Traveling back home from Plantstock 2016 I had the idea to jot down some thoughts and feelings about the amazing event we had just taken in. A sort of “post Plantstock report”, if you will. I also wanted to give the Esselstyn family a proper thank you for opening up their property to perfect strangers and making everyone feel like it was a big family reunion and we all had known each other for years. Their hospitality was off the charts. These two ideas were bouncing around in my head but I couldn’t stop thinking about how big of a deal this event was but the “little stuff” is what made the big stuff bigger…wait..what?!?
So I have no clue if this will work, but I’m gonna give it a whirl anyway. My Plantstock report, my Thank you to the Esselstyns, the speakers, staff, and the fellow attendees for making this event a success, and wrapping all of this up with the importance of the “little things.“ See, Heather and I were heading to Plantstock over 250 pounds lighter, we looked younger, and we were healthier to say the least. I was off all the terrible medications, I was free from all of my addictions and my cholesterol is a 117, and I’m healthier than my doctor. That’s the “big stuff” that everyone sees. That’s the stuff I had already thanked the Esselstyns for, along with Dr. Greger and many others. I’m sure that they get the same type of conversations all the time. I’m also sure they appreciate every one of them. In fact, I once looked Dr. Esselstyn in the eye and told him, “Your work not only saved my life, it gave me a completely new one.” That’s powerful and I said it with the utmost sincerity but here’s the thing, I always wonder if Dr. Esselstyn, Rip, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Garth Davis , Rich Roll, Dr. Lisle, and countless others realize that the “little things” are the real reflection of the gratitude that I am overwhelmed with. A few months ago I showed Dr. Esselstyn my before photo and he said, “my, weren’t you a chubby one?” (True story, hilarious) but what he can’t see are the daily struggles that come along with being that chubby one. The “little things” that made me wonder if it was worth even getting out of bed. The “little” things that no one ever saw. Those “little” things had added up to make my old life a big disaster.
Let’s get to it.
Walking away from the tent across a field on the well maintained, historical Esselstyn family farm, I turned to my wife and as I started to speak I noticed she had tears streaming down her face. We climbed into the truck and I asked what was wrong. As she shook her head with a sort of disbelief she said, “I don’t know, it’s like…… I can’t… I’m so…… It’s gratitude…. gratitude. After she had composed herself we rolled out on the country road to head back home. I couldn’t help but think how not even 2 days ago although she wanted to attend, she was texting her sister to let her know that we had arrived safely and sent a picture from the Peanuts where the teacher, Mrs Othmar is saying WAH- WAH- WAH -WAH. The day had started with me posting this photo on the way to Albany.
It blew my mind knowing that this was a photo of the last family trip we would ever take where my 400 pound crippled prison would dictate our every move on our trip, right down to how long I could sit in the truck. I was instantly taken back to the countless times we had to get out of the vehicle so I could get some relief from pain. Panic-stops to vomit because nausea from too many prescription opioids, and a general hatred of being in a vehicle was a “little thing” that was no longer. We never once thought about how long I could endure the pain of being in the vehicle. My pain did not control our travel plans and that made me grateful for the “little things.” We arrived in Claverack at about 2:00 pm. the day before Plantstock. In the past, by the afternoon I would be so tired and fatigued that I would have checked into our room and laid on the bed for hours watching TV to recoup and get enough energy for the next day. We never even went to the hotel because we had wanted to check out a local waterfall and do some hiking. Some other people saw our post online and met there to join us. Doug and Shari Schmidt along with Howard Jacobson enjoyed what was supposed to be a less than one mile hike to the falls. We were so focused on the interesting conversations that we missed the turn to get back to the vehicles….. about 5 times. I won’t admit that we were lost but we had definitely walked a few unexpected miles. While I ran up ahead to try and find the trail it hit me, I was completely comfortable with not knowing exactly where we were. I didn’t really care if we had to walk 5 more miles or right until dark. I didn’t feel helpless. A few years ago this scenario would have been like a seen from a horror movie for me. My mind would have raced to all the possible outcomes of having someone get me back to the vehicle and that made me grateful for the “little things”.
As we finally found our way back I heard a very familiar voice echoing in the woods. It was Josh LaJaunie. The truth is Josh was one of the main reasons I was heading to Claverack. Although both of us had lost the majority of our weight before we connected, we had built a very special bond over the past year. We had spent hours on the phone and I had told Josh things about myself that I had never uttered to another human. If anyone in the world could know where I had come from and where I was now it was Josh. Our stories are very similar yet uniquely different. Howard had called Josh to meet at the trail and I finally was able to meet him in person. He had never mentioned to me that he was bringing his mom so that was a very pleasant surprise and I was able to see the wonderful person that made Josh who he was. What an honor.
