Playing Hookie on Life

Playing hookie

If you write a blog, are writing a book, or are a journalist of some sort or another, you are always looking for content.  Invariably, if you are paying attention, someone will say something that gives you exactly what you need for your next topic.

Sometimes, it hits you immediately.  Sometimes it sinks in later that day, or even in the dead of night.  Somehow in regards to the latter, your subconscious was paying attention (that is funny right there), and didn’t let it slip by.  This happened to me today.

In getting a final tune up at my doctor’s prior to our departure for sunny California on September 14th, my doctor, who is awesome by the way, said “doesn’t it feel like you are playing hookie on life”?  It immediately resonated with me because I always play close attention to my doctor.  After all, she did originally set me on a path to get treated, and just in time I might add.

Here is the definition of playing hookie, according to some “slang dictionary”: Play hookie (verb): Skipping school, missing classes, taking as extended lunch, skipping out of work for the day/afternoon just to have fun. (It kind of fits here).

So, once I processed that comment, my first thought was, yes, it does feel that way. After all, we will be taking a hiatus from work (although for more than just a day/afternoon), we sold our home, so no need to pay taxes or mow the lawn.  A lot of life’s responsibilities with either be put on hold, or are gone for good. But then I thought, many of those things have been replaced by other responsibilities, and some are much larger in scope, although most are likely temporary.

For example, the planning of the route across America; the setting up places to stay; monitoring my health throughout the trip; making sure I am eating right and getting enough calories; RV maintenance and troubleshooting (there is always something to fix); promoting the event; keeping up with filings, regulations, etc., and of course, figuring out the finances for this endeavor.  I didn’t even mention the physical demands this walk is going to take on my almost 56 year-old body, or planning for the unexpected (unwelcome critters, trouble, ailments).  It didn’t take long to realize that life didn’t get all that much easier, it just changed.

Now, am I happy that a lot of those mundane tasks and obligations are gone?  Absolutely. I do realize however, that the next 7 months or so are not going to be a walk in the park, no pun intended.  We will be doing what we can to enjoy the moments and take in all the beautiful scenery and people this country has to offer.  In that regard, it will seem like we are playing hookie, however, we do have a lot of work in front of us to make this a meaningful adventure.  By that I mean to keep the purpose of the walk front and center, and to inspire others to get up and get moving.

Our goal is to make a bit of a splash in opening people’s eyes about what it takes to be heart healthy.  We want to inspire people as I stated above, but more than that, to bring heart disease to the collective forefront of people’s minds.  We feel that many have lost focus on their own heart health, and that heart disease has become somewhat overlooked as of late.

One last comment before I conclude.  I have often believed that people should take a reprieve from life’s crazy demands.  I had thought that six months to a year away from everyday life, to go do something, anything, that they want to do, would be awesome, especially when you are in your early 40’s (hey, maybe 56 is the new early 40’s).  In theory, it makes so much sense.  In practice, I realize that it is hard to do.

Whether it be financial constraints, job demands, kid obligations, or anything else, breaking away from it all, midlife, is difficult.  But why can’t it be done?  Think about what is holding you back and look at your priorities and see if it is right for you.  I will bet, in many cases, not all, but many, that it makes sense and will be one of the most fulfilling things you do while on this crazy ride called life.  Give it some thought, even if only for a brief moment.  Consider all the details.  If it doesn’t feel right, or you are just not comfortable with the risk, then don’t do it. Maybe it is something you can reassess down the road.  Sometimes it is all about timing.

However, if you do find the courage to jump in head first, make a good plan, and then do it with gusto and don’t look back.  It may help you avoid that end of life regret that you didn’t take a chance in life, or chase a dream when you could.  Just a thought.



Humbling Experience

Jefferson Awards

When I decided to walk across America for heart disease, I knew it was the right thing to do.  When we decided to start a nonprofit to help others, it sure felt right, although the red tape, regulations, and legalities made me wonder a bit.  Since that time, there have been moments when I thought, geez, it would have been much easier to retire and play golf.

