You’ve seen kids like this before so you
know what I am talking about.
I don’t know the polite words to describe
this kid so I’ll tell it like it is: This kid is fat.
I’m talking 210 pounds and about 5’5”. Call
it anything you like, but that is a fat kid. Thirteen years
old. Add to his tub of lard physique the fact that he is pretty
darn wretched looking. Bad acne, hasn’t had a decent
haircut in months and dresses like he gets his clothes from
a thrift shop. You know the type. It looks like he never gets
outside. Spends a lot of time in the basement; ugly, dumpy
It goes without saying that this kid can’t
play sports. Gym class at Junior High is a nightmare for him.
He is awful looking in shorts; a bathing suit is out of the
question (the acne on his back is worse than on his face).
He is always last to be picked for the team- if he is picked
at all. He never scores a goal, never hits a home run, never
makes a touchdown. When they have tests to see how many push-ups
he can do, he really can’t even do one properly. He’s
a human jelly roll with pizza flesh. Awful looking kid.
So this kid does anything he can to get out
of gym class. I mean anything. He tells the teacher he is
sick. He hides in the corner of the Library, fakes a limp.
Whatever it takes to avoid the humiliation and abuse of the
pool deck, the running track, the baseball diamond and worse
yet- the locker room- he’ll do it. As long as he doesn’t
have to take gym. The girls are on the field at the same time
as the boys. At 13, that only makes it worse.
Basically, this kid is a slacker. You only have
to look at him for a second to tell he probably has rotten
eating habits too. Junk food, ice cream, no exercise, no fresh
air. The kid’s a mess.
The one thing this kid does have going for him
is he reads a lot. Useless stuff mostly- Army stories, stuff
about mountain climbing, animals, sharks. The kid knows a
lot about useless stuff. So even that is a waste of time.
Some hard work and some exercise is what this
kid needs. But being a lazy, uncoordinated, zit-faced fat-ass
there is a slim chance you’ll ever get any work out
of this kid. He just sits in the basement doing nothing. That’s
a big problem with kids these days- they just sit around too
much. They expect the world to entertain them.
One day the kid gets called to the counselor’s
office at school. It has gone far enough. He has missed so
much gym class and done so poorly at phys ed they are putting
him in a special education class. That’s right, a special
ed class. The short bus, the “speds”. Hey, I know
it sounds bad- but it’s true. Let’s call a spade
In this special ed class there is a kid in a
wheelchair, a kid with one arm, a kid with, well, whatever
the politically correct term for “retarded” is
these days. Then there is this kid I’m telling you about-
the fat zit-faced kid. There are about fifteen kids in this
class, all of them have something wrong with them. Basically
this is a class of rejects. No point in mincing words people.
The guy teaching the special ed class is a phys
ed teacher named Mr. Newman. He is a tall, quiet, fit looking
fellow. His hair is neatly trimmed and precisely parted. He
dresses in the uniform of a physical education teacher. There
is a pocket on the chest of his polo shirt, a stop watch in
the pocket on a string around his neck along with two pens.
On the other side of the shirt is a patch that says “President’s
Council on Physical Fitness”. He wears glasses. Most
of the time he is holding a clip board with some type of roster
on it. Mr. Newman volunteered to take the special ed gym class.
He has a reputation around the school as a tough teacher.
Now he gets put into a special education gym
class so this is about the worst possible thing that can happen.
It’s official: He’s a sped. The other kids have
been telling him this for a few years now. Now the school
just made it official.
Welcome to class- Sped.
Class starts and Mr. Newman addresses the group
assembled before him: The dregs of the school. The rejects.
He tells them, “You each must come to class every day.
If you cannot come, I need to see a doctor’s note. A
note from your parents won’t work. If they have questions,
have them phone the school office. In this class you will
work hard, and you will see results.”
The fat kid, the kid with one arm, the kid in
the wheelchair, this group had heard it all before. Mr. Newman
“Most of you have never done a hard day’s
work in your life. You should come to my farm, there you would
do a hard days work. In here, you will work. If you can’t
run, you’ll walk. If you can’t walk, you’ll
swim, If you can’t walk or swim, you’ll lift weights.
You will always be doing something in this class, but you
will never be doing nothing.”
The fat kid had heard this before. It doesn’t
work. Really, nothing does. He’s trying to figure out
a way to get out of this.
A few weeks pass and the kid has been forced
to go to gym class. He walked, and then he jogged. He swam,
dove off the diving board. With no one else around, just the
few guys in the class, there wasn’t anyone to be embarrassed
in front of. They never picked teams in this class. These
fellows did not make fun of each other. They just each did
their thing. They were individuals.