Heather and I had planned to heat some veggie burgers up at the Claverack Town Park and we put an open invite up on Facebook. Dave Willits and Shannon Farrell met up with the rest of us and it was plant-based picnic time. The conversations were beyond amazing. The stories and personal experiences gave me goosebumps. We stayed until it was pitch dark and I couldn’t help to think how differently that would have looked a few years ago. I had become a master at showing up somewhere, “checking in” and finding an excuse to get out as early as possible. I hated being out, I loved being confined in my own world and being alone. Yet another shift in thinking that made me grateful for the “little things”.
We checked into our hotel and got some sleep. I woke up before my alarm went off like I usually do but today I felt like a kid before Christmas. I felt charged up and ready to take on anything the busy day would offer. This was a far cry from the countless mornings I would wake up with a spinning head, tired, lethargic, and a slight sadness that my eyes opened and forcing me to deal with life again in a semi-conscious state. That made me grateful for the “little things”. We headed off to the Esselstyn’s farm to register and get ready for Plant-Stock. As we parked I saw an ATV heading towards us, as it came closer I realized it was Dr. Esselstyn himself. How cool is that? We walked by and Ann asked us if we wanted a ride. We smiled and said thanks but we would be fine to walk. I had always looked for the easiest mode of transportation, escalator, elevator, or shuttle but today, I never even contemplated a ride even if it was with Dr. Essy himself, and for that, I was grateful for the “little things”.
Before we had reached the registration table one of the staff members came out to meet us. She had seen my story and wanted to introduce herself which was really cool. Then a couple came up to us and the lady introduced herself and said she followed my page and was so excited to meet me and “Mrs. Fatmanrants” she immediately reached out to hug both of us, a perfect stranger giving me a hug. That was a weird feeling that became very common by the time we had left. Here’s the thing, this was one thing that blew my mind literally in the moment. I spent years coming up with strategies to “avoid the hug” at all costs. I didn’t even feel comfortable when my wife would hug me and a perfect stranger was definitely on the do not hug list. If you have ever weighed 400 pounds you will understand that your back holds layers of jiggly soft fat. When someone puts pressure on that fat their hand literally sinks into the fat and becomes engulfed in your flesh. It is the utmost in embarrassment. It is one thing to see the fat but it is an entirely different level to touch the fat. This was the first time a perfect stranger hugged me and their hand hit a solid human back without sinking into my body. I wasn’t defensive, I wasn’t embarrassed, and I was completely comfortable with her showing this gesture of affection, and for that “little thing” I was grateful. People we had never met were coming up to get photos with “fatmanrants” and that was cool but the best part was they wanted “Mrs. Fatmanrants” in the photos as well. I write about my wife a lot and although she is not “out there” on social media people have read enough about her to know she is one amazing lady. She was a bit weirded out but each time she was a bit more comfortable and started to enjoy herself. I had spent most of my life hiding from the camera out of embarrassment and looking at my wife’s smiling face knowing that someone wanted a photo with her and I as a sort of a keepsake sent chills down my spine and I couldn’t help being grateful for the “little things.”
As it came time for the killer line up of speakers, we sat soaking in all the information we could. We were learning together and becoming more educated from world renowned doctors and speakers that were the “heaviest hitters” in the plant-based movement. I realized that in the past 20 plus years of marriage we had watched TV, movies, and entertainment to escape life or get a break from the daily grind. The switch flipped and we were voluntarily listening to lectures from a doctor to better ourselves. We were getting educated together and that was a “little thing” I was really grateful for.
Lunch time came around and I found myself sitting on a blanket with Heather enjoying a Rip Esselstyn veggie burger under a beautiful tree. I would imagine that not one person sitting on the grass that day had the feeling of accomplishment and awe just to be sitting on the ground. The ground and floor had been off limits to me for years. If I was stupid enough to get on the ground, there was no way I was getting up without help or using something to pull myself up. We finished eating and I hopped up and as I held out my hand to help Heather up I was overcome with gratitude for the “little thing” to just eat lunch on the grass.
The engine 2 team had asked me and Heather to do a video interview for a testimonial. We agreed and the basic question they had for us is what had a plant-based diet done for us? After a few minutes of background and a few photos I summed our experience up with a final sentence. “ Five years ago my wife used to put my socks and shoes on me, two weeks ago I put her backpack on her after we had just climbed the highest mountain on the east coast, and that’s how powerful a plant-based diet is.” The young man interviewing us was getting a bit emotional and Heather had some tears going. What hit me was the fact that other people in my situation may see this and be helped and that “little thing”, that little thought filled me with gratitude.