Retirement dreams come in all sorts of sizes and packages, but I’m really not ready for that.  Yep, I ditched the corporate America job, and as I said in my book, I pretty sure I am heading down the right path.  It is a calling, it is what I am “supposed to do”, and in turn, it is probably the hardest thing I have ever done.  It requires reinventing yourself, and at age 54, I wondered if I was up for the task.

My first thought was to improve my value to the newly formed organization, relating to heart health, of course.  I figured it was probably too late to go to med school, so the idea was to learn about fitness, an integral part of heart health.  I studied for, and passed, the National Academy of Sports Medicine exam to become a Certified Personal Trainer, which, is no easy task.  It took about 6 months and was as hard as any college class I have taken.  Either that, or studying when you are older is harder (probably a combination of both).  At least this time I was sober when taking the exam lol, just kidding, we did drink a bit in college, but I never took an exam drunk, at least as far as I can remember.

Anyways, with my CPT in hand, I decided to get another accreditation, this time another three-letter acronym starting with the letter “C” CPR.  That was easy.  So, move on to the next step, get certified to teach CPR.  Done.  The last piece is to become nutrition certified.  I have that in the plans for the next few months.

All of this knowledge will help our organization, and help me help others learn how to live more heart healthy, but it is a long tough road.  Who would blame me for either semi-retiring, now at age 55, or going back into the familiar world of telecommunications?  Believe me, I have thought about it often.  Fold up shop, give our money to another worthy charity, and take the path of least resistance.

Then came the Jefferson Awards, which is a pretty big deal, after all, Joe Torre was being honored for his good work, and was the keynote speaker.  Other national honorees over the years include John Glenn and Condeleezza Rice, holy cow, this is a big deal.

My friend, and one of Walk For The Beat’s board members, whose heart is in the right place, happens to work for Vodafone.  They are a large telecom company  with a presence here in the United States, and they happen to be a sponsor for the Jefferson Awards.  Therefore, they participate, and internally select “exceptional employees” to represent their company at the ceremony.

To be considered an exceptional employee, you must demonstrate that you did something good for your community.  Mark told our story to Vodafone, he was nominated by a peer, and we were selected for an award, and a grant from the company.  How cool is that?  In doing so, we were invited to attend the Jefferson Awards, which was being held in Washington D.C.  Excellent, this would provide us some visibility, a couple of days in the nation’s capital, and a few bucks to put towards our cause, or at least that’s what I thought would be most beneficial.

Not so fast mister.  Sure those are nice things, but what we walked away with was more valuable in our humble opinions, and I use the “humble” word, purposefully.  Let me start by telling you about the Jefferson Awards.  They honor people and organizations that have dedicated their lives to helping others.  We were able to listen to 60+, one minute speeches from these good folks, about what they are doing, and of course why.  it was awe-inspiring.

For about two hours, it was an endless stream of tears, not so much in listening to the challenges they faced in their lives, but for the impact they are having on others.  One that really has stuck with me, was a young girl, now probably in her mid 20’s, who was bullied in Jr. High School.  It was so bad, that she wrote a note to her parents telling them how much she loved them, but she decided that she couldn’t take living like that anymore.  It was a suicide note.  The bullies convinced her that she was worthless.  She attempted suicide, and fortunately, she failed.

Many therapy sessions later, she is a sophomore in college, and one of her counsellors asked her to talk about her story to a group of kids who were identified as having a similar experience.  Low self-esteem, etc.  That catapulted her into a new passion.  She found that she is really good at these types of speeches, and figured out that she can help many others, who share the same feelings she once felt.  From there she started a nonprofit organization, and has dedicated her life to this mission.  Truly extraordinary!

These stories came fast and furious, with each one being as impactful as the one before.  Mark and I were touched.  We later talked about what is important in life.  I had been through this “epiphany moment” after my coronary artery disease diagnosis, and now it was cool to share that feeling with my friend, although on a bit different level.  He asked if working the old 9-5 job was really what mattered.  Where should priorities lie?  What is truly important in life?  We just touched on those things a bit while walking around D.C., but I sense that Mark was doing a bit of introspection, which is good now and then, in my opinion.

