Friday, March 31, 2017

LAKE PLACID DIET: Miracle on Ice inspiration

Start date (Dec. 22): 480
Last week: 452
This week: 452
Total lost: 28 lbs.

For fans, the most emotional moment of this week's Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp in Lake Placid came at the beginning of the third period during the gold-medal game on Wednesday, March 29.

Mike Ramsey's Red Light District was up 2-1 against Ken Morrow's Gold Rush in the same rink where Ramsey, Morrow and the rest of the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the Soviet Union 4-3 on Feb. 22, 1980. The game was dubbed the "Miracle on Ice."

Over the sound system came the haunting voice of 1980 coach Herb Brooks, who died in 2003, channeled through actor Kurt Russell playing Brooks in the 2004 Disney film "Miracle." It was the famous locker-room speech Brooks gave to his players to inspire them against the heavily favored Soviets.

"Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world," Russell said.

1980 player Mark Johnson, who scored two goals during the Miracle on Ice game, looked up at the LED scoreboard in the Olympic Center, where the scene from the movie was being shown. Johnson was sitting on the Red Light District bench, wearing a blue jersey and helmet, left arm stretched out with a gloved hand on the board, listening to the speech and waiting to play.

"You were born to be hockey players, every one of you," Russell continued. "You were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em. This is your time! Now go out there and take it."

Cheers erupted from players on the Olympic Center ice and benches, pounding the boards with their hockey gloves and slapping the ice with their sticks. With two quick whistles, the third period began.

The Red Light District would be triumphant that day, scoring four more goals to beat the Gold Rush 6-1 for the gold medal.

Even 37 years later, the Miracle on Ice continues to inspire new generations of Americans, not just hockey players but anyone feeling overwhelmed because they are facing a more powerful force. It is the quintessential underdog story. David versus Goliath.

The 1980 team certainly inspires me. I was lucky enough to cover the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice at the Olympic Center for the Lake Placid News two years ago, plus the fantasy camp last year and this year. But I don't have to be interviewing 1980 Olympians to be inspired. Every time I walk into the Herb Brooks Arena, I am inspired by their story, their Miracle game and the fact that they went on to beat Finland to win a gold medal in 1980.

I was 10 years old at the time, watching the Miracle on Ice game on TV at my grandmother's house in Tupper Lake, and all that emotion comes rushing back when I think about what these guys did for America and what they did for me. They gave me hope. Every time I'm feeling down, feeling as though there is no way I can get back on my feet again, all I have to do is think about the 20 young men who beat the Soviet Union that cold February day in Lake Placid, and my spirits are lifted. It gives me energy and the courage to keep trying.

On Sunday morning, I woke up with another acute attack of gout, this time in my left foot. But I didn't let a little pain stop me from covering the Miracle on Ice Fantasy Camp for three days this week, Monday through Wednesday. I took my pain medication, grabbed my cane and hobbled over to the Olympic Center with my laptop, digital recorder and camera, and I went to work. At the end of each day, I could barely move because my muscles were so sore and my foot was in pain. But these guys gave me the inspiration to get up the next day and keep moving.

Thanks, guys! You are a national treasure and an inspiration to humans everywhere.

Friday, March 24, 2017

LAKE PLACID DIET: Learning to walk again

Start date (Dec. 22): 480
Last week: 452
This week: 452
Total lost: 28 lbs.

This week, I'm learning to walk again.

After five weeks of treatment for the open wounds on both of my legs, including almost two weeks of gout and three weeks with Unna boots, my body needs adjusting. The treatment included spending most of my time in a chair with my legs propped up so they don't fill up with fluid.

Plus, with a week of shoveling the 3 feet of snow out of my driveway, dog's yard and pathway to the backyard, my entire body has been extremely sore over the past 10 days, and I've needed to use a cane to walk around.

The good news is my open wounds have closed up, so the treatment was a success. But that does not solve the problem of my edema, or swelling of the legs, which is caused by my excess weight. Once I get the weight down, I won't have to deal with that problem as much. In the meantime, keeping the swelling down is a priority. And that's what I'm struggling with now.

On my last day at the Adirondack Health Wound Center, the doctor prescribed compression stockings, which I have to put on my legs when I first get up and keep on until I go to bed. They go from my knee all the way down to my toes. They are extremely tight and difficult to put on, and when I first took them out of the box, I ripped one trying to pull it up my left leg. The pair was $50, so you can imagine how I felt pissing away that money with one fell swoop on the first day.

