Vail Daily column: Set goals for where you want to be |

Vail Daily column: Set goals for where you want to be

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Hiking the Hanging Lake trail is the quintessential outdoor summer experience. The proximity to Interstate 70, and the relatively short walk culminating in the beautiful scenery at the top promote the popularity of the excursion.

As we pulled into the trailhead parking lot last week, we encountered overwhelming crowds. There wasn’t a parking space available as cars overflowed onto the exit ramp shoulder. It resembled the Frontage Road in Vail on a busy Saturday.

Of the few hundred hikers on the trail, it was astonishing how many medically obese. I observed at least a dozen substantially overweight hikers, most of whom weighed over 300 pounds, attempting the ascent. It was quite inspirational.

As I’ve mentioned before, I struggled with obesity as a child. The hike last week highlighted some memories from my early adolescence. Even at my peak of around 260 pounds as a child, I still maintained a reasonable level of athleticism. I was never the best athlete in any sport. I was always a B student with athletics and better than most kids, but I was never the best. The overpowering thought I had on the hike was reminiscing about being capable as a medically overweight child. I was still able to ski well, skate reasonably fast, run faster than most kids and was never the last to be picked for dodgeball. Being fat isn’t necessarily a death sentence, folks.

The dozen hikers we passed on the ascent were not thwarted by their condition. I witnessed several overweight people taking long breaks, sweating, stumbling and clawing their way to the top. I saw many of these champions crowned victors as they celebrated a picnic lunch above God’s creation. Is Hanging Lake a challenging hike? Not from a practical sense. That’s really not the point. The hike was assuredly challenging for the handful of obese hikers. It wasn’t as if they were waiting for their life to begin once they got into better shape. This was their current state, and they were putting in the effort.

Fitness and fatness not mutually exclusive

From a fitness perspective, we all know that being fat is more dangerous than being thin. The risk factors for disease are proportional to an increasing waistline. But fitness and fatness aren’t mutually exclusive. I have seen many fat people who are quite fit by definition. Remember, fitness is the ability to perform a specific task with skill and precision. Severely overweight people can ski, hike, play hockey and ride a bike. Sometimes obese people can do these things quite well. I’m not advocating that it’s OK to be overweight. Rather, it’s exceptional to embrace the state you’re in, evaluate the situation and make courageous decisions to move forward.

So often in the fitness world we get tunnel vision and only see the goal. We need to start embracing the experience the journey provides on the way.

The implications go deeper than fitness. How many people do you know that are always waiting for the right circumstances to get their act together? Young couples waiting to get married because they don’t have enough money. Less than fit people waiting to start their fitness program because life’s just too busy right now. People who fail to execute a business venture because they don’t feel the timing is right. The immediate point is that I encourage you to stop making excuses and just get on with it. Have you been waiting to start the journey of weight loss? As June Carter would sing, “Time’s a wastin’.”

Another important consideration is to strive for wellness and performance, not attempt to fit into an unrealistic dress size. I was coaching a student through an exercise of acceptance yesterday. Linda is fit by all measurable standards. She would like to lose 10-20 pounds. Could she afford to lose a few pounds? Of course. But is she healthy? Absolutely. Linda’s medical health is without concern. Health should always be the goal above all other expected outcomes. You can still live a high quality of life and enjoy recreational pursuits even if you aren’t the thinnest.

At the end of the day, celebrate where you are and set goals for where you want to be. Even though you should accept where you are, don’t accept staying that way. Stop making excuses and make changes today. The hefty hikers last Tuesday weren’t making excuses. Start hiking your way to the top of the place you want to be. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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