What Mr. Newman promised them did start to happen.
Things did start to change. The fat kid could now do five
push-ups non stop and run an entire lap of the 440 yard track
without stopping once. That meant the fat kid could run an
entire quarter mile without stopping.
So, what Mr. Newman told the guys at the beginning
of the class was true: You work hard, you see results.
Yeah, this fat kid was a mess, but things were
looking better. There was improvement.
The class continued for the next year and by
then the fat kid couldn’t get enough of it. It was the
one thing in his life where, if he really applied some effort,
he saw results. The reading and writing came easy to him.
He always did well with that. His sister taught him to enjoy
books. She lived in Africa now. He read books about Africa.
One was by Ernst Hemmingway called “The Short Happy
Life of Francis Macambre” It told the story of a guy
beat down by the people around him who finally had the strength
to stand up for himself. He kept reading and writing and running
Two years later the kid got a job sweeping the
floor and taking out the trash in a little Bike Shop in Detroit
called Schuman’s Schwinn Cyclery. The owner, Randy Schuman,
lent him a bike. He rode it back and forth to work after school.
He kept riding, kept running. What Mr. Newman told him stuck
with him: “Work hard, you’ll get results.”
Four years later the kid actually ran a marathon
all by himself. Imagine that, this fat kid who was over 200
pounds and only 5’5” was now about 5’9”
and less than 150 pounds. He actually finished a marathon.
Along the way he remembered what Mr. Newman said, “If
you work hard, you will see results.” At the end of
the marathon he got a finisher’s medal. From special
ed gym class to marathon finisher.
Flash forward about ten years. The kid had been
in the Army, gone to college, set physical training records
in the Army for the fastest 15 mile road march with a 30 pound
pack and graduated as the Company Honor Graduate. He also
finished the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. Nothing would stop
the fat kid anymore. Now his skin was clear and he was 145
pounds and 5’9” tall.
Ten more years and he had done over a hundred
triathlons, climbed mountains, raced in the jungle and in
the Antarctic and the Sahara Desert. He had parachuted out
of jet planes and SCUBA dived with sharks. He skied, snowboarded,
skateboarded and surfed. He had been to Europe to race bicycles
for a real bike racing team and won his state bicycle championships
Eventually this kid who had been so fat they
put him in a special ed gym class had been around endurance
sports and bicycles so long he opened his own bike shop. No
one remembered he was the fat, ugly kid. Everyone forgot about
how he was in the special ed gym class. Everyone except him.
He thought of it every time he went out to train. The thought
of how far he had come and how hard it had been but that it
had finally worked kept him going. He was never going back.
This was the one thing in the kid’s life that had always
given back to him when he gave to it. If he worked hard, he
saw results. It was what Mr. Newman told him.
By now about 32 years had gone by. He’d
raced on every continent now, all seven. Climbed the highest
mountain on three. He had done some of the longest adventure
races in the world- The Eco-Challenge, The Raid Gauloises
and the Marathon des Sables. At the World Championship of
Desert Racing in Jordan he was the top American finisher.
He finished over 200 triathlons, five Ironmans.
Almost every single day, and always during tough
races around the world, the fat kid thought back to his gym
teacher, Mr. Newman: “If you work hard, you will see
results”. So he made it a point to never give up, no
matter what. When it was hard, he worked harder. Mr. Newman
It’s hard to imagine what would have happened
to this kid had he not had the good fortune of crossing paths
with Mr. Newman, the gym teacher. Mr. Newman was the first
person to really take an interest in his well-being. The first
person to tell him something that was really true. The first
person to hold him accountable for the work he needed to do
to be better. If it hadn’t been for Mr. Newman the kid
would have never amounted to much. He was lucky he had been
put in that special ed gym class. As it turned out, that teacher
and that class gave him the direction he needed to define
himself and decide the course of his adult life- from overweight
13 year old to experienced endurance athlete. The Dearborn
Public School system was behind the idea for the special education
gym class that gave this kid a new outlook on life, one that
would last his entire life. If the things we achieve in life
are tied directly to our self image and self esteem then the
Dearborn Public School scored a victory with this one boy.
They changed his life for the better; put him on the right
So it looked like the fat kid was completely
gone, at least from the outside. But the fat kid never really
was completely gone. There was always a little of that fat
kid left inside him, for better and for worse, no matter how
far he had traveled or how much he had raced. There was always
the fat kid in the special ed gym class inside him. And also
in his mind Mr. Newman’s voice was always there to reassure
him that if he worked hard, he would see results.
Especially when the kid eventually sat
down and wrote this.