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    December 20, 2013

Get H3 Inspired: Erik Khoobyarian

Golden Gate Bridge Ride with Erik My Journey from “I’ll Never”

I get excited these days on Sunday afternoons.  My excitement is not for me, but it is rather because I know that on Sunday afternoons individuals – like me – begin arriving for their visit to Hilton Head Health (H3).  Sunday afternoons are beginnings.  Beginnings of lives being changed – literally.

My decision to go to H3 was quite sudden.  I was working too much, I had recently moved and missed my dear friends, I was steadily gaining weight, I was losing stamina and ultimately, on Thanksgiving of last year I realized that I had reached a tipping point where I needed to take corrective action and I needed to do it fast.  I turned to the internet and other resources to try and find somewhere I could go to get away and right my path – where I could restart my engines and get myself back on track.  I found a few places, talked to their representatives on the phone and for a number of reasons, especially the conversations I had with Katie Roberts at H3, I decided to leave California the following week go to go H3 for two weeks.  After a red eye flight, I settled in at H3, not sure what to expect, and a little bit anxious.

My expectations for my time at H3 were conservative, but optimistic.  And I think that is a good way to sum up my approach to life.  I actually said to Bob Wright at some point early in my stay that I tend only to try things at which I know I will succeed.  I’m good at my work, but I also know that I will be good at it.  I also know how to eat right and exercise — so by my calculation, coming to H3 with a goal of getting back on track to eating right and exercising was a goal that was readily achievable.  It was something that – while by no means easy – was something I could do.

The opportunities for success were abundant at H3.  I loved the sunrise beach walk every morning it was offered.  I attended classes and I participated actively in all of the ones I attended.  I even tried new things that intimidated me previously.  I ate right and as prescribed (that part wasn’t hard because having gourmet food prepared for you three times a day makes it easy!).  I slept well and kept my attention away from the stresses of the office.  I was prepared for the basics of H3 and I embraced them fully.

But I would really like to focus on what I wasn’t prepared for.  One morning, while relaxing in the lobby before the next activity, I overheard fitness specialist Amber Shadwick talking with another H3 visitor.  They were discussing an upcoming kayak adventure that did not have enough people signed up for it.  I was not paying much attention to their conversation until I heard Amber say: “Erik, why don’t you go with us.”  I gently laughed and dismissed the idea.  The idea was simply absurd.  There was no way that I was going to get into a kayak – it simply wasn’t within my realm of possibility.  I had never done such a thing and at that moment fully believed that I would go to my grave having never been in the open water in a kayak.  Amber did not accept my response.  But her reply was key.  To my “I can’t” she replied: “Well, it’s fine if you don’t want to go, but it isn’t that you can’t.”  I tried to explain, that I weighed too much, that the kayak couldn’t hold me, that I wouldn’t be able to get in and out … I tried to explain the “I can’t” and why it wasn’t my choice.  Amber explained that there were ways to deal with all of my perceived obstacles.  With the physical obstacles gone, I was left with a decision.  I am not sure how it happened exactly, but I chose to put my faith and trust in Amber and her confidence.

For the next day or so I worried about the kayak adventure.  When the time came for us to board the van to the kayaks, I felt anxiety like the first day of school or even more than sitting for the bar exam or my final exams.  I was going to do something that I was convinced I could not do.  This did not fit square with my rule of only doing things that I knew were possible!  I did not share or show my anxiety.  Okay, maybe a little.  Well, the next thing I know I am in a kayak, oar in hand, navigating the waters.  Gentle waves lapping up against the kayak.  Gliding through the water – feeling like one with the surface of the water – experiencing something not just new but previously impossible.  I was overwhelmed.  Instantly overwhelmed.  But not just because of this experience but because I immediately began thinking of all of the other things I had placed in the “I can’t” or “I’ll never” box.  I was both frightened and excited.

During my last few days at H3 I rented a three-wheeled bicycle – a trike.  I had never ridden a bicycle in my life and decided that I would have another “first” at H3 and rented the trike.  I will never forget the feeling of riding the trike for my first time.  I spent about an hour riding circles around the parking lot before venturing on a short ride – my first ride – around the plantation.  I didn’t realize just how much I was enjoying it until fitness director Adam Martin mentioned later that he could see the smile on my face from inside the facility while working out with someone.  I decided that I would purchase a trike upon returning home.  I even found the one I wanted before leaving.  I immediately wanted to tell my parents about this decision.  They have been the most supportive people in my life and very consistent in their support.  I was shocked when my mother was less than supportive about the trike.  She essentially said that I was settling for riding a trike and that I should learn to ride a two-wheel bike.  I was crushed.  Initially.  I told her: “I can’t do that … I’ll never be able to ride a bike.”  And as the words came out of my mouth it was as though a giant bell rang in my head.  Just days earlier I had “I can’t” and “I’ll never” stripped from my toolbox.  I also realized that I still needed my mom (and others) to help me along my journey.

I returned home from H3 on December 20, 2009.  I researched and found a man who teaches adults and children how to ride bikes.  I was skeptical of his ability to teach a 370lb, 33 year old man to ride a bike, but I nonetheless decided I would give him a try.  After a couple of lessons and moments of catching myself on my way into an “I ca-” or “I’ll nev-” utterance, I was up and riding on New Year’s Eve (who needs New Year’s Resolutions when you can end the year with an accomplishment!).  I felt the feeling that I forever had longed for and yet forever believed I would never feel.  After weeks of riding my bike in large parking lots, practicing starting and stopping, doing tons of figure-8s, I started riding my bike on a local trail.  It was certainly a challenge, but it was one of the greatest moments of my life.  I try not to exaggerate too much with that, but it really was.

My life has truly not been the same since.  I ride every chance I get.  I’ve understood for the first time in my life the angst of seeing the rain coming down knowing that I wouldn’t be able to ride.  I’ve felt the childlike urgency of rushing home to get a ride in before sunset as the days get shorter.  I’ve felt the exhausting thrill of spending hours riding through new trails.  I’ve felt feelings that were trapped in a box for a long, long time.  I recently passed about 600 miles on my bike.  I’ve also branched out and started mountain biking.  I’m working toward fully-embracing the new thrills that it brings.  I still have along way to go in losing weight … I’m still right at 300lbs … so my ability on the bike will only improve as I lose weight.  I’m more excited than ever to get the weight down to enable me to do more.

Speaking of more, I have one more story.  This past weekend I let a friend convince me that it was time for a new challenge.  We took our bikes on the train from our town about 50 miles to San Francisco.  We rode through the city navigating traffic and pedestrians and through some of the historical parks and ultimately onto the Golden Gate Bridge across the San Francisco Bay into Marin County and to the small coastal town of Sausalito.  For me this was a huge milestone on many fronts.  It really was something that – even last week – was subconsciously lingering, stuck in the “I’ll never” box.  There’s a photo of me with the iconic Golden Gate in the background (notice the H3 shirt!).  I’ve been exhausted all day; my body a little battered from the adventure.  But I can’t take the smile off my face.

Like I said, Sundays make me excited about the new people arriving at H3.  But Sundays also make me excited about people leaving H3 and returning to their lives at home.  While the experience at H3 can be life-changing, I see it more like a farmer planting a field.  It certainly changes the landscape in the short term.  But with water and care, the real excitement comes when the field produces her yield.  For me, this weekend the harvest was bountiful.

— Erik Khoobyarian


For more stories like Erik’s, click here.    If you have a story you’d like to share, please e-mail us at getinspired@hhhealth.com! Make sure to put ‘Get Inspired’ in the subject line.

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