Exercise Saved My Life

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stormy seaWell, not literally. Though looking back, it’s hard to say where I’d be without it.

The story begins on a Ventura beach two summers ago. It’s dinnertime. The sky has begun to darken with storm clouds.  Beach goers gathered on the sand don’t seem to notice, though. They’re smiling, drinking beer, acting normal. But the situation isn’t normal. I’m running as fast as I can. My lungs are filled to capacity, my heart feels like it’s about to burst out of my chest. I’m screaming, too. Running and screaming.

“Have you seen a boy with dark hair and an orange Reese’s Peanut Butter shirt?!!” Can they hear me, these cheerful people? They seem oblivious to the sinister clouds, the heart in my chest, the panic rising like a tsunami near the shore.

My ten year-old son is missing. And he’s autistic. He could be anywhere at this moment. The beach stretches forever down the shore. It’s getting darker.

“No…sorry!” Offers a smiling guy in shorts.

My son can’t communicate beyond simple phrases, but there’s so much he can do. He runs like an Olympian. He climbs like Spiderman. But he won’t be able to find anyone to tell them who he is or where he’s from. Maybe he doesn’t know he’s lost. Maybe he does, but he wants it that way. Maybe someone has taken him.

My legs are numb. I haven’t exercised in over a decade but I’ve been sprinting for close to 20 minutes now. Up and down, up and down this same stretch of beach, hoping for a different outcome. The police are on their way. Now the beach-goers are aiding in the search. My voice is hoarse. I know my body is trying to stop but the adrenaline keeps me going.

“Aidan! Aidan! Come back!” I don’t know if the words are actually materializing but I’m screaming them from somewhere.

“Please….” I say under my breath, which comes now in shreds, in ragged gasps. “Please, please find him….”

Then I see an elderly man waving his cane in the air. He’s several hundred yards down the beach. I run faster, though I didn’t think that would be possible. “Please…please…” I pant and gasp and force my way through the pain radiating down my legs and through my shocked respiratory system.

And then, a little speck of orange appears, way, way out at the end of a long jetty. There’s another figure there, too, another man, holding out his arms.

I don’t really remember the next few minutes.  All I see when I think about them is that orange speck growing larger and larger and then the slippery rocks and the foamy surf crashing all around them and Aidan is looking up at me serenely, his hair soaking wet around his soulful eyes and I hold him as long as he will let me. “Thank you…” I manage to say to someone, everyone, or no one at all. All I see is my boy. Safe.

I knew then that something had to change.

I’d never belonged to a gym, never taken a step class, never held a barbell. I’d coasted for years on a genetic predisposition towards skinniness. With Aidan’s diagnosis, the weight just fell off until I was skeletal. Stress, sleeplessness, post-diagnosis depression — all took a toll on my body. I had virtually no muscle or core strength. Every month, I’d wrench my back or my neck by doing nothing more than reaching for a toy or a book.  I was surviving, but not much else.

And then I hit 40 and my metabolism did a 180. Just like my mom, I sprouted a tire of flab around my waist and lost all shape. My pants no longer fit. Not a single one. (“I don’t understand it — everything keeps shrinking! What’s wrong with the washing machine???”) I went to Target to buy new jeans and picked up a pair with an elasticized waist. Mom jeans. Shapeless jeans.  Jeans I never thought I’d wear.

“I guess this is me from now on,” I remember thinking as I paid for them.

And then Aidan had his beach adventure. My physical decline was no longer just a fashion disaster or self-esteem issue –  it meant that I might not be able to keep my child safe. As I was starting to slow down, he was getting taller, leaner and faster. Thank God I’d found him that day but it nearly killed me.

Then I got serious about exercise. In a year and a half, I lost fifteen pounds and discovered my waist again. I’m wearing jeans that had long since been relegated to the Salvation Army box for being 2 sizes too small. This is the kind of transformation I used to read about in magazines; this was a story that happened to someone else, not me.

Along with a thousand other lessons learned, Aidan has taught me this one, too: I owe it to myself and my family to be healthy. Since that day at the beach, Aidan has run many times. But now I run with him — or sometimes just a few steps behind. And I know I’m strong enough to bring us home.

Want to know what Kate did to get in such kickass shape? Click here.

About author

Kate Movius

Kate Movius

Kate Movius trains first responders in how best to communicate with the special needs population. She is a frequent television spokesperson and has appeared on Katie with Katie Couric to discuss the challenges facing parents of autistic children. She is also a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and Pasadena Magazine, and the proud mom of two sons, one of whom has autism.

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