I am a bit older than Mark, and my kids are grown and out forging their own paths in life, but Mark has a 4 year-old.  My advise, since I am such an experienced sage now, was that yes, your job is important.  You have to provide for your family and there is tremendous value in that, both for your family, and your own personal satisfaction, knowing that when you look back, you provided a good life for your loved ones.  The questions then remain, what more can we do to “make a difference” in the bigger scheme of things?  What should we do?  How do we prioritize it?  And of course the big one, what fulfills us?  Those are some pretty deep questions, and I know this, my story has not yet been fully written.

I have a two-year head start on Mark, and I know where I am going.  The Jefferson Awards only further cemented the notion that we are doing the right thing with our time, money, and effort to help people avoid, fight, and deal with all the issues surrounding heart disease.  It’s my thing since it affected me, so now my advice is find your thing and follow your heart.  I guess when it is put that way, there really isn’t any question about it.







There’s Always A Way

Taking steps towards good health

I’m proud of sister-in-law Mary.  She leads an active life, more active than most, and I think she will tell you that a lot of that activity is self-induced.  She has a full-time job and has a very busy social calendar with events, etc.  There are a lot of people I know like that, most everyone these days, and many say they are too busy to exercise.  But does that have to be the case?

I won’t tell you how old Mary is in fear of retribution, however she has a few years on me.  Let’s just say she isn’t a millennial.  So, with all the activities going on in her life, how does she have time to exercise?

First off, if you have been following along, we classify walking as exercise.  For those that aren’t necessarily looking for that beach body physique, those of us 50+, walking is a great exercise with many benefits including relieving stress.  There are more than 10 muscles being used at the same time when you walk, and the heart is one of them.

Mary found time in her busy day by getting up 40 minutes early and hitting the pavement.  She jokes that the first time she ventured out, that she only made it to the cemetery, which is only about 300 yards away.  Over time, however, she has added a little more distance each week and now her morning stroll extends upwards to two miles.

She is a phone person.  In the old answering machine days she once left a message on our machine that nearly used up the whole tape, with the message at the end to simply call her back, lol.  Let’s just say she like to talk and is good at keeping a conversation going.  Anyways, she uses this time to get in her daily call with one of her boys, something she values very much.  This keeps with her active go-go-go lifestyle in that she is using the time to accomplish other tasks as well as getting in her exercise.

Two lessons can be learned, three if you are new to this blog, 1) walking is exercise, 2) start slowly and you will be surprised how all of a sudden you are walking a couple of miles a day, and 3) you can fit it into your day with a little extra discipline.  I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about a 4th lesson, walking can be enjoyable.

Have fun and be good to your heart.  Take a dedicated walk every day, the cemetery can wait.



Why Walk Across America

Someone asked me the other day why I plan to walk across America.  To be completely honest, I had to stop and think about it for a minute.  Where did this idea come from and why are we pursuing it?  I know the answers, but I really didn’t explain it all that well for one reason or another.  So, here is my Mulligan so to speak.  Here is my “why”.

Some people know the story leading up to this crazy idea popping into my head.  I was diagnosed with peripheral artery disease which severely affected my ability to walk, and later it was also determined that I had a main heart artery affected, that would have, if gone untreated, severely affected my ability to live.  All were treated, and all are still a work in progress.

The main arteries in my legs were stented to allow blood to flow down to my feet, which is a good thing by the way.  However, there are ancillary arteries that cannot be reached by the method used to place the stent.  There is still blockage in those arteries and still cramping and discomfort when I walk quickly, attempt to jog, or walk for a long period of time without resting.  I was told that walking would help create new arteries in place of the bad ones.  A natural bypass.  Walk, walk, walk I was told.  So I did.  Rain, snow, sleet, didn’t matter, and Roxy, our dog, was typically a willing participant.

