When you gain control of your body you will gain control of your LIFE

A couple of years ago, I attended a fitness convention in Atlanta. It's one of only a few industry trade shows I attend, and therefore, it's one of the only times I come face-to-face with a large number of my readers at once. During the course of that weekend, hundreds of men and women who introduced themselves as avid followers of my magazine came up to shake my hand and chat. What struck me most about the entire experience—what absolutely floored me—was how strikingly out of shape many of these people were.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed meeting all these folks, many of whom had been reading my work for years. I even recognized a lot of their names. That weekend I think I met about 600 of my students. Maybe 80 of them looked fit and strong, but the others, who had been receiving the same information on exercise and nutrition, looked like . . . well, like they never had the opportunity to learn about how to get in top shape before.

On the flight home, I agonized over what I experienced that weekend. I knew then and there that in order to become a better teacher, I had to create a solution that would help these people not just get the facts but apply them. I knew I could help these people. I knew it was my responsibility.

Anyone who knows me at all or is familiar with me through my writing understands I firmly believe that a strong, healthy mind resides in a strong, healthy body. That, my friends, is a fact. When I see men and women who are out of shape, I see lives not fully lived. I see lost potential. I see people who need someone to help them realize they can look and feel better. That's what I see.

You simply cannot escape this reality: Your body is the epicenter of your universe. You go nowhere without it. It is truly the temple of your mind and your soul. If it is sagging, softening, and aging rapidly, other aspects of your life will soon follow suit.

I just don't believe that anyone in this world sets out on a journey to become fat and unhealthy, just as no one decides to become lonely or poor. What happens is, somewhere along the line, slowly and gradually, without even being aware of it, we give up. We give up our values and our dreams one at a lime. When people let go of their bodies, it is, quite simply, the beginning of the end.

The night I got home from that trip, I couldn't stop thinking about it. What could I do to help these people apply their knowledge? I asked myself that question over and over again. I couldn't sleep. Then, finally, at about 1:15 in the morning, it hit me: They need a challenge. A competition. An incentive and the ultimate trophy—my blood-red Lamborghini Diablo.

I recalled how dreaming about someday owning that car helped me back when I was struggling to build my business—it helped me stay focused on my future and lifted my desire when I needed it most. I thought maybe it could do the same for the people I wanted to help—that it could be their driving force, too. So, the next day, I put that Lamborghini up as the "Grand Prize" in the most unique self-improvement contest ever.

No one had ever tried issuing a challenge like this before, but something told me I had to do it, even though some people (including my dad, who's also my business advisor) let me know they thought the idea was crazy.

But I experienced something like the voice that whispered to Ray Kinsella in the baseball movie Field of Dreams-. My instincts told me if I built it, they would come.

And did they ever...

More than 54,000 people from all walks of life signed up. Cops, cooks, and corporate CEOs. Parents and grandparents (more than a few grea/-grandparents). Men and women who had never lifted a weight in their lives and a few seasoned gym rats who had been trying to build better bodies for years. The entries cascaded in, each individual accepting my challenge.

There were 10 categories, so young and old, men and women alike could all compete and have a chance to win. They were required to take "before and after" photos and write an essay describing their experience and the impact it had on their lives overall. A team of judges, including myself, worked day and night scoring each competitor based on how much they improved their physiques, combined with how well they expressed the experience through their essays.

There—in those essays—was where my expectations and imagination were blown away. I hoped that giving people an incentive and challenging them to apply the knowledge I offered them would help them improve their bodies. And it did.

But that's not all. These people were getting physically fit, and they were getting their lives back in shape. It was, and still is, one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. Accepting this challenge rekindled the flame of desire for tens of thousands, and it broke down walls that were keeping people from moving forward in all areas of their lives.

Many of the men and women who accepted my challenge reported that this Program literally saved their lives. Their risk of heart disease (the number-one killer in America today) was drastically lowered, as well as the risk of being afflicted with other illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis.

Beyond even that, the psychological and emotional changes reported by these men and women were (and are) stunning. They described off-thc-chart leaps in self-confidence, self-respect, and empowerment. They discovered that taking control of their bodies broke down barriers all around them. People were more attracted to them. They got better jobs. They made greater amounts of money. Their relationships with colleagues, family, and friends improved. Their marriages got better. Their sex lives became more satisfying. Old habits that seemed impossible to break suddenly became easy to drop.

And they began to realize that they really do have the power to help and inspire others (which, by the way, is, in my opinion, the main reason we're here to begin with). Quite simply, they became more enlightened, more powerful people, in every sense of those words.