As we sat with Josh and his mom I realized how many habits I had built in my 400 pound body. I had so many tricks to make life a little more manageable. When I was out of my controlled domain it was harder to adapt things to fit me. I had become very good at “chair cheating.” I was a master at hiding this, I would very discretely start 2 chairs away and cheat them away from me about 6 inches, I would do the same on both sides. This would save rubbing elbows and most importantly give me the room I needed to get momentum up to get up out of the seat. Next you have to check ground softness and level. An unleveled chair could mean disaster. None of these things had popped into my head until later and oddly enough Josh and I sat side by side with more than enough room, not even thinking if the chairs would hold our formerly combined 820 pound selves. Not having to worry about the chair was a “little thing” I was more than grateful for.
The next day was the morning run with Scott Jurek. Talk about a big deal! Heather and Shannon decided to stay back and I rode with Dave back to the farm. As I opened his car door I realized that I hadn’t been in a car in years and a low profile car had always been off limits for me. If I did get in a low car I would never get out. We always had very high riding trucks for that reason. I had found the least amount of resistance in sliding out of a truck with a flat back. When I climbed down into the car I almost had to convince myself that I was ok because all that had changed. I can ride in a little car now, and for that “little thing” I am forever grateful.
We started out on the trail run. It was beyond gorgeous. Myself, Howard, Dave, and Doug, were running together and Dave Willits was making another reference to his life before he flat lined and went plant based. Just as we were talking I heard a girl ahead of us say, “Are you ready for Cardiac Hill?” How sweet is it to run trails with a former dead guy turned plant-based up a hill named Cardiac Hill? As we finished the run Scott actually came back down the hill to run up with me. (Super classy guy) He was familiar with my story, which blew my mind, and we talked later that day for a while. This experience was off the charts but the reality is that I was not supposed to be walking at this point in my life, my doctor had a 30 day plan with the goal to keep me out of a wheelchair. When I walk I was supposed to be on even, flat ground and I had just run a trail that was a tractor path with thousands of trip points and uneven ground. Just walking on uneven ground was a “little thing” that filled me to the brim with gratitude.
More great speakers and more amazing education and then it was time for the “fancy dinner.” We had just listened to one of my heroes, James Wilks from back in the days when I watched TV. We were waiting in line to speak with him and we had lost track of time. By the time we went to the tables it had looked as if all the places were taken. We ended up getting two seats together but it hit me like a freight train. It didn’t matter. I didn’t really care if we had a seat. Sure, I was hungry but for the first time I realized that food wasn’t a priority, it didn’t control my choice to chat with James. It sounds weird to “normal” people but not having food control me was a “little thing” that was pretty cool and I was pretty grateful for.
The night ended with Scott doing a wonderful presentation and we said goodbye to all the wonderful people we had met. It was truly an experience that I will never forget and I can’t wait for next year. The entire weekend was phenomenal. And I would encourage anyone that is even considering attending this event to do so. You will not be disappointed.
Things were a little crazy and there was no way I could gather my thoughts to give some of these people a proper thank you so here they are:
What I would like Rich Roll to understand is that I have been listening to every one of his podcasts and I owe him a huge thank you. But the reality is that he would see the best, most authentic version of myself as being the newspaper article with me running my first half marathon with a valid handicapped parking pass tied to my waist, or the full page article in the Buffalo News about a 400 pound, near dead, cripple that was addicted to fentanyl finish the Buffalo Marathon on the hottest day in its 16 year history. That’s not it though, none of that matters, the “big stuff”, the stuff everyone sees is trivial. I want to thank Rich for the “little things”, the things no one notices, the things that most people don’t think about, the things that make me get out of bed in the morning and start my day with a thankful heart, the “little things”. It’s not the medal, it’s not the finish, it’s about remembering the sympathetic look in my wife’s eyes as she helped me do something as routine as tying my shoes and that feeling of my manhood being stripped away and then comparing that with the look she gave me when we summited Mt. Washington together, that joyful look of pride, accomplishment and the feeling I had of courage and success knowing that she felt safe with her man. That “little thing” that happened in a split second is what makes my life worth living. I am always drawn to your podcast because almost every one of them is about going against the current and that impossible is just a word, I need that influence in my life so keep doing what you’re doing and spreading that message.
Dr.Esselstyn, Campbell, Greger, and Lisle, You guys always see the big things. The 200 pounds, the 150 point decrease in cholesterol, and the clean bill of health. What you don’t see is the freedom from feelings of guilt from abusing pain killers, the thoughts of wondering if I would wake up in the morning that disappeared, and the loss of interest in life being replace with the utmost appreciation for every moment of every day, the “little things,” the things that no one sees. For that I thank you and beg you to keep doing what you are doing. Get that message out there for everyone and I promise to do the same.
So there you have it, my post Plant-stock review and my thank yous all wrapped up in gratitude for the “little things” maybe, just maybe the “little things” aren’t so little after all. I don’t know if this worked but there it is.
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“Eat plants, move your body. All ya got to do is a little more than ya did yesterday😉 ”
Until next time,