During a blizzard in the early months of 2015, I decided to walk to the Sugarbush Tavern for dinner.  Roxy was smart enough to stay home, and they don’t allow dogs there anyways, so I was on my own.  Up until that point, I had a thought that just would not go away.  I continued to nag at me, day after day.  No, it wasn’t my wife’s voice I was hearing in my head, similar, but a different type of nagging.  The thought was, what could I do to give back to people in need, people who are heading down the path of heart disease?  I was lucky.  They caught my condition in time and I was treated.  I avoided what Dr. Kazziha says would have been a sudden death.  Why me?  Why am I still here, when others were not so lucky.  Sure, it could be fate, but I kind of think it is more than that, and thought about it everyday.

So, as I walked and braved the elements on that cold blustery day, all I could think about is, what could I do to make a difference, oh, and how good it felt to walk.  If I could walk in this snowstorm, I could walk anywhere at anytime.  I could persevere.  That’s when, without warning, the idea struck me.  It made so much sense.  A guy who has repaired legs will walk across America.  Surely, this would provide inspiration for others.  It would bring attention to a problem that has fallen into the background in America.  I could make a difference.  I felt a certain euphoria overcome me.  This is the answer to that nagging question.  Game, set, match!

That’s it.  That answers the why question.  To summarize, I wanted to make a difference.  Is there a little bit of selfishness there?  Yes.  I also didn’t want to leave this earth before I made my mark, and this was the best way to do just that.  I also realized, after the heart scare, that I could leave this earth at any time, so no time like the present.

My hope is that we can pull it off.  That other people notice, and that heart disease gets the attention it deserves.  People need to care for their bodies better, understand the risks of their lifestyle choices, and learn about heart disease.  It is the number one killer in America, and 80% can be avoided.  We can make an impact. We will make a difference.

It Starts With The Heart!






Walking Across America

When planning to walk across America, my first objective was to do some research.  You know, talk to people about how they…wait, what?  You know, pick the brains of those that, uh, oops, where are those people?  Do they exist?  Yeah, it isn’t something that you can really research, at least from a living first hand perspective.

So, back to the drawing board.  What is it going to take to plan to walk across America.  I guess at this point I can only assume.  I have no idea what kind of toll it will take on my body, specifically my legs, ankles, knees, and feet.  I mean, I’m not 25 years old anymore.  Heck, I am not even 35, or 45.  I am 55, and will be walking on freshly stented legs.  Will they hold up?  Will I get blisters on my feet?  What will the terrain be like?  How about the inclines?  Will it be like my treadmill?  So many questions, so few answers?

I’ve determined that I have to plan for just about everything.  Exhausting heat, frigid cold, unbearable inclines, heck, even animals and bugs that you really don’t want to have to deal with.  I will have my trusty back pack and a wife who has the knack of preparing for things (although this one might be a bit different, just saying).

Here is what I came up with, it is February 20th and the walk starts in seven months and eight days.  From a training perspective, I am in first gear and I need to push it into second gear quick.  I need to get some real street miles in, 10-15 per day.  I need to push the core stability training up a notch, and I need a fantastic nutrition plan to not only maintain my already low weight, but increase it a few pounds even during the intensive training.  All of this for 6 months of 20 miles a day in heat, cold, wind, and hills.

Can it be done?  It has to.  This is more than a challenge, it is a calling, and I have committed to it like nothing I have committed to in my life.  It is not for me, or even about me.  It is for the many people that this walk could potentially inspire to help them make a change in their lives, and to get them to treat their bodies and hearts properly, so that the body and heart responds in kind.  It is about changing a culture.  It can be done!chuck-north-berwick-law

Everything is Temporary

Remember the movie Top Gun?  Sure you do, everyone has seen it.  There is a scene where Cougar turns in his wings after losing his nerve following an air battle with a Russian Mig.  His reason, he was holding on too tight.  Holding on too tight to his wife and the new-born baby that he hasn’t seen yet.  He lost his edge.

I started thinking, I know, that is dangerous.  The question arose, as to whether we lose our edge in our daily lives over things far less important than our spouse and child.  Naturally, a second question then arose, as to whether or not we place too much value on these “things”.   Lastly, I had to ask myself why that happens.

