While twiddling my thumbs at an Anchorage health fair a few weeks ago, a gal approached my booth (just the second person to come by in over 2 hours, mind you) and asked what "Make Yourself" was about.
I gave my twenty second awkward spiel and then immediately diverted the conversation back to her lead (my close friends will tell you I'm not a huge fan of talking about myself, my mentor would then tell me that, that's bad business).
However, today it worked for the better, because this wonderful lady, Marie, or 'Rie as she endearingly introduced herself, had the most incredible story to tell about her and her husband, Dave.
One thing lead to another, and I sat across from Dave this past Saturday to learn more about his dramatic 100lb. weight loss transformation.
Dave was an active young man back in the day, going for 50k skis and playing on various soccer teams. Then life happened, as it tends to do to us all, and the time for himself shrank.
Before long, this full time volcanologist, dad, and husband, found himself inactive, overweight, and in the doctor's office staring at the hard truth that his weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other numbers, were all outside of a healthy range.
“I felt like I was being a bit of a hypocrite as a scientist to not follow the advice of people who have decades of experience and study, just as I would be irritated if I were in that position [as a volcanologist]."
The Turning Point
When 18 years old, Dave's father tragically passed away at the young age of 53, and last year at age 51, Dave recognized that he didn't want to follow the same path and be around to see his two kids grow up.
This, along with some uncomfortable nerve pain, led his doctor to recommend a change in his diet and to incorporate exercise into his life. Soon after, Dave enlisted the help of a dietitian to help him get on the right track with his diet.
Recognizing Dave's love of numbers the dietitian gave him three parameters to track: calories, carbs, and fiber.
He used a free app to track these things, and abided to what he (very Alaskan-like) calls the "Grizzly Bear Diet", where he didn't restrict anything like fad diets mislead you to do. It was all about making good choices based on professional guidance.
He made the investment to put an elliptical in his home, and carved 45 minutes out of his day, everyday, to spend working out. He swapped his daily dine out lunch habit for a homemade salad and whole wheat turkey sandwich, and found dinner meals he enjoyed, but were also good choices.
All of these factors, combined with the support and gentle encouragement of 'Rie, he started to watch the extra pounds start to come off.
"It was like ‘okay this is what I’m eating’, and I burned a lot of sweat, I mean this isn’t easy. One third of me entered the atmosphere as heat, water, and carbon dioxide. I like that image, a third of me sort of up there in the atmosphere.”
No one was more shocked with the weight loss than Dave himself, who confessed that "I didn't think it was possible to lose weight and be more fit. I thought that ‘I missed my opportunity.’ But you don’t know until you try, it does take discipline, but do you want to do this or not? It’s easy to rationalize that sitting and watching one more football game or eating a whole pizza by yourself isn’t going to matter in the big picture, but it does.”
There came a point where he plateaued and it bummed him out so he tried compensating with more exercise to overcome the hump, but realized that sometimes ”your body just needs to readjust and [my advice] is to not fixate on that, get through that and realize that [plateauing] can happen.”
"This is my story, this has worked okay for me, and I recognize that some people really, really struggle, and the way I did it may not work for everyone."
Responsible Weight loss
A take away from my talk with Dave that I personally love and will recommend to my clients in the future, is his rule of thumb, which, for all intents and purposes we will call "The Dave Rule": If you are going to have something that you enjoy, which isn't the healthiest thing, make sure it's good. Don't eat crappy pizza, if you are going to have pizza, it better be the best.
When asked how important he thought it was to still eat the things he enjoys, Dave responded, “I think I denied myself those things for a pretty long time, so now I’m willing to just let myself enjoy it a bit more. I see other fit people eating these things so I realized you probably can’t eat this kind of stuff while you are trying to lose weight, but you can have them every now and then when you are trying to maintain weight. There’s a big difference.”
“None of this is outrageous, I still eat foods that I enjoy. Otherwise you’re just going to be miserable.” Another thing I really recommended to people is to talk to a dietitian, don’t try to do this on your own. And talk to a good dietitian, if you don’t like the person you meet with, go find someone else.”
In closing, Dave still continues to learn and grow on his journey, now starting to focus on weight training to build muscle and increase his resting metabolic rate to stop burning through muscle with all his aerobic exercise.
He is now energized by life and continues to be motivated by progress, gains, and improvement in his appearance and health. As he continues to scale all of Anchorage's mountains, his motto "It's a great day for up" seems to resonate through every aspect of his new and improved quality of life! Thank you for sharing your story, Dave! You are an inspiration to us all.
An evening summer breeze blew off the sea, making the strands of seaweed stuck to the net from last years salmon season wave back at my uncle as he scanned the horizon at the fleet of boats behind him.
This small marine army off the coast of Alaska's Aleutian Chain were eagerly anticipating a radio broadcast announcing the opening of the commercial salmon season.
It was an early morning, 4:30am, but the sun was just coming up illuminating a beautiful pink glow across the sky.
There was a buzz around the boat of the crew's nervous excitement to set the first net and start making the massive amounts of money that had driven them to leave the comfort of their homes in "civilization" to embark an an Alaskan adventure.