During the course of that first challenge, something else unexpected happened: I started getting letters—hundreds of letters—from competitors who no longer needed the prizes. They explained that initially my car and the money were the focus, but after a few weeks—as soon as they began being treated differently by others and they began feeling differently about themselves—they realized that the biggest and best prize they could win was not anything I could give them. (Nope, not even a $200,000 sports car.)

Virtually all the people who finished the 12-week challenge felt like winners. After having the opportunity to get to know many of them on a very personal level, I can tell you these real-life champions have done more to inspire me than all the pro athletes and movie stars I know, combined. That comment may ruffle some feathers, but it's true.

I could go on and on with literally thousands of examples, but rather than skim the surface of such an incredibly large championship team, 1 think it would be better to dig in right here with several specific examples.

(By the way, I strongly encourage you to take the time to read these true stories carefully. These words could change your life. I know because they have already changed mine.)

He Transformed Tragedy into Triumph

Lynn Lingenfelter's life changed forever on November 11, 1983. He was 16 years old, a starting fullback, and captain of his Pennsylvania high school football team. Along with a friend, he headed into the woods that day near his family's home to hunt small game, something the two had done dozens of times before.

They were climbing a steep mountain slope when Lynn's friend lost his footing. Even before Lynn heard the pop of his companion's ,22-caliber rifle, he felt a thump in his back, "As if I'd been slugged with a baseball bat." As he was falling to the ground, Lynn glimpsed back at his friend, who was down on his knees, the weapon still clutched in his hand.

"His eyes were bigger than mine," recalls Lynn.

Lynn actually pulled himself up and tried to run for help. "I went about 30 yards. Then I started to feel really sick. I could see only black and white, and I couldn't hear. I stumbled and fell to the ground. I honestly thought I was going to die. I remember praying and saying, 'God, save me ... I think I'm going.' Then I must have blacked out."

Almost beside himself with panic and fear, Lynn's friend ran to get help. When he returned, it was with Lynn's younger brother, Mike.

"They found me lying on the ground, stone cold and blue. I wasn't breathing. By coincidence or fate, Mike had learned CPR in health-education class just a few days earlier. He got me breathing again and held me tight to keep me warm until the paramedics got there and took me to the hospital."

The bullet had entered Lynn's lower back, ripped through his intestines, and come out through the front. He had lost a massive amount of blood while he was lying there on the hill. When he finally got to the hospital, the doctors told his family he had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. Lynn had to be given 38 pints of blood to replace what his body had lost.

"I don't remember all that much about the days that followed except I was in a lot of pain. I had one operation after another, one complication after another. I was in the hospital for the better part of five months."

By the time Lynn was finally released, he had lost 50 pounds.

"I couldn't even bench press 100 pounds. But I set a goal of rebuilding my body by the time the next football season started. The doctors said that was impossible, which made me even more determined. I trained hard, and my mom fed me well."

When the starting team ran onto the field the first Friday night of that next season, Lynn was among them, once again the starling fullback. The crowd stood and cheered.

"That was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. I remember thinking it was all over now—the tough times my family and I endured because of the hunting accident, those long, long months of not knowing if I'd ever recover. I was ready now for that to become nothing more than a distant memory. Which, as time passed, it did," explained Lynn.

If this were an after-school movie, that would be the end of the story. Music up. Fade out. But Lynn's saga, as he would soon learn, was not nearly over.

"I finished high school, got engaged to my sweetheart, Sara, and enrolled at Penn State University. This was in the fall of 1987. Doctors were being notified at that time of a newly discovered virus that seemed to lead to a fatal disease. One of the means of transmission was through tainted blood. They were told that anyone who received blood in recent years should be tested to see if they had the disease. I went in for my test, hardly giving it a second thought. To me, this was a formality, nothing more than that."

Two weeks later, the telephone in Lynn's dorm room rang. (This disease was still new enough at that time that test results were given over the phone.)

"Lynn," the doctor said, pausing for a moment, "you have the HIV virus."

Lynn didn't react. He didn't know how to react. A gunshot wound, although horrific, was something he could understand, something he could comprehend. But this . . . beyond what the doctors had told him, he didn't even know what HIV was—he only knew it was serious, extremely serious.

"My experience with the shooting had made me believe I could handle anything; I could get out of anything. But I remember all I could think when I got that phone call was, 'How do I get out of thisT"

This was a death sentence, or so Lynn was told. The doctors said he had two years to live. Maybe three. Lynn's family was devastated. Breaking the news to his fiancée. Sara, was one of the most difficult things he had ever done.

"Having to tell your fiancée you're dying—that you're HIV-positive—is something I wish no one in the world had to do. We met that evening at her dorm. I remember we were out back, and 1 said, 'Sara, you're not going to believe this. My test came back positive ... I have the virus.' It hurt so bad.