In pondering these questions I realized that I have been guilty of sweating the small stuff in life, and in turn thinking that many trivial things are of vital importance.  Don’t put your feet on the coffee table, it might get scratched or dirty.  Make the bed a certain way so it looks nice.  Nice for who?  Who in the heck is going to see my bed except me?  My wife and dog?  Do they really care?  Why is it so important?  Things like that. Silly, isn’t it?

Continuing to think through this line of questioning, it dawned on me that everything is temporary.  In 4 billion years or so, the earth itself will be gone, dust, actually, not even dust.  Our lives, for that matter, are temporary.  Thinking about these two things put a different light on “things”.  What I mean is that just about everything else really isn’t that important.  We place values or importance levels on “things”.  Sure, there are important items in our lives.  We need to be prudent about paying our bills, eating right to maintain good health, etc., but, in regards to many other things, are we holding on too tight?  Is it stressing us out or stressing out relationships with others?

Thinking about the fate of ourselves, and the earth, I found a new perspective on most other “things”.   My maker, my family, my friends, my health, not necessarily in that order, are what I hold dear.  Everything else, they are just “things”, and I am learning to manage them accordingly.  I’m finding less stress in that, which is really good for the heart!
















There is an excerpt in my book, Chuck, My Walk Through Life, about having perspective.  For me it was a bit of an epiphany, and it was as simple as gaining an appreciation for many of the simple things in life.  Things like the beauty of the green trees swaying in the wind with the sky providing a deep blue back drop.  The warmth of the sun on the back of your neck, on a rather chilly day.  Things like that.  Things that we often take for granted.  They were always right there in front of me, but I often wasn’t aware of their presence, or their importance.

I also recently wrote in a blog post about heaven on earth, and what we imagine heaven to be like.  Love, serenity, peace, etc., are all part of heaven, and they are all part of this earth.  We just need to let our senses do their jobs.   We simply need to be aware.   Aware that love is right in front of us, or that we can find peace in a quiet moment.  It is amazing, once you’re able to gain awareness of the great things that are going on around you.  I’m not talking about being a Zen master, or playing Jedi mind tricks.  I am simply referring to slowing down and smelling the roses now and then.

I can’t take credit for the following passage, as it was made available to me just yesterday. But when I saw it, I realized it perfectly described the message I was attempting to convey.  It goes like this:

A fish was looking for the ocean.  If it could just find the ocean, it thought, it would be fulfilled and realize all its potential.

One day another fish pointed him to a third fish, saying, “That fish over there is very wise.  He will be able to tell you where the ocean is.”

Excitedly, the fish swam over to the wise old fish and asked, “Can you tell me where the ocean is?”

The wise old fish responded, “The ocean is what you’re in.”

Disappointed, the little fish swam away.  “But this is just water,” it thought.  And to this day, the fish is still searching for the ocean.

What is it that you searching for or missing out on?  Is it happiness?  Love?  Peace?  Serenity?  What ever it is, look closer, you just might find that it was right there all along.


Afflicted? Nah, not me!

53 years old, healthy, good diet, lots of exercise and bam, and I am diagnosed with heart disease.  The cardiologist asked me how it got so bad while shaking his head. Am I a dead man walking?  Seven stents later to clear out the widow maker artery, a kidney, and both legs and I am good as new, or am I?

What does it mean to be diagnosed with heart disease?  It doesn’t have to be a death sentence, does it?  How much do you think about it?  What are your limitations?  How has your lifestyle changed?  All very good questions and here are my thoughts, along with answers to these questions and more.

The word afflicted came up in a recent conversation.  I used it.  I said that a year after I received a stent to open the left anterior descending artery (the widow maker), which by the way was 95% blocked, I don’t feel afflicted.  Am I though?  Probably, but I choose not to look at it that way.  I look forward to each day and the next chapter in my life with optimism and happiness.  It is a choice you know.

