Veronica Chambers gets in shape after a baby and an illness.
Photo: Gabrielle Revere
This is probably the biggest difference between working with a coach and a psychologist or even a life coach. Dr. Charlie is not interested in what's easy or even moderately difficult. He's used to working with athletes who have a singular focus. So when I say, "I want to be in the best possible health," he assumes that I mean it—and that forces me to mean it. In his world, my current weekly physical fitness schedule (four hours of elliptical, two hours of strength, one hour of yoga) is just maintenance. Dr. Charlie works with me to find the time and mental space to build a more intense schedule. The same with diet and nutrition. It's not impossible to lose weight while on steroids; it's just very, very hard. Luckily, very, very hard is Dr. Charlie's specialty. Unlike most people, Dr. Charlie believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary physical things.

As a result, when the alarm goes off at 4:45 a.m. and I've already done four workouts that week, it's Dr. Charlie's voice I hear. If I want to be a civilian, four days of cardio is plenty. If I want to perform like an athlete, then I'd better get up and jump on the elliptical for half an hour to keep my cardio numbers high. In the evening, when I've had a crappy day, I think of Dr. Charlie. I could do yoga, or I could have a glass of wine. When I want to tap into my best physical self, I go for the yoga.

Although I'm not there yet, I'm pretty sure I'll come out of this in better shape than before my pregnancy. I've just signed up for