Still, I put them on again the next day, rip and all, and they were cutting off circulation around my ankles. So I went back to the looser compression stockings I had for the treatment of my wounds, doubling them up for added effect.

That's where I am today, learning to walk again — now without the cane — and learning to live in a way that I minimize the swelling in my legs until I can lose enough weight to keep my legs from swelling up in the first place. It's tough to balance these health issues and still maintain a normal life with work and family obligations, but it's something that must be done.

When I finish my next half marathon, I'll look back on this time knowing that I never want to go through this kind of recovery again. The Lake Placid Diet journal is a way to document difficult chapters in my life and motivate me to get healthy and stay that way. So far, it's working.

Friday, March 17, 2017

LAKE PLACID DIET: Having a dry St. Patrick's Day 2017

Start date (Dec. 22): 480
Last week: 450
This week: 452
Total lost: 28 lbs.

Yes, I want a drink today, but I've decided not to indulge.

Although I only made one New Year's resolution this year — to survive — I also made one big promise to myself. I would not drink alcoholic beverages in 2017.

This promise is being put to the test this week in a big way. St. Patrick's Day my favorite holiday of the year, as I've made it a tradition to have some Irish whiskey and Guinness stout with my corned beef and potatoes, listen to the Clancy Brothers and watch "The Quiet Man" to help celebrate my Irish heritage. Plus, this week's nor'easter — dumping about 3 feet of snow in my driveway, which I am still trying to remove — makes me want to drink even more.

Alas, I've been a good boy. I've refrained from succumbing to the temptation of the drink since New Year's Day, knock on wood. Yet with weeks like this one, I can tell it's going to be a long year.

"But you don't have a drinking problem," one person said to me.

No, I don't. I like to have some beer and liquor once in a while (I'm not too keen on wine), every couple of weeks, but I rarely get drunk. In my 19 years of marriage, I've been drunk less than a handful of times. At 47 years old, when I have a couple of drinks, I'm usually ready for a nap.

I may not have a drinking problem, but I certainly have an eating problem, and drinking alcoholic beverages makes my eating problem worse. Alcohol makes me hungry, and I can't control my hunger after a few drinks. That's why I've decided to stay away from alcohol this year.

My challenge is to find ways to deal with everyday stress and periodic celebrations in a different way, other than splurging on alcohol and junk food and overeating. I've found it's a great exercise, one that I hope can carry over to help deal with my eating problem. Since I am a stress eater and love to splurge on junk food when I'm celebrating — holidays, good news, etc. — there are correlations between alcohol and junk food. I've found that the triggers are similar, if not the same, and the fact is I don't really need either one to survive. I need to eat and drink, but I don't need to eat junk food or drink alcohol in order to stay alive. I hope this is a good learning experience for me, one that will have positive lasting effects on my relationship with food.

Meanwhile, I visited the Adirondack Health Wound Center for the last time on Thursday. After five weeks of treatment, my open wounds are healed! Although I'm glad to finally take a shower after three weeks of "bird bath" washing (the Unna boots on my legs could not get wet), and I'm happy that I'm finally healed after eight months of open wounds on my legs, I will miss visiting the Wound Center staff ever week. The nurses, receptionist and doctors are amazing. I even got a chance to meet a couple of registered nurse students. Overall, my Wound Center experience was extremely positive and I have no complaints.

There is one lasting effect on my time at the Wound Center. I will have to continue wearing compression stockings on my legs to keep them from swelling, at least until I can get my weight down enough to where it is not an issue. There's another motivational factor for my weight-loss program.

As far as my gout, it finally cleared up in time for the big snowstorm. With no chance of exercise during my 10-day gout attack, I now have plenty of exercise on my schedule. I began shoveling snow Tuesday night. As of Thursday morning, I had dug out Dawn's car and my car was still buried in the driveway. Once my car is removed, I still have to shovel a path to the backyard, shovel the dog's yard and rake the roofs I can reach.

I my not be having my whiskey or stout on St. Patrick's Day this year, but at least I'm getting a lot of fresh mountain air.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

LAKE PLACID DIET: Kicking a man when he's down

Start date (Dec. 22): 480
Last week: 453
This week: 450
Total lost: 30 lbs.

Last Thursday — a day after I had my Unna boots replaced by another pair (the wounds are healing nicely, by the way) — I felt as though the wrapping on my right foot was a little tight. That was the first sign of a much bigger problem.


