Some people are willing to go to great lengths to preserve their health, but sometimes it takes a slap in the face to get started.
Jim Christensen of Marion was owner of Lynn’s Farm Equipment Co. in 1983 when an ongoing economic recession caused the farm economy to plummet.
Sales of farm equipment dropped precipitously, and the business was faced with paying interest on equipment in stock.
“I worried about where the money was going to come from,” Christensen said.
The stressful situation led him to go on a pop-drinking and peanut-eating binge that ballooned his weight to 240 pounds.
“When you eat more calories, you gain more weight,” he said.
A severe cold led him to see physician Jeff Martin. He felt terrible, tired easily, and was in bad shape physically. He learned he had extremely high blood pressure.
“We are going to have to do something about this,” Martin said.
He gave Christensen a list of foods to eat and foods not to eat and told him to start exercising.
When Christensen returned a month later, not much had changed.
“He said ‘Why don’t you find another doctor?’” Christensen said. “‘You’d better wake up. You’re not going to be here much longer if you don’t start to exercise more.’ It was like a slap in the face.”
He began walking and jogging daily around the Eastshore community where he and wife, Judy, live.
Right away, the 43-year-old man began feeling better. He added running to his routine and has been running ever since.
At his physical checkup this spring, his blood pressure and heart rate were excellent. The doctor said he was in tiptop shape. He weighed in at 199 pounds.
Christensen’s first competitive run was in the 1983 Old Settlers’ Day 5K run.
“I ran against a pregnant woman, and she beat me,” he said. “That’s when I got serious about running.”
He said running came easy for him in high school. He was on the Marion High School 4-mile relay team that won the state championship and set a new record at the Kansas Indoor High School Athletic Association meet in Manhattan.
“I’ve always liked to run,” he said.
He often ran from downtown Marion to home or from home to the county lake and back.
This time, he had to develop a schedule. While still working, he got up at 3 a.m. to run. Now he gets up at 4 a.m. (5 a.m. in the dead of winter). After his run, he swims at Marion Aquatic Center for an hour. Sometimes Judy joins him. A 15-minute afternoon nap helps him get through the day.
Christensen has participated in numerous certified races. He runs in races about twice a month, for distances ranging from one mile to 5K or 3.1 miles.
He participates in the Frost Bite Run put on by Hillsboro Recreation Commission on New Year’s Day. He also does the 2-mile run at Burdick’s Labor Day celebration.
On Easter Sunday, he ran in the 8 a.m. Easter Sun Run in Wichita.
His longest run was in 2000, when he ran 6.2 miles. The Turkey Trot in Wichita is the oldest run in which he has participated. He has run in the Maude Carpenter Race every year since its inception. Proceeds assist Carpenter Place to provide for needy children and families.
“I’m not a world-class athlete,” Christensen said. “I like to read books about professional runners, but I do my own thing according to how my body feels.”
He stopped drinking soda pop five years ago after he found out what it does to the body. He eats a high-protein diet and limits his intake of refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour products like pasta and white bread.
Aside from a mild hamstring pull a month ago, Christensen has never had an injury. He does stretch-band exercises and rides a recumbent bike.
He said other men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s are still running competitively, but there are fewer and fewer every year. They may run on their own, he said, but not in races.
He plans to keep on running as long as he can.
“When I start feeling bad,” he said, “I think back to 1983 and how terrible I felt then, and I don’t ever want to go back to that.”