The Courage to Silence Our Self-Doubt
Blog by Charlie Davis
President and CEO
YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties
A few weeks ago, I was pumping gas when I saw a car make an abrupt U-turn across oncoming traffic to pull into the station. As if that wasn’t enough to startle me, the driver jumped out of his car and started coming toward me, waving his hands and yelling, “I’m back!” At this point, my heart was racing, but as he got closer, I realized I knew him and I was able to start breathing again.
I was working downtown at the Tacoma Center YMCA when I first met Kevin. Jane Brisbois, who was working at the Welcome Center at the time, stepped into my office to ask if I could meet with a new member. Kevin was very nervous. It took him over a year to get up the courage to walk into the Y. He weighed well over 400 pounds and he was afraid people would judge him. I tried to quell his fears and help him find an entry point into the Y community. We discussed what type of exercise would be best for him and a good time of day to use the Y so he would be most at ease, but it was clear what he was really looking for wasn’t an exercise plan, but rather some understanding and support.
For the first time in my career, I realized how hard it can be to walk through the front door of the Y and the strength it takes to overcome the fear of rejection. Kevin hid his fear with a great sense of humor, but he was petrified every time he showed up to work out. He so wanted to lose weight and improve his health, both physically and emotionally. Walking into the Y that day was the first and most challenging step toward that goal.
I wanted to help Kevin succeed, so for the first few months, I would call him to encourage him to come to the Y and I would greet him at the door to help him get going on his exercise routine. There were days when he would not answer my call, but he came consistently, and after three months, he’d made significant progress, losing 20 pounds. It was a major achievement.
Kevin had momentum, he was a member of the community, and I no longer had to call him to get him to come in. Over the next year and a half, Kevin lost more than 100 pounds. I would hear other members greet him by name when he arrived, and I could often hear him laughing in the weight room. It was amazing to see his transformation, and I was looking forward to his next milestone achievement.
Then, out of nowhere, Kevin stopped coming to the Y.
I was worried about him. I felt that he needed to be part of a community where he was supported in his quest to be healthy. It would be difficult for him to go it alone. I didn’t see Kevin for months, until one day, he knocked on my office door. He shared with me that his negative self-talk became too much to overcome. His self-hate overwhelmed his desire to take care of himself, but he’d run into another Y member at the grocery store, who encouraged him to “get back on the horse.” He was so touched that someone cared enough about him to want to see him at the Y that he showed up the very next day.
Kevin was in a battle with himself, but every time he was knocked down, he found the courage to fight back. The community at the Y kept him going. At one point, Kevin had dropped over 200 pounds. It was uplifting to see how great that made him feel about himself. I wish I could say that was a turning point for Kevin and that he was able to sustain the life changes that he made, but that wasn’t the case.
When I saw Kevin at the gas station, his weight had ballooned higher than it had ever been, but he was feeling optimistic. I loved hearing him say, “I’m back!” because I knew he was ready to recommit to his quest for health. I loved that, once again, it was a fellow member who encouraged him to get back to the Y. I loved that he saw me pumping gas and wanted me to know he was “getting back on the horse” – even though that U-turn was a little crazy. The best part of this story, though, is the hope that Kevin finds at the Y. It is the hope that keeps him coming back; hope that comes from the members of the Y community who care about him. We all have a small voice in the back of our head filling us with self-doubt. It takes courage to silence that voice and choose hope instead. For Kevin, and for so many others, the Y is a place to find hope, and hope is something we will all come back many times to find.