It was bad enough spending most of the previous three weeks with my feet elevated — and that I now have to take "birdbath" showers because I can't get the Unna boots on both legs wet — my gout had unexpectedly returned after more than a year.

It was strange, since I was doing everything my doctor recommended to lower the uric acid in my blood: take medication, eat low-purine foods, stay away from alcoholic beverages. Stress, however, can elevate uric acids levels and cause an acute attack of gout. That's probably what happened, although I can't say for sure.

Stress? Yes, on top of the everyday stress of work, finances, etc., going through the process of healing the wounds in my legs has been stressful, mainly because I've been limited with my mobility and it's starting to drive me nuts.

When I returned from my shopping trip to Price Chopper in Lake Placid on Friday, my foot was bothering me even more. "I think I overdid it," I told my wife. I still though it was the dressing being wrapped too tight, and I walked around the house using a cane to ease the pressure in my foot.

"Maybe it's your gout," my wife said Saturday morning, as my foot/ankle discomfort had turned into pain.

She was right. I could barely walk on Saturday, putting aside the cane for a pair of crutches. Saturday night was the worst. The foot pain was so bad that I had to cut a few inches off the Unna boot over my foot to ease the pain a little. Still, I couldn't place a blanket on my foot because it hurt so bad. By the evening, I finally found an over-the-counter pill that lessened the swelling and eased the pain. My foot throbbed most of the night, and I couldn't get comfortable. I slept two hours at the most, on and off between 3:30 and 6:30 a.m. Sunday (the Watertown PBS station has some good programming that time of night).

Over the next four days, the gout slowly got better. On Monday, I traded in the crutches for the cane, which I am still using. The pain isn't 100 percent gone yet.

Needless to say, I have not been able to get any exercise since Friday; just walking around the house has been difficult. I feel a little better every day, and I can't wait to start training again for a 5k walking race.

While it's been a difficult week — and I've felt like someone decided to kick me when I was down — at least I was off from work this week, taking a "spring" vacation away from the newspaper business. So, if I was going to choose a time to have a gout attack, I couldn't have picked a better week.

There's always a silver lining, right?

(GET MORE INSPIRATION. The book "Lake Placid Diet: How the Olympic Village Saved My Life" documents the first 18 months of Andy Flynn's weight-loss journey, in which he lost 80 pounds and successfully walked the Lake Placid Half Marathon twice. Purchase the book here.)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

LAKE PLACID DIET: Power of visualization

(Author's note: This is a sample of a chapter in Andy Flynn's book, "Lake Placid Diet: How the Olympic Village Saved My Life." It was originally printed in the Lake Placid News in February 2014. The photo shows Andy Flynn finishing his first and only marathon on May 19, 2002 at the Paul Smiths VIC, age 32, weight 370 pounds.)

Sometimes when I’m in bed at night, I try to visualize a time when I was younger and more fit, hoping that the memory will either speed up my weight loss or keep me in the right frame of mind to guide me to my goals. So far, I’ve had no luck.

I simply can’t remember a time when I was fit, so I can’t transport my mind back to a place in time. Looking at my fifth-grade school photo, I see that I’d started looking a little chunky by the time I was 10 years old. My face and arms were puffy, and I was beginning to get a gut. I hadn’t ballooned, but I wasn’t skinny. I don’t remember any obesity problems earlier than age 12, but that was too long ago to create a mental time stamp.

So those nights in bed, straining my memory banks to find an inkling of inspiration, have been fruitless. But I’m not one to give up, so I’m creating a visualization plan to coincide with my weight-loss goals.

There are a lot of mixed messages out there about setting weight-loss goals. Some fitness experts and doctors say we shouldn’t set an overall goal because thinking about that big number can get overwhelming and depressing, and it will lead to failure due to the loss of motivation. Instead, they teach us to set small goals, which are repeated over and over, and that will eventually lead to a bigger number.

But I’m not afraid of a big number. In fact, without it, I wouldn’t have a motivational system to keep me going.

My big number is 220 pounds. That’s where I’d like to end up after this weight-loss journey ends. If I get lower than that, it would be nice, but I don’t have my heart set on it. The main reason is that 220 is a time stamp for me, and I can’t remember a time when I weighed less. I weighed 220 pounds when I left for college in August 1987, losing 30 pounds that summer after high school graduation. Even though I worked at McDonald’s, where the temptation to overeat junk food was constantly in my face, I remember eating a lot of grapefruit and playing a lot of tennis at the Municipal Park in Tupper Lake. I was active, and it felt great. Yet it was so long ago, and I was still technically obese, so I’ve lost that feeling of being 220 pounds. All I know is I’d like to get there again someday.