They knew this was just the beginning of the first long day in an even longer summer surrounded by the same other two crew members and a demanding captain, all whom would desperately start needing showers after four or five consecutive 16 hour work days.
What makes us Alaskan
For many Alaskans, fishing is a center-point of the summer. Whether it’s recreational, commercial, running a charter, or for subsistence, the majority of folks get out on the water at some point to try their luck.
My childhood was spent either in the island town of Kodiak or the remote fishing village of Chignik Lagoon. You see, my dad and his side of the family grew up on Kodiak Island and he met my mom when he ventured off "the rock" one summer to fish in Chignik, where my mom and her side of the family lived.
At about 33% Aleut, a type of Alaskan Native indigenous to the southwest Alaska, my uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, parents, and siblings have all cleaned hundreds to thousands of fish during their lifetimes.
In fact, the ability to clean fish well is one of the unspoken criteria my mom checks off on boyfriend approval for yours truly.
Meanwhile, me over here has never cleaned a fish and to be perfectly honest, it gives me the heebie jeebies. Even prepping fish that has already been filleted makes my tummy turn a bit.
I know, it’s ridiculous, especially if you are a Native Alaskan reading this, but don’t judge me! I have strengths in cleaning other things like barbells and dishes.
Reasons to eat wild instead of farmed
Hopefully, you are not as ridiculous as I am when it comes to cleaning and cooking fish, as it has the highest omega-3 content of any food.
Salmon in particular contains more than 4,000mg per serving as well as large amounts of magnesium, potassium, selenium, and B-vitamins.
Farm to table movement
Economy & Community: Fishermen are not fans
Nutrition: Wild salmon are superior
Whether you're a sushi or seafood lover, inquire about your next salmon purchase. Feel free to comment questions, experiences, or concerns!
Environmental Impacts. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2017, from http://www.farmedanddangerous.org/salmon-farming-problems/environmental-impacts/
Flatt, C. (2017, August 29). Why Are Atlantic Salmon Being Farmed In The Northwest?
Retrieved September 13, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/08/29/546803147/why-are-atlantic-salmon-being-farmed-in-the-northwest
Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture, Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia, May 2007. Final Report, P.1.
Foran, J.A. D.H. Good, D.O. Carpenter, MC Hamilton, BA Knuth, and S.J. Schwager. (2005). Quantitative Analysis of the Benefits and Risks of Consuming Farmed and Wild Salmon. Journal of Nutrition. 135:2639-2643.
The last few days of our trip came to an end in the village of Point Hope, Alaska where we were fortunate to get a glimpse of the Inupiaq (northern-most Alaskan natives) way of life.
Between salmonberry picking with an elder, a camper showing us a home video of some of the villagers harpooning a whale, walking/driving around the village, and sharing stories with the kids and their parents, we were marveled by their lives.
We frequented the one restaurant in town almost twice a day, as the coolers of food that we had packed and shipped 4 days prior had spoiled due to mishandling by the airline we sent it on.
The average price of a typical meal here repeatedly gave me sticker shock, coming out to about $22 per person.
If we wanted a pizza, that would gouge us for $39 for just a standard size.
The store was no better, where a necessity like ice cream cost nearly $14.
A Kid's Life
Watch out folks, this is the type of player who shows up at a Division I program with an incredible childhood story (think Kamaka Hepa of Barrow or Ruthy Hebard of Fairbanks).
It's amazing to see basketball light up someones day or even change someones life. It gives kids who grow up in a tough, remote part of the world, opportunities they otherwise might not have.
It could be their way into college, and their way out of teen pregnancy, substance abuse, or all the other realities that come with growing up in a small place. #thankful
It's a strange feeling when you climb into an airplane fuselage that's smaller than a suburban.
You start to question whether or not this is a good idea, and imagine a scene similar to Final Destination where the airplane propeller that is an arms length away from you outside, just randomly dislodges and slices through the side of the plane and your body in one fell swoop.
I know, that was a bit graphic so I apologize.
Big & His Small Plane
Our pilot, Big, who I think is about as old as me (but confidently states that he was born and raised flying) picked us up in a single prop coffin, I mean plane, with a little hole in the window.
My skepticism for the safety of our lives continued to grow. The plane engine revved up, while Alysha prayed for our lives in the back, and we took flight.
I was relieved that we didn't immediately crash or the wings of the plane fall off from our weight, and the stress of the trip was slowly replaced by the amazing landscape we were flying over.
The Arctic coast I'm sure has a totally different look about it in the winter, but during the summer it is a beautiful cascade of greens.
We flew so low over some of the mountains I felt like I could reach out and high five a mountain goat, while other mountains looked like ocean waves that had been frozen in time.
The water to our right was endless, and incredible to think that the only thing beyond that was ice.
Once we landed in Point Hope (thank the Lord), we clambered out of the plane like clowns. The gal picking us up immediately laughed, because it looked so unrealistic that 6 oversized people could fit into that small space.