"We sat there for hours. She cried so hard she shook from head to toe. We were just kids. Sophomores in college. We had our whole lives ahead of us, so much to look forward to. And in just a few seconds ... it all melted away."

Sara tried for a time to stay with Lynn, but they believed there was no way it was going to work. Once she left, he dropped out of school.

"I basically dropped out of life. I was in denial, then I was angry, then I hit rock bottom. I was very depressed. I'd sleep 15 hours a day. Sometimes I wouldn't leave the house for a week. I drank beer and ate junk food and watched a lot of TV."

In no time at all, Lynn ballooned to 230 pounds. He tried stemming the tide, but there was no stopping it.

"I'd go to a support group meeting every once in a while, but I wasn't really into it. 1 knew I needed help, but I didn't really want help. One of the things I've learned is that no one can help you until you've decided you're ready for it."

He also learned that telling people he was HIV-positive meant facing almost certain dread and rejection.

"I remember when one of my friends found out, he asked me to meet him at a restaurant. We talked, and he said, 'My family comes first.' He repeated that phrase four or five times. I wasn't following what he meant. It turned out he didn't want me coming over to his house anymore because he was afraid I would infect his wife and children."

Lynn's response, like so many people in such a situation, was to pull back.

"I learned to just keep my problems to myself. I didn't even admit to myself how miserable I was. I can look back now and see what a big mistake that was. One of the first steps in overcoming adversity is to honestly admit how you feel about it, to acknowledge that there is a problem. But I didn't know that then."

And so his downward spiral continued.

"I was sick. I was dying. But I wasn't dying from HIV. I was dying from depression. In a way, I was killing myself. I'd built a prison for myself and filled it with misery. I was so consumed with negative images, I didn't care about myself or anyone around me. It just snowballed. It got out of control. I felt helpless, like I was stuck in the middle of a huge storm, and I couldn't move.

"I knew deep down that I wasn't really a loser. Yet I was losing. I was waiting to die. The doctors told me that's all I had to look forward to. So that's what I was waiting for. I kept waiting. And waiting. Two years went past. Then three. Then nine. And I kept waiting."

Lynn wasn't dead. But he wasn't alive either.

"That was a very strange place to be. I began to believe that maybe this HIV was not going to kill me. And that forced me to face myself and ask a very tough question:

It was at this point Lynn began searching for answers. He started having vivid dreams of being a competitive athlete, of being strong and hopeful, with life stretching out in front of him like a bright sunlit path, rather than the dark, hollow tunnel he had been seeing.

"One morning—this was in early '97—I awoke from one of these dreams, went in the bathroom, and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like crap. I fell like crap. And I told myself I had to change. It was time to take the bull by the horns."

He hauled himself to a local gym and began asking around for information on how to get in shape. One of the guys in the room handed him a copy of one of my publications.

"I had never been so fat. I didn't know what type of nutrition or exercise program I should be following. I looked at this magazine and really liked the way it was written. I felt like someone was talking to me and guiding me.

"I didn't realize it at the time, but what I was finding was a lot more than fitness advice. I could relate to the tone, the language, the attitude of the articles. Beyond information, I was being taught a frame of mind, which inspired me more than all the preachers, teachers, doctors, and counselors who had tried to get through to me before."

Lynn's timing couldn't have been better. One of the issues he picked up that spring included information about my contest. Lynn's competitive fuse was relit.

"It was time for me to show I could be a winner again."

Lynn took everything he had learned about himself, every emotion he had felt, and carried it all into the weight room.

"I couldn't fight the HIV virus physically. I mean, you can't punch it and beat it up. But every time I finished a hard workout, I felt like I had won a battle. Every day I stuck with my nutrition program, I felt I had taken one more step to climb out of the hole I had dug for myself.

"At the end of the first week, I could actually feel a change. I literally felt better about myself. There wasn't much of a physical change at that point, but there was a big mental change. I felt good about myself; I'd forgotten what it was like."

Lynn felt—finally—as if his life had direction again.

"Each day I got more and more confident because I was finally moving forward again. I was working toward a goal I could be proud of. Even if I didn't win the contest, I said to myself, 'Worst-case scenario, I'm gonna be in shape at the end of this.' I didn't know if I would win, but I knew I was gonna finish, and that, in itself, would be a victory."

Not only did Lynn's spirit revive, and not only did his body gain shape and strength, but his health—his body's response to the disease that lived within it—soared.

"I was—I am—HIV-positive. So it was especially important not to deprive my body of nutrients. I had to restrict calories to lose all the fat I put on over the years, so I ate a lot of low-fat, healthy foods like chicken, vegetables, fruit, potatoes, and nutrition shakes.

