A Corporate Athlete® Course Graduate Story - My Mission is Clear

by Barry Mitsch

For years I had known about the Corporate Athlete® program, as it was a popular offering in a couple of our client companies. In December of 2013, I finally signed up for the 2.5-day course in Orlando as a professional development gift to myself that year.

I arrived in Florida ready to get the most out of the program and I was not disappointed. A lot of valuable information, fun exercises, and personal reflection. I sequestered myself in my hotel room each night to complete the homework and arrived early each morning to HPI, early enough to catch a few quiet moments with Dr. Loehr, who personally reviewed and approved my mission.

The concepts and tools provided by the Corporate Athlete program laid the groundwork for a simple, efficient, and reliable workout regimen. I have always exercised regularly, but one of the key lessons from the Corporate Athlete program was learning how to exercise efficiently. Interval training for aerobic fitness made perfect sense and I had been neglecting any resistance training thinking it was not as important at my age (rapidly approaching 60). The Corporate Athlete team also encouraged me to try early morning workouts. My inner voice had always said I was not a morning workout person and historically, had always targeted lunch or late evening for exercising. I was willing to give it a shot when I got home.

Returning from Orlando, I dove right into my new routine. Fortunately, I had all the fitness equipment I needed at home. A Stairmaster for interval training, a bench, and some free weights for resistance training. Getting up at 6AM had never been a problem, but now the first order of business in my day was to get in some exercise. I grabbed a light snack and hit the workout room. Efficient 30-minute workouts that alternated between aerobic interval training (3X/week) and resistance training (2X/week). Before attending Corporate Athlete, my workout routine was sporadic at best and now I felt it was much more effective. I supplemented interval and resistance work with one to two visits to my Bikram yoga studio each week for flexibility, typically one 6AM workout a week and one on Saturday morning.

Very quickly I started to see the benefits of early morning exercise. It was like charging up my body with energy for the day. I could easily finish my workout and be at the office or a meeting by 8AM. Making exercise a morning priority meant there was little room for interference from schedule changes or other life events that often got in the way of that lunchtime or evening workout I intended to do that day.

Other insights from Orlando included facing the truth physically. I always thought I was fairly lean, but the Bod Pod said otherwise. I needed to work on increasing my lean muscle and that’s where the incorporation of some resistance training would help. Blood chemistry tests showed I was seriously deficient in vitamin D and my cholesterol was a little high. This information made me more determined to use the interval and strength training routine I adopted from Corporate Athlete and turn those numbers around.

Six months after the Orlando session I was feeling better than ever. I went for my annual physical and everything looked good except for a slightly elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen) level. After visiting a urologist, the decision was made to do a biopsy of the prostate gland. Two weeks later I heard the words we all fear..."You have cancer." The doctor was quick to clarify that while I had cancer, my diagnosis was the best possible outcome for someone who tested positive. I have what is termed low grade, low volume disease. There was no hurry in making a decision on treatment.

Prostate cancer, as I learned, is a unique animal. While the number one type of cancer in men, after skin cancer, it is nearly 100% curable if caught in the early stages. It's a very slow growing cancer. There are basically four treatment options: radiation; surgery; hormone therapy; and active surveillance, which is essentially monitoring the disease without treatment.

For the next six months I immersed myself in what I defined as "cancer school." I had numerous visits with urologists, radiation oncologists, and cancer survivors, read countless books and articles about the disease, and even did a fundraiser for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Eventually I became convinced that surgery was the way to go for three reasons: 1) the experts seemed to favor surgery for younger patients with early stage disease since it nearly guaranteed a cure; 2) my primary urologist said that in his 20 years of practice he never had a patient who chose active surveillance who did not eventually have treatment...so why not do it now when I am physically fit; and 3) I already had a very healthy lifestyle with exercise and proper diet, yet I still had cancer. What else could I possibly do?

Surgery was scheduled and cancelled twice for various reasons. I sought another opinion and still came away thinking surgery was best and scheduled the procedure once again. And then informal discussions with two more urologists turned the tide. One urologist I knew from my yoga practice and the other was a student in our company's coach certification program. After hearing my situation and diagnosis, both said "You don't have to do that" - meaning surgery. I did some additional research and finally felt 100% comfortable with a decision. Active surveillance it was.

It's now been 20 months since attending the Corporate Athlete program and over a year since being diagnosed with cancer. And I have never felt better. I have maintained my exercise routine and it has become a habit I look forward to whether I am at home, traveling for business, or vacationing on a cruise ship. What I learned in Orlando was that I could get in an efficient workout anywhere. Give me a chair, a wall, and my iPhone and I can get a workout in. Even the smallest hotel chains have a fitness room with some sort of aerobic machine, a bench, and some free weights.

My mission is clear. Cancer has become my workout partner. On the days when I think I might want to skip a workout, cancer gives me that extra nudge to get out of bed. Through nutrition, exercise, and a positive attitude - all the things that were reinforced by Corporate Athlete - I want to give my body all the tools it needs to promote health. I believe it can happen and if it does not, my new fitness level will make any treatment much more tolerable.

Since the cancer diagnosis, I have made changes in my eating habits using the recommendations from Corporate Athlete and doing some research about cancer prevention. I have gone vegetarian with the exception of eggs and fish. No processed foods, no refined sugars (with the exception of dessert on Saturday night as a reward for the week), minimal white starches, and added selected anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements to my diet. The entire Corporate Athlete team has been very helpful as I made these changes, making sure I still got enough protein, maintained a balanced diet, and efficient workouts.

In addition to the nutrition and workouts, cancer has also re-energized my sense of adventure and motivation to seek out new challenges. In the past year I have completed two 50-plus mile rides on my ElliptiGo bike, gone sky diving, backpacked in the Great Smoky Mountains, and hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. I have always been motivated to stay fit because these are the types of experiences that give me joy and I have many more to accomplish before I leave the planet. But now I have even extra motivation and a more powerful wellness approach from my Corporate Athlete training.

Last month I had another biopsy. The results indicated no growth of the cancer over the past year. My PSA levels are trending down. Every health marker measured in Orlando has improved. People tell me that I am doing the "work" required to beat cancer. But I don't look at this as work. It's simply making choices to optimize health and developing positive habits that have become routine. It's not working, it’s living.