She drove us down a paved road (yes, paved!) and through the village to the house the boys would be staying at.
The place looked like a normal house, with sofas, a TV, plenty of food and other household items. A sweet set up for a village of 692.
She then proceeded to take us girls to our house. When we opened the door, we heard the buzzing sound of 20 flies taking off, smelt a mustiness that indicated the place hadn't been aired out in awhile, and when we flipped on the light saw an empty room with two dusty sofas and dead flies littering the floor.
I immediately let comparison steal my joy and tried very hard to see the positives. Shaina remarked, "Well I haven't been camping yet this year," and we couldn't help but laugh.
Might I mention, I also felt pretty guilty, because the girls were with me in this little, unloved house because of my dog allergies (the "mansion" was also home to a large German Sheppard named Duke). Ugh.
Anyway, living arrangement aside, this little place is so dang cool.
It is its own little world out in the middle of no where, but the people we've encountered have been so kind and hospitable.
An elder and one of the gals who works for ASRC took us on a four-wheeler ride down the coast where we passed two beached whales, a dead fox, and were warned we could pass the body of a young man who capsized in his kayak a year back. The Arctic is cruel.
We eventually arrived to an area where we could pick low bush salmonberries (high bush grow in the southern regions of Alaska).
We all felt very Alaskan in that moment, even Garry who is from Washington D.C. and hesitates to share any of our experience with his fiancé until we've arrived where we are going, safely.
We are all curious to see the turn out of kids in a village that is 3 times the size of the last, and has a reputation for loving basketball. In fact, their girls team came to the UAA Team Camp and there were quite a few ballers on their little squad!
In a village of 247 people and a school population of 100, where there is little to do during any season of the year, we arrived in awe of the small, arctic village of Point Lay.
We also hadn’t the slightest clue how many kids would arrive to each session.
If 25 arrived for the elementary group and 25 to the high school group, we’d be doing pretty well for ourselves at 50% of the school population (a commendable percentage at any school across the nation).
Well, as the starting time of 1:00pm hit for the first day of the elementary aged session, 4 kids trickled in. 15 minutes passed and a dad dropped off his two daughters and simultaneously tried to sell us some ivory hand carved rings.
At half past one, we gave up on waiting for any more kids and started with yes, a total of 8. An hour goes by and a few more kids trickle in, and by 3pm with an hour left in camp, the size had expanded to 18 kids.
Long story short, there is literally no concept of time up north where the sun never sets during the summer or rises in the winter.
It could be 1pm or 1am, and if you don’t have a watch there is no way of telling the difference. But if there’s one thing everyone knows in a village, it’s when something is going on.
What do they do?
I was very curious to learn about what life is like for these kids.
By the looks of it, there wasn’t much to do besides sit inside or bike from one end of the road to the other, which would take all of 10 minutes.
Point Lay, and many small villages like it, is classified as a “dry” village, essentially meaning alcohol is restricted due to modern day prohibition.
There are no malls, movie theaters, only one small convenience store, no paved road or runway.
The main attraction is the school, where kids gather not only to learn, but to partake in activities. The state of Alaska and each native region’s respective corporation (in the case of Point Lay, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, who in fact sponsored us to put on this camp) invests a lot of money into their schools and thus they are modern in a place that looks nothing from the present.
However unexciting the village may seem, for the kids, this also creates opportunities to be inventive. When asked what they do in their free time, four girls lit up with smiles and said they play a game after curfew called piqasaurak, in Inupiaq.
The one marshal in town will patrol streets after the village curfew, and the kids will give him something to do just as much as themselves by sneaking around and trying not to get caught. A grander version of hide and sneak, if you will.
Much like an urban city, what keeps the kids out of trouble and moving in a positive direction is activity, and the king of all activity in remote Alaska is one of the most accessible sports to play, basketball.
They are fully equipped here with round abouts of 40 basketballs, a gym, and even outdoor court.
How do they survive?
When asked about the harsh winters, the locals said that it’s common for temperatures to drop well below freezing (~average -18 degrees F), that pipes freeze for days at a time, forcing residents to use honey-buckets (yes an actual bucket) instead of toilets and to be okay without showering.
Blizzards will sometimes be so strong that if you are brave enough to leave the safety of your home, it is difficult to see past a hand length in front of you, giving a whole new meaning to what constitutes a snow day.
Tragedies do occasionally result due to the harsh temperatures and winter conditions, for example a few years back, a father and son were trapped inside their home because of the snow and froze to death.
Alaska truly may be the deadliest state of all.
For the Love of the Game
Despite how different their lifestyle is compared to the “normal” person, the villagers love where they live and are proud of it. They also love the game of basketball.
We have nothing in common with them, except for the game, and with it we were able to relate and see their personalities come to life. So far, this has been a highly rewarding experience for everyone involved.
The crazy travel and sleeping on airbeds in classrooms is totally worth it when you can see the difference it makes to these kids. We are grateful the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) requested we put this on!
Our next stop will be Point Hope, where I hope to learn even more about the amazing Inupiat people and their home, and share their way of life with you!