Do as I Say...
Written by Tim Suddard
From the Dec. 2015 issue
Posted in Columns
I started wrenching well before I was 10 years old. Like most of us, my time in the garage has given me my share of bumps and bruises, skinned knuckles and the like. It’s also left me with more than a couple of scars. I remember my first major incident: I was about 11 years old, and my dad and I were trying to get a minibike back on the road. We were heating the handlebars to bend them into the proper location, no doubt because we couldn’t afford the part we needed and were trying to make do with the wrong one.
Anyway, after heating one side until it was glowing cherry red, I grabbed hold of it so I could start working on the other side. My parents’ response, which was typical, was to rub some snow on the resulting burn and tell me everything would be fine in the morning. After I’d spent hours screaming, they finally relented and took me to Doctor Sherm, a family friend. We kept his Model A and other cars running, and in return we paid little or nothing for medical care. Because this was the deal, my parents hated to bother Sherm on a weekend with a minor problem like a third-degree burn.
I spent years after my hand healed telling people this story and showing them the scars, but I think that some of my folks’ walk-it-off attitude was just as permanently imprinted. I went on to other injuries, some serious, some not so serious, and rarely took time to address the results. (A knee injury I suffered in college, then ignored for years, still haunts me today.)
About five years ago, I finally hurt myself so badly that I had to actually address it. While working on my Shelby Mustang in a Red Bull-fueled haze of haste, I finished off my right rotator cuff. Of course, I waited a week or two at first to see if I could walk it off. When I got to the doctor, he told me my rotator cuff was 75 percent torn. Three weeks later, when I had the surgery (had to wait until after Monterey car week, of course) the doctor let me know that my rotator cuff was 95 percent torn through. Yeah, I kept working on the Shelby right up until the night I left for Monterey.
Those who know me know I always go all out. My friends and family often tease me about my German heritage and how I never stop, never quit and never ever even slow down.
It worked for a long while; at 35 I was still indestructible. At 55 years old, however, I am starting to feel the years of abuse. A nearly nonstop diet of working on cars, staring at computer screens, and autocrossing, road racing or doing press track days when I am not working on cars or staring at computer screens has left my back and neck a mess. Arthritis is something I didn’t understand 20 years ago, but it’s something I live with in seemingly every joint today.
I hate to be that old guy telling you what to do, hate even more to be that old guy who is always complaining about his aches and pains, but I wish I’d listened to the people who cautioned me years ago to take it a little bit easier on my body.
I was thinking about this the other day as I was watching a bit of football and indulging that modern pastime of wondering what the players’ lives will be like in later years. I worry about how I have abused my body, but what I have done is nothing compared to the abuse these guys take. That said, they do train and take care of their bodies. I do not. I haven’t been to a gym in many years, and the only curls I do are the 12-ounce kind.
I wish I could tell you that I have a cure for aging. My best advice would be to suggest you avoid the whole ordeal, but that’s a bit unlikely. Instead, I would advise that you do as I say and not as I do. Going all out, all the time, will pay dividends; it has brought me much more success than my skills, intelligence level and background probably warranted. But it does come at a cost, and I am finally realizing the evil of my ways.
Take better care of yourself in the shop: Use safety equipment and think before you lift, stretch, or wrench. I know for sure that shoulders and knees are not designed for the kind of abuse that constantly working in the shop dishes out.
Take better care of yourself out of the shop: I know a lot of successful people who have hit the gym and altered their diets to improve just about every aspect of their lives. What really inspires me, though, is the example of racers who have managed to stay youthful and competitive thanks to smart lifestyle choices. Randy Pobst is a sterling example here, since his vegan diet and fitness regimen have allowed him to remain in the top competitive tier for far longer than most people manage.
I guess it is never too late to change, and I know I need to. I am unlikely to turn vegan, but I could do with a few less hours in the shop or at the bar, and a few more in the gym—or even sleeping occasionally.
I promise, this time I will get in a little better shape and turn down the excesses. It’s definitely overdue. But please, can I occasionally still have a Red Bull, and could we mix it with a little vodka?
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Great article as always. I know the feeling but it's a bit different.
I've been into weight/strength training for 30 years. I've found that if you have respectable lifts (strength), working on cars and trucks is much easier on the body ie: you use 50% of your ability breaking a rusted leaf-spring shackle bolt rather than 95% vein-popping-in-your-forehead force.
Being strong makes garage grunt work much easier on the body.
