Friday, August 28, 2009

Picture This!

B. Stuart Noll
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Imagine you’re a fitness instructor at the Manchester Branch of the YMCA of Greater Richmond and on the Tuesday after Labor Day - September 2006 in walks a very intense 266 pound woman from Buffalo N.Y. who is clearly on a mission; a no holds barred mission to “overcome the fear of the unknown,” as she puts it. It was the day after she joined the Y and it was time for her new member orientation and her first workout. She remembered it was time to “pull myself up by my boot straps” and begin to work on a goal – to lose half her body weight – yep, 133 lbs.

Erin McLean (center of photo) came to the YMCA because she believed in its values. The instructor on duty that night was Doug Hartwill. Our instructors here really want to help members improve their health and fitness so Doug asked Erin “what’s your goal?” She blurted out, “I want to look HOT…in 6 months!!!

Friends, this is the same woman, who had, for some time prior to her appearance at the YMCA, devoured family size bags of Hershey Mini-bars, chips and ice cream - daily, camouflaged as comfort food without any deference to its enormous detriment to her health. This is the same woman, a Senior HR manager who also worked 16 hour days when she was first moved to Richmond by her company after a chain of personal life changing episodes, .

She was known to her friends as jovial, Little Mary Sunshine who, at the same time, did everything at 120%. She still does! I asked her what motivated her, she said, “I got mad enough to overcome the unknown.” Here’s the great part; when I asked her how she did it she quipped, “The same way you eat an elephant.” I thought, Huh?

Though by her own admission Erin wasn’t looking for the social side of exercise, she felt right at home after Tina took her on the facility tour. She would soon be engulfed by the light of the people. That happens in our fitness center – even for someone like Erin who finds it hard to accept a compliment. Actually, she was partially inspired by the accountability of other members encouraging her…and partly by her results!!!

Workouts grew…it was 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight training. Gradually it became 45 and 45, and then this woman who was uncomfortable in groups because of her appearance became a class-a-holic and not just jazzercise. It was hard in the beginning says Erin, but Melissa (the instructor) said, “keep coming, you’ll get it.” Boy howdy, did she ever get it.

Okay, I know the suspense is killing you. So how much does Erin McLean (center of photo) weigh, almost 3 years later? 127 pounds! Wait! It wasn’t three years later. It also wasn’t 6 months either. The transformation took an extraordinary nine months. Doug would ultimately call Erin his “A” student. An “A” student she was too! It wasn’t glamorous. Ms. McLean worked her butt off, literally and figuratively, 6 days a week. She learned the basics of the body and the mind as well as researching nutrition and exercise. In short, she committed to changing her lifestyle!

You can see the physical benefits of her commitment in the photos but what you cannot see is the freedom Erin enjoys. Look in her closet! She no longer worries about what she will wear to work or whether it covers her stomach or her butt or whether it’s too tight. Most of all, she never has to fear being in a group that wants to take the stairs instead of the elevator! She is free from the judgment!

Humans aren’t always kind and yet some of the most unkind comments and feelings can motivate us to break through the fears that keep us bound in our personal prisons. I always say “when you are imprisoned by fear there is only one means of escape…the truth.”

The truth is Erin McLean’s phenomenal accomplishments are an inspiration for all of us. She wanted to live life…for her daughter Victoria, and for herself. For the full scoop on her “journey,” ask her. You’ll probably have to wait until after her workout to find out more about her story or maybe even how to create your own!

I know there are two things Erin would say. They are; 1) believe in your ability to accomplish anything and 2) do it the same way you eat an elephant…one bite at a time!

Erin, you inspire me!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Future - The Elliot Shaw Story

B. Stuart Noll
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This has been one of the most difficult stories for me to write since I began writing a couple of years ago. Most of the people whom I have interviewed have been friends, acquaintances, co-workers or others I have been fortunate enough to know or meet. Though Elliot Shaw fits into several of those categories he is somewhat of an enigma to me and maybe, to himself.

I’m very grateful to Elliot and my other friends and co-workers who have consented to a quick look inside their lives, sharing personal insights and other, often privileged or sensitive personal information, so we can all get to know them a little better. To Elliot and my other friends I say, thank you!

Elliot Shaw (“one T”) (pictured above) is indeed a rare breed of young adult. You would think a guy who comes from great stock, speaks two languages fluently and pieces of a few others, has studied in France and is a World Cup soccer fan would have his life all figured out, a slam dunk, a sure thing. Part of the enigma is that Elliot is as far from that as the east is from the west. Don’t get me wrong, Elliot Shaw is one of the finest young men I know. He is hard working, intelligent, cordial, affable, courteous, humorous, and socially savvy. He also possesses a multitude of other qualities seen by the naked eye if you know him at all or missed entirely only if you are totally unconscious.

