Ode to Joy: Journey Into Fitness

The Emperor of France.

The author of the Declaration of Independence.

Two soldiers-turned Explorers.

A pregnant Native American.

What do they have in common and what can they teach us about looking better and performing at our best?

I was familiar with Napoleon Bonaparte, but I was no expert. In February of this year, I wanted to immerse myself in the classics of literature. By random selection, I started with The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. The book made many references to him and I felt the need to study him more so I could have a larger appreciation for the book. I was right. If you’ve never read it, I implore you to do so. Who doesn’t like tales of jailbreaks and revenge? Today’s story begins with Napoleon at the birth of the 19th century.

It’s 1803 and the start of the Napoleonic Wars; France versus Europe. The European powers allied to stop the Corsican Ogre, who longed to conquer the continent and establish France as the World’s Superpower. He prepared his military for an invasion of England, something that hasn’t been done successfully since 1066. In his way, lay the English Channel. Napoleonic Tactics were for ground warfare. He required a bigger navy and not just any navy. He needed one that could defeat the strongest in history. To do this, he needed money.

The Louisiana Territory was a massive landmass stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains; purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain. It was first under French rule, turned over the Spanish, then back to the French. It posed a credible threat to American national security if it was militarized by a foreign power. Napoleon tells his Treasurer he is considering selling it to the Americans. After price negotiations and domestic debate, the treaty was signed. It passed and revealed to the public on July 4, 1803. For the cost of 3 cents an acre, the purchase doubles the size of the United States in an instant.

a famous depiction of French leader Napoleon Bonaparte, in a regal military uniform and red cloak, while riding a white horse
A painting of American expeditioners Lewis and Clark being guided by the native Sacagawea

May 1804. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration and now-President creates the Corps of Discovery to explore the newly-acquired territory. The Corps was a group of Army volunteers, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Their mission was to find waterways that stretched across the continent, for better commerce. They were also tasked with studying plant and animal life and establishing relationships with Native Tribes. In sum, no small task; a big goal. A small group had to explore the land where 180,000,000 people now reside. They started in Missouri and ended at the Pacific Ocean, in Oregon.

The following are excerpts from Lewis and Clark’s journals…

“A woman brought her child with an abscess in the lower part of the back, and offered as much corn as she could carry for some medicine; we administered to it, of course, very cheerfully.”

“The weather became so intensely cold that we sent for all the hunters who had remained with Captain Clarke’s party, and they returned in the evening, several of them frostbitten.”

“The mosquitos continue to infest us with such a manner that we can scarcely exist. My dog even howls with the torture he experiences.”

“As we passed on, it seemed those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end.”

“The morning was fair and the day proved favorable to our operations . . . in the early part of day two of our men fired on a panther, a little below our encampment, and wounded it; they informed us that it was very large, had just killed a deer, partly devoured it, and in the act of concealing the balance; they discovered him.” – the first sighting of the Mountain Lion

“In returning through the level bottom of Medicine river and about 200 yards distant from the Missouri, my direction led me directly to an animal that I at first supposed was a wolf. But on a nearer approach, or about sixty paces distant I discovered that it was not. Its color was a brownish yellow; it was standing near its burrow, and when I approached it thus nearly, it crouched itself down like a cat looking immediately at me as if it designed to spring on me.” – the first sighting of the Wolverine

“This animal is the largest of the carnivorous kind I ever saw we had nothing that could weigh him. I think his weight may be started at 500 pounds….” – the first sighting of the Grizzly Bear

“I am not a coward, but I am so strong. So hard to die.”

What does all this have to do with you, me, and our fitness goals?

ONE. The expedition westward is like your own journey; large in scale, much of it unknown. Your fitness goals are a long voyage, requiring time, effort, and determination. When Lewis and Clark returned home, they traveled over 8,000 miles by boat, horseback, or on foot. They experienced every hardship imaginable. The modern message of “get fit without trying” or “effortless results” is abhorrent and an insult to the Human Spirit. You don’t have to abandon modern advancements, but they must not displace hard work. Don’t fall for the illusion of getting something for nothing. Your best results in fitness come when you don’t shrink from toil and embrace arduous discipline. There is no greater force on Earth than the energy of the Human Spirit that pushes the boundaries of possibility.

Athletes Courtney Conlogue workout

TWO. They had help. I refer to legendary guide and translator, Sacagawea. She was pregnant when she met the team and gave birth shortly thereafter. She ate ground rattlesnake rattles to help with the pain. Talk about an incredible person. They needed help, you need help. It’s not a noble act to go at it alone. There are trained experts, ready and willing to assist you in making the right decisions. If you are about to venture into unknown territory, get help from people who know the terrain. You also have friends and family to help you build a support system. Surround yourself with people who won’t enable your distractions and encourage your forward momentum. The Israelites had Moses. Lewis and Clark had Sacagawea. Arthur had Merlin. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Be sure you’re going in the right direction.

Dr. Alice reviews lab results with her patient

THREE. We only know any of this history because they wrote it down. One of the first, if not the first thing we ask, is to keep a food diary. You don’t need to use a quill pen by candlelight.  There are apps that make this an easy task. Do it every day. If you find this tedious, rethink your priorities. If you want to achieve your goals, it’s a must. Lewis and Clark drew 140 maps and discovered 200 different plant and animal species. Imagine what you’ll discover about your eating habits, where your food is coming from and in what amounts. I don’t only encourage a food diary, I advocate a diary of all kinds. Document exercise, how you feel after bouts of sleep and your state of mind throughout the process. Who knows, maybe someone will read it for inspiration 200 years from now.

Set Good Goals, Get Help, Document Your Trip

“I received my dear Sir, with unspeakable joy your letter of Sep. 23 announcing the return of yourself, Capt Clarke & your party in good health to St. Louis.” – Thomas Jefferson

May you experience the unspeakable joy of reaching your fitness goals. Here’s to your health.