In order to reach my big number, I’ve created a series of smaller goals. How long will it take to lose 250 pounds? If it were up to me, I’d say a year, but reality always trumps ambition. I know losing 250 pounds in one year is not realistic, so my answer is that I’ll get there when I get there. Rest assured, I will definitely get there.

I’ve set aside my small goals in 5-pound increments, for the most part. Along this goal line, I’ve written time stamps and medium-sized goals in order to keep me motivated and help me attempt visualizing healthier times in my life.

(The book "Lake Placid Diet: How the Olympic Village Saved My Life" documents the first 18 months of Andy Flynn's weight-loss journey, in which he lost 80 pounds and successfully walked the Lake Placid Half Marathon twice. Purchase the book here.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

LAKE PLACID DIET: These Unna boots are made for walkin'

Start date (Dec. 22): 480
Last week: 457
This week: 453
Total lost: 27 lbs.

When I saw the doctor at the Adirondack Health Wound Center last week, she recommended that I wear an Unna boot on my left left to speed up the healing of the open sore on my shin, technically called a venous ulcer. I said, "Why don't we put the Unna boot on both legs?" I also have an open sore on the right leg, on my calf. She agreed.

So, for the past week, I've had Unna boots on both legs to speed up my recovery.

What's an Unna boot?

Simply put, it's a form of compression therapy. In 1896, German dermatologist Paul Gerson Unna invented a "boot" consisting of low compression gauze bandage with 10 percent zinc oxide paste, gelatin, glycerin and water. That's wrapped around the leg first, followed by other wrapping to keep the boot in place. It needs to be changed every seven days. In essence, it's like a soft, temporary cast — a semisolid mold.

The main drawback is that I can't get it wet. I've tried various methods of covering my legs with plastic in order to wash my body in the shower; however, I am unable to do that because of the way my fat is distributed in my legs. Therefore, I rely on a wash cloth for my daily body cleaning. Its a small price to pay for quicker healing.

The other drawback is that I have to keep my feet elevated whenever I sit, and I can't stand still for periods of time. The doctor wants to make sure I do what I can in order to keep my legs from swelling. My job at the newspaper requires me to sit for long periods of time, so I've had to work from home, writing, editing, laying out the newspaper, etc. with my legs elevated. I can't travel in my car for long periods, but I can make quick trips between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid to take photos and conduct interviews for the Lake Placid News.

The main benefit of using an Unna boot is that I don't have to stay in bed the entire time in order to keep my legs from swelling. Another benefit is that my legs are protected from potential scraping or bruising while they are covered with the Unna boot.

The doctor recommends walking. The Unna boot provides high pressure when the muscles are contracted, pumping excess fluid out of my legs, and small pressure while at rest. So the more I walk, the better.

When I woke up the morning of Monday, Feb. 20, I looked at the calendar on my phone, and it read, "Start Training for Half." That's shorthand for "Start training for the Lake Placid Half Marathon." I forgot I wrote that on my calendar a couple of months ago. I was being optimistic at the time. With my weight and ability at the time, I knew it would probably not be realistic to compete in the June 11 event this year, as I had done in 2014 and 2015, but I decided to start training anyway.

So, two days before the doctor put Unna boots on my legs, I headed to the Olympic Center to walk around the 1980 Rink in the Herb Brooks Arena. I surprised myself by walking 1 mile that day. That was the first day of training, not necessarily for the Lake Placid Half Marathon, but for some 5k in the late spring somewhere and a future half marathon, possibly in the fall, maybe the Lake Placid Classic. I can't wait to get back into competing in these races — walking, not running. Eventually, I'd like to get back to the Lake Placid Half Marathon. I'm emotionally attached to it because it was such a big part of my weight-loss success in 2014 and 2015.

On Wednesday, the nurse at the Wound Center took off the Unna boots, and my sores were healing fast, so the doctor prescribed another week with the Unna boots. She was hoping the smaller wound on my right calf could heal by next week. Fingers crossed. I figured I'll be wearing Unna boots until my sores heal.

In the meantime, I'm walking when I can. Last week, it was three times, including a half mile at the Saranac Lake High School track Saturday when the temperature was in the 50s (walking around goose poop and patches of ice). This week, I'll just keep plugging away, walking then resting, walking then resting. After all, these Unna boots are made for walking.