Therein lays the mystery which is Elliot. What is he doing here, stocking shelves? This story essentially revolves around two things; Elliot the human being and my short but fruitful relationship with him as a co-worker and friend. Since I believe there are no mistakes; only lessons, some of the puzzle pieces to the mystery that is Elliot can be seen in this piece.

Elliot came into my life approximately a year ago and the impact he made on me and nearly everyone else around him was almost immediate. I expected him only to stay a short time as most college age kids do in between semesters. Along with the beneficial attributes stated above, there are character qualities which he displays that cannot be taught in school. They can only be learned by a man whose connection with his creator is so intimate and powerful he is seemingly one with the original source.

Elliot is honest and trustworthy, kind and considerate, talented yet humble, calm in his demeanor and not afraid to initiate a relationship or a task. This unique set of living skills is instilled by great parental conditioning with the guidance of a divine presence. But its effectiveness is enhanced when the conditioning is not only accepted but practiced and appreciated by all the parties involved.

I have been mentoring young men for over 20 years and though I’m not quite old enough to remember Telemachus I consider it every bit as much a privilege to spend time with Elliot as Mentor did with the Son of his friend Odysseus in Greek mythology. Granted, our bond is not quite the same but from my perspective the obligation to him and to his parents is, as it is with every other young man brought into my presence. But Elliot is unique in many ways. What follows is a brief reason why it’s easy to be positive about the future of mankind.

I had the chance to sit down with Elliot several weeks ago to discuss his thoughts about whom he was, what he wanted to do with his life and what he thought the future had in store for him. During our discussion we covered topics like music, politics, marriage, music, character issues, music, sports, did I mention music? Elliot convinced me to listen to Blisters & Coffee by The Classic Crime. I was kind of surprised (although I shouldn’t have been, knowing Elliot’s passion for great musicians, especially guitarists) to know he included Stevie Ray Vaughn in his list of the best music. He said he felt that way because Stevie Ray revolutionized guitar playing.

Though admittedly not ready for close relationships of the intimate kind (marriage) because of the self-confessed stress of the commitment and “the proposal,” the kind of woman that would garner Elliot’s attention would be one who is God fearing and selfless. When I asked him how he would know or measure that Elliot said, “The key would be how she treated others.” – Wise man eh? I wish I could say I taught him that but that’s part of the conditioning I was speaking of earlier.

I have been working with Mr. Shaw for almost a year now and I was so excited to hear of his return to school. (VCU in the fall) And though Elliot could not commit to a particular vocation I know he has the talent to do whatever he sets his mind to do. When I asked him, as I often do with college age men, about the intended destination after graduation or what Elliot he envisioned at the finish line, he acknowledged he could not yet see that far ahead. But, and this is different than the answers I generally receive from the average college student who doesn’t have a clue about the future, Elliot knows he has an obligation to use the gifts he has been given. He knows he is loved by his family and has the support of the people who are most important in his life.

Confident in his familial environment and in himself, Elliot has the opportunity to choose his own path. (As do we all in reality) Another part of the enigmatic persona of Elliot Shaw is that he knows his path, once chosen, would be relatively unimpeded and with the kind of guidance that induces success, however you define or measure it. After spending the last year with him 4 or 5 days a week I know that whatever call he ultimately answers he will work at it diligently and with more than just himself in mind.

The last question I asked Elliot was what encouragement he would have for his peers facing the same issues his generation faces. He quickly responded “find the truth; not the truth as you see it but, unbiased unprejudiced reality.” I thought, if this is part of his quest, he too will find it – unbiased and unprejudiced. Elliot is wise beyond his years and the main reason is because the condition of his heart which produces seven life-giving qualities; love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

No matter what happens in his future Elliot Shaw will “inspire people to live more than just an A to B life.” I have been encouraged and inspired in the last 12 months by Elliot’s personal conduct. His ability to learn complex concepts is extraordinary and I believe sufficient to prove that whether it’s music, business, or any other form of expression of his gifts, that Elliot Shaw will not only find the truth but inspire others to seek it with a joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding. Will he fall at times? Yes! Will he rise again? Absolutely; because he knows that if he listens and learns and applies a Word to his search wiser than his own.

When Elliot returns to school I will lose a day to day friend, a protégé of sorts. But, I gladly release him into his next destination with confidence that he has received all that was ordained for him during this season.

Lastly I wanted to leave Elliot a few morsels of wisdom that he can carry with him on his journey and I offer the following because I know they’re short and he won’t have to read a book to get the point.

·        What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
·        Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.
- Martin Luther King JR.
·        "The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play,
his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation,
his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of
excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing.
To him he is always doing both."
- James Michener
·        “When you are imprisoned by fear there is only one means of escape – The Truth.
The choice to seek it is yours.”
– B. Stuart Noll

The solution to the enigma that is Elliot Shaw will be seen when the seed within him matures in season. When will that be? I’m not sure. I just know he is a masterpiece of creation as we all are when nurtured with love! Thanks Elliot (“One T”) I’ve enjoyed the ride!