and I soon found myself talking about my choice to convert to Catholicism. The first meeting went well as we discovered we both could contribute to each other's lives. We decided that we would meet weekly to exercise and my job was to alter his weekly fitness program to meet the goals specified by the Navy. In turn Father Hoog helped me find faith in the Catholic Church and God. He was always willing to answer my basic questions about Catholicism and faith.
Father Hoog had to lose over eighty pounds, be able to do over 40 pushups, 60 situps and run a mile and a half under 13:00. The first week, we took a benchmark test to see where he should begin. Father Hoog could walk a mile, but not run at all. Pushups on his toes, which was the requirement, were nonexistent and his weak lower back was preventing him from being able to do situps. His high blood pressure was an issue as well and he was on medication for it.
Week one for Father Hoog was a week of walking, stretching, a few knee pushups and crunches. Everyday, I would see Father Hoog walking around the Naval Academy Campus. It was good to see he was determined to start, but would he keep up the vigor? We also realized that he had to watch the sweets, but decided not to start a rigorous diet the same week as an exercise routine. Exercise to a sedentary person is stressful enough, I did not want to add to the stress, so we decided to wait a month or so before we added a strict diet program. We tripled his water intake, for if there is such thing as a magic solution to losing weight it is WATER. He was drinking nearly a gallon a day and barely able to make it through an entire mass without rushing to the rest room. But the water helped flush his system, enabled the body to burn fat as an energy source more efficiently, and kept his body cool during exercise.
Within a few weeks, father Hoog showed no signs of weight loss and was getting frustrated. He was building muscle in areas that were inactive before, but he was losing fat at the same time. Father Hoog did not notice the change in body composition by the scale, but he did notice by the tape measure and the tighter notch on his belt. This was pleasing to both of us, but we still had 75 pounds to go.
Two months into the fitness program, we decided to start monitoring food intake. I made him write down everything he put into his mouth. This proved to be the area where he needed the most help and the documentation of every piece of candy in between meals helped him realize that. Soon he had given up M&Ms, cookies and other sugary snacks for apples, oranges and other fruits. The water consumption helped out in this area as well, for most people confuse hunger with dehydration. A quart of water during the late morning and afternoon helped curb his appetite for lunch and afternoon snacking. It all made sense to him as I mentioned these tips, but changing dietary habits that are 50 years old is as challenging as beginning an exercise program. But Father Hoog was well on his way physically, so I started to have as much faith as he had determination. This was the month that his doctor reduced the high blood pressure medicine as well. So we were making progress. "You do not get out of shape overnight, you can't expect to get back into shape overnight either." I told him. So with that, he shifted into long term mode, which took off the stress on weigh in days.
At the sixth month, we had seen much progress. Father Hoog was now running with me for a few miles, then walking a bit in between. Father Hoog started running by just completing 50 yards at a time then walking 50 yards to catch his breath. We repeated this several time during the run / walk. This workout seemed to help rejuvenate the metabolism and melted nearly fifty pounds of Father Hoog away by Spring. It is not easy losing fifty pounds during the winter months, most people in the Northeast gain weight since it is colder outside and fewer activities available. But Father Hoog was now weighing just 230 pounds, could run the mile and a half in the prescribed time and pass the pushup and situps test. Our calisthenics program had paid off. Hundreds of repetitions of pushups, crunches, squats and even pullups and dips, helped Father Hoog add the strength he needed to pass the Navy Physical Fitness Standards for a fifty year old man. Now it was a battle with just thirty pounds. And of course, Father Hoog's own battle not to just pass the standards with the minimums, but he wanted to ace the standards and receive the highest score possible for his age group. This appealed to the Navy SEAL in me naturally, I always disregarded the minimum scores and only saw the maximums as goals.
I was amazed! He was still determined to keep on pressing. Accomplishing the physical fitness testing goals were a big relief for us both, but we had no idea how hard the next thirty pounds would be.
It was about Easter time now, eight months into Father Hoog's mission of becoming a Navy Chaplain and my mission of becoming Catholic. All along, Father Hoog helped straighten out the Catholics churches views on many controversial topics as well as explain the basics. I was able to do my first Confession with Father Hoog during the Easter week services and I soon was Catholic. My wife and I took the RCIA classes together, but she was born Catholic. It was good for both of us, especially since I surprised her one day almost a year earlier with the announcement I wanted to become Catholic.
The ninth month was depressing. It was the third month in a row on little or no weight loss. Father Hoog only lost five pounds in three months. With twenty five pounds to go, we had to change something to stimulate more weight loss. Father Hoog was stuck on a plateau, so I pushed him off with a course of weight training, more running, swimming and biking. This was the boost Father Hoog needed. Not only did these add challenges to his physical fitness program, it changed to tone of the workouts as well. The workouts were not easier, just different.
The change in pace seemed to work. After another two months, we were back on the road to losing weight steadily. Only fifteen more pounds to go. Now Father Hoog's running had skyrocketed to as many as ten miles nonstop. He could do ten pullups, over 60 pushups and 75 situps. Father Hoog well surpassed the maximum scores for his age group. He was now chasing the age group of Navy men ten years younger than him.
Then the day came! The day we stepped on the scales and he had lost all the weight he needed to lose. The scales tipped at a "lean, mean, preaching machine" of 200 pounds. We jumped, we hugged, we cried and thanked God. It was a moment I will never forget, in fact it has changed my life in many ways.
Two months later, the Navy came to St. Mary's in Annapolis. The church held a ceremony for Father Hoog and I was the Naval Officer who got to swear Father Hoog into the Naval Chaplain Corp. This was an especially happy month for me. My wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Mary Elizabeth. Father Hoog was one of the first guests we had that day and Mary received her first blessing. Once again, Father Hoog impressed upon me that faith and love were as much a part of his life as hard nose determination. The Navy needed a man like Father Hoog and now has him.
I was addicted - addicted to that feeling of helping people reach their personal goals. I am now out of the Navy and started a fitness consultant business as well as freelance writing. I now have four fitness books published in the past three years. All using the same principles that I used with Father Hoog. In fact, my most recent book was dedicated to Father Hoog - Maximum Fitness. It features a 52 week workout program, nutritional chapter as well as hundreds of pictures to show beginners how to do the exercises properly. I also write a weekly fitness column for Military.com and have my own website - www.StewSmith.com , which is dedicated to helping people reach their fitness goals.
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