My problem is having pushed too hard through pain and beating myself up trying to lift odd objects on dares as a younger guy etc.
(I'm acting like I don't still do it, but I still do!)
You know how hard and close to home this hits for me. Both ignoring and putting off pain and surgeries and even the football tie in. With my nerve issues and confirmed number of concussions in double digits, and being past 25 surgeries in 36 years, (though at the time of my participation I was still under 20 surgeries). I was invited to be part of a study looking at potential links between concussions, head trauma and protein being found in spinal fluid. The study confirmed a coorolation and is due to be published this fall.
Lastly a reminder to all, go to the freaking doctor to get checked out at least once a year. It's not going to kill you, but not going might. Think of it as routine scheduled maintenance on yourself.
Wait until you get to 60. Need a new knee from jumping out of cars on lifts as a kid. Rotator cuff blown catching a tire / wheel that bounced out of an overhead rack. Numerous scars from burns, knife wounds from cutting door panels for speakers, arthritic ankles from life on a concrete floor, arthritic arms and hands from repetitive motion. Don't know how I'm still breathing, since you can rustproof a couple of hundred cars with the tar based stuff before you realize you need a mask. Real men don't wear breathing masks. Real dumb men. Asbestos? You got it! What did I learn? Not a damn thing. I still work on live circuits, don't wear eye protection, and take anti-inflammatory drugs like M&M's Be safe out there folks, or adapt to a life where if it's a joint, it makes noise and hurts.
One of the reasons I started building the Grosh at 37 was a discussion with my father in law about his new pole barn. He built his old barn by himself in his early 30's, no problem. When it was time to build another, nicer one in his early 60's, he really couldn't. Two destroyed knees, a handful of shoulder surgeries, he knew he was out of his league.
I'm working hard to keep myself limber and healthy (at 40 now) but I can't imagine I'll have the energy to build another building by myself when I'm over 50 and get another chance.
Hey, better late than never to learn the lesson. Thats exactly the reason I started to work out before work about 18 months ago (well, that and the doc told me I had some reason to be concerned about my cholesterol). I work out nearly every morning m-f, unless its a vacation day off, which is sleeping-in time. I knew if I didnt get in shape at 35, I would never get in shape at 40+.
I have really tried to work on my diet too, but the best I could muster is just eating less, not really that much better...Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies still sing their siren song for me, but I fall under their spell less often than I used to. But, since shrinking my belt size has about stopped (plateaued), I guess Imma hafta address that bit soon as well (boo )
will you still need me, will you still feed me,When I'm 64. Now that I am 64 another Beatles song comes to mind, It starts; I'm So tired I haven't slept a wink, I'm so tired my Mind is on the Blink, I used to have friends that would always help but they are as old as I am. The Vette I am building May be my last, And the thing is a little over challange budget, so there is this Corvair down the Street.........
Having taken 10 years to build Kimini, about 5 to build Midlana, and still messing with it years later, people ask what's next. While I haven't decided - or even if there will be a next car - the thought of aging and its limitations is now in the mix, when before it never even entered my mind.
I just turned 71 and raced at the Runoffs, finishing 13th, in my EP RX7 that I had to rebuild in 6 weeks after a 100 mph crash at NJMP. I am not fanatical about it, but I watch my diet, exercise and get adequate sleep. A lifetime of working on cars has taken some toll, but not as much as if I didn't take reasonable care of myself. Be good to yourself! It will pay off.
Maybe I was more careful or just lucky. Other than a few sore fingers an bloody toes from dropping heavy things on them. Even breathing all of that dangerous dust, I breath just fine.
The dumbest thing I ever did ,as a teen ager, was flipping a hatchet. Made a nice slice on the side of my index finger, leaving a flap. It bled a little. Hel it close with my thumb until I got home an put a band aid on it. Healed nicely. I still have a small scar.
I steer clear of the energy drinks (and any caffeine 99% most of the time) but definitely feel the arthritis creeping in at 45. Gone are the days I get out of bed and move with ease, until I've had a hot shower.
Go hard or go home is what I've always lived by. It's what I'm known for. At 47 its starting to catch up with me, but I can't say I didn't know it was going to happen. And frankly don't know that I would change anything if I had the chance.
At 58 years old I developed a case of "indigestion". It happened every Sunday night while I was playing hockey after eating a plate of spaghetti. Of course I didn't go see the doctor for the 8-10 weeks I suffered with this malady. The odd thing was the triple bypass fixed the "indigestion" right quick.