"It's a bit awkward at first, but after a few weeks, I got used to it, and it wasn't hard to maintain. Today it's just a part of my life. I just wake up and do the right things and make the right decisions throughout the day."

And the rewards?

"When you get in great shape, you have so much more self-esteem. It enables you to handle things better. I'm positive that working out and rebuilding my body helped fight my depression.

"Just knowing I was still capable of accomplishing something gave me confidence. I would come home from the gym each day and look in the mirror and say, 'At least one thing in my life is going right.' That was all I needed to keep going.

"This may have saved my life. I've lived more in the past two years than I did in the entire decade before that—a lot more. And I've learned. Most of all, I've learned that time lost is lost forever. All those years—my twenties, essentially—they were wasted with frustration and anger, depression and shame.

"For nine years I asked, 'Why meT I replayed that hunting accident again and again in my mind. I obsessed about why my friend didn't have his safety lock on his gun. I wondered how things would have been different if the bullet hit me in the leg instead of going through my gut.

"I was so angry this happened to me. I didn't do anything to anyone. I didn't deserve this. And then, after going through all that, to find out I was HIV-positive . . . it's impossible to understand. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself. It's very hard not to become angry and bitter.

"But I learned that obsessing about it served no purpose other than to torture myself. I've had to forgive everyone and everything—my friend who accidentally shot me, the doctors, the system that let diseased blood be transfused into my body. I had to set myself free from all that and look forward, not back."

It was literally taking his body into his own hands that started to set Lynn free, he told me. All he wanted in the beginning was to improve his body. He had no idea, he says today, that his entire existence would be raised to a greater level of fulfillment and freedom than he has ever known.

"Each day is a gift to me, and I do my best to enjoy it. I smile a lot, which is something I did very little of for nine years. I stay busy. When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. I think I watched enough TV for the rest of my life, so I try not to do that now. I go on walks with my fiancée, Evey. We go out to dinner. I like to be active. I like to be moving.

"Each day, I try to do something new—to achieve a goal. I recently learned how to in-line skate and surf."

Of all the people I've met in my life, the "new Lynn" may be the most "consistently upbeat" of them all. But why?

"Why am I happy? Because I decided to be happy. That's how simple it is. It's a choice I made. Then I acted on that choice. It took me 10 years to figure out that this was all up to me, and me alone.

"It might sound strange to say that part of making that choice, of deciding to change, is learning how to surrender. I don't mean surrender as in giving up. I mean surrendering the negative emotions that hold so many of us back."

Blame, shame, resentment. These are the feelings Lynn is talking about. The first step to taking your life into your own hands, he says, is to open those hands and empty them of the unhealthy, unproductive things they've been clinging to for so long.

"Complaining makes you more miserable and just makes problems worse. None of the problems I've faced ever went away by complaining. When you complain, you attract other people who complain. That's a dead-end street.

"But it works the other way, too. When you decide to be happy, adventurous, and open-minded, you will find other people who have made the same decision."

Still, there remains the disease. Lynn has been HIV-positive for over 15 years. The virus is there, threatening to take his life at any time—or so some would say.

"I don't look at it that way. I'm not dying; I'm living. I'm doing the things I want to do. I'm doing what I can to help other people. I've got a beautiful fiancée who loves me, and I appreciate every day."

Lynn sees the world, and people, in a different way now.

"Because of what I've been through, I've learned to look at other people—really look at them. For nine years of my life, I sat on the sidelines and just observed. I watched people. I mean literally. Sometimes I'd go to a place like the mall, where I'd sit for hours and just watch people go past.

"And do you know what I saw—what I see? I see most other people dying. Think about it, none of us is going to live forever. We're all here for only a certain amount of time. But how many of us live as if that is true? I think a lot of people need to be taken aside and told, 'Look, you've got only so much more time to live. Make the most of every day, starting now—live as you will wish you would have lived when you're dying."

Lynn not only lives each day, but he also sets goals, and he dreams.

"My favorite dream now is one where I see myself as an old man. I'm healthy and wise, out on a lake fishing with my grandchildren. The sun is setting, and the gentle summer breeze is getting cool. A storm is coming. Off in the distance, my wife waves at us, signaling it's time to come back to shore. I ease the boat around. As we head back to the dock, I take the opportunity to tell my grandkids a very valuable lesson their granddad learned the hard way.

"1 tell them that sometime during their voyage through life, they're gonna hit a storm. And even though things might get very rough, they should never stop going forward. They must never give up, not even for a moment. If you drop anchor, I tell them, the storm will tear you apart. Look forward, and you will see the beautiful rainbow on the other side. Keep looking forward and move in that direction, and you will make it through."

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