Sure, I am lucky.  I was young enough and fit enough to resume most of my usual activities, mainly golf.  I walk a lot, bike ride and things like that.  My days in the weight room are over basically due to time and choice.  I am not really sure that lifting weights is good or bad for me and my arteries, and I plan to get back to that in some form or fashion.  I also plan on adding swimming to the activity plan (the pool is about 8 miles away).  I guess the thing is that you have to start somewhere.  Start walking and tracking your steps.  Set goals.  Increase your distance.  Talk to your physician and find out what you can and can’t do (should or shouldn’t do), but don’t let it stop you from living.  We can all get stronger and healthier with a little work (and some fun).

So, how much do I think about my issue?  Everyday.  It becomes the new normal, the new lifestyle.  Not necessarily in a bad way.  Sure, I have to remember to take a couple of pills a couple of times a day, and I have to be cognizant of what I eat and drink, even more so than before, but that’s not a big deal.  I tell myself not to stress over work or get too worked up.  It really is all about coming to the understanding that you are going to live and enjoy life.  I know one thing for a fact, which is that none of us get out of here alive.  The key to me is having a good quality of life now in my 50’s and do the things that will allow me the same luxury in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and who knows, maybe even my 90’s.  Create a system, work it, and let the other stuff take care of itself.

Talk to your physician, figure out what you are both comfortable with doing from a physical standpoint.  I approached it that I am going to remain as active as possible (within reason).  Heck, I’m not 20 anymore, heart disease or not.  But that is what I enjoy.  It is more a frame of mind than anything else.  Heart disease is not a death sentence.  Today’s medical advancements are unbelievable and are only getting better.  If your heart is strong, as I was told mine is, then why not work it?  Mind over matter, if you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter.


Heaven on Earth


     You’ve probably heard the phrase, Heaven on Earth, before.  I heard it yesterday and started to think about what it really means.  I immediately started to analyze the phrase, and the result was interesting in that heaven may exist here, actually it does, but we often don’t realize it.

     You might be wondering what I mean by that, so please allow me to explain.  In my analysis, I started to think of what heaven would be like, and came up with some of the standard concepts.  You know, peaceful, beautiful, serene, a feeling of love, those types of things.  I thought some people may view it differently, but that these elements would most likely be present in everyone’s description of heaven.

     So where do we find those things here on earth?  The peacefulness, the beauty, serenity, the love, is it really present in our physical world?  It is if we open our hearts and our senses.  It is my belief that because of our busy lives, and the injection of technology that consumes every down minute of our time, we miss some of the obvious heavenly type things that are right in front of us every single day.  The old stop and smell the roses philosophy fits well here.

     One way to truly experience heaven is to be present, to be in tune, tuning in and tuning out.  Tune out the noise, the distractions, the smartphone, and the stressors of everyday life.  Tune in by feeling and experiencing things.  I was walking the dog a couple of months ago, as I have hundreds of times before, and I noticed how the sun was lighting up the trees behind my house, and how blue the sky was behind a sea of green leaves.  I don’t know if it was the time of day or the time of year that made the colors stand out so vividly, vividly enough to notice that it seemed different than the dozens of times I have seen that same scene before.  I don’t think that was it however.  I believe it was my senses that made it appear different, in that I was in tune to the beauty of this scenery.  This is something that I have been more aware of since I was diagnosed with heart disease last year.  I guess you can call it appreciation of the little things.

     I am striving to live more in the moment.  The warmth of the sun, the gentle caressing feeling of a warm breeze, the smell of coffee in the morning, the freshness of the air on a cool day, little things like that are all around us.  The beauty of a loved one, inside and out, or colors that make up this earth, are there in front of us every day, but do we recognize them as such?  Do we feel them?  Do we allow ourselves to be present?  Do these things make you stop and smile, and do you feel them in your heart?  If you don’t, you should, it’s all within your control.

     After thinking about the phrase, heaven on earth, I realized it wasn’t just a phrase, that heaven does truly exist in our physical world.  Allow yourself to experience the heavenly items in your life with all of your senses, and you will know exactly what I mean.