I will be 70 before years end. I quit smoking and started serious exercise and eating better about 35 years ago. However, a recent experience is the reason for this response. Beware of long term usage of over the counter drugs. Do your research on effects of any long term over the counter drug usage.
I read that as I have 8 more years before I have to start taking care of myself...
In reply to pinchvalve:
I'm 36. Recalculate as needed.
I may not play as hard anymore, but damnit I'm still eating bacon.
I'm 33 and have been doing construction now for 19 years.
I work with a guy that has about the same mileage on him and he's pretty beat up, but I learned long ago that just cause I CAN so it doesn't mean I SHOULD do it.....no lifting the absolute limit of my strength etc....I get help if I need to
EastCoastMojo wrote: I may not play as hard anymore, but damnit I'm still eating bacon.
There is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, but there is also a point at which you can live too long. Very few people that I know that made it to 90+ are still enjoying life. Damned if I want to end up in a nursing home for 10 years just to be alive.
I was shown a way to judge Life/work ability a while back and didn't pay much Heed to it until a few years ago. Take out your tape mesure and extend it to 72 inches ( current avg.lifespan )now stand at what equals your current Age,and count how many inches are left, Kinda Eye Opening.
EastCoastMojo wrote: I may not play as hard anymore, but damnit I'm still eating bacon.
I used to have 5 strips a day with eggs and biscuits and gravy. Did that every morning in the company cafeteria, 5 days a week for 9 years. I referred to it has my edible heart attack. I wasn't far off the mark.
I found the secret to immortality, but I just can't go out in the sunlight now....
I can't recommend swimming, Tai Chi, stretching, low weight high rep basic lifts that utilize full range of motion, with no iso work at all. And removing as much sugar from your diet as you can.
I'm 6'2 255, my blood pressure is 111/74 and my total colesteral is under 135, including triglycerides. Not bad considering from June-October 2015 I couldn't walk across a room without assistance.
The longer you have the I'm tough enough to gut it out, the harder it will hit you when it does. I used to deadline 780lb and squat 650. I miss having that power and explosiveness in my lower body, and the high that I got post lift. But I'd never be tempted to event rack up 135lb for old times sake anymore, even if there was a guarantee that my hip and shoulder would stay together.
On a lighter note- what is the significance of the pic- make sense to conclude that is a young Tim, doesn't it? Is that so? A pointer to where he may have told the story of that car?
GTXVette wrote: I was shown a way to judge Life/work ability a while back and didn't pay much Heed to it until a few years ago. Take out your tape mesure and extend it to 72 inches ( current avg.lifespan )now stand at what equals your current Age,and count how many inches are left, Kinda Eye Opening.
I didn't need to read this.
In reply to outasite:Sorry about that! Life, It's about beating the odds.
I'm putting myself through something like an early mid-life crisis (at 32) over worry about my physical future. No need for the details as they will not impress many who have suffered through more in their early lives. It's been strange trying to explain my reasoning to people my own age (or younger) but so far the older people i've talked to about it have told me it was smart to think this way while i still have the body i do.
Nice article, thanks!
I've led a life pretty adventurous. With the exception of approximately 23 broken bones over a 50 year span I've never been really sick. Butt in my mid-twenties I've developed high blood pressure. I ignored it because I felt fine and didn't want to take the medication that caused certain ahem side effects are my social life so to speak. About three years ago I woke up feeling like I had slept wrong on my left side. I figured I would just walk it off. It was not until later that afternoon that I couldn't speak or move my left side. Damn! I had a stroke caused by years of ignoring the blood pressure. During that time I had find heart rate, low cholesterol, no chest pains, Etc. By the time I got the hot to the hospital it was too late to give me the clot-busting drugs and the damage was done.
Over time the side effects of the blood pressure problem that I ignored that caused my heart to enlarge and the valves to start leaking causing a clot that went to my brain. With several months physical therapy I have regained a good bit of function in my left side but it affect me to the point that I can barely drive a manual transmission car or ride my motorcycles because my left leg won't cooperate.
Let this be a warning. Don't ignore high blood pressure. None of you want to have a stroke and spend the rest of your life dragging a dead leg around/b]
Went in for my annual checkup. My doctor is going over results informing me everything looks great and I am in good shape. He opens my folder and looks at first page and hesitates. I asked why and he told he saw I was 50 and said it will be downhill from here. Luckily, downhill eventually started around 60. However, my mind still thinks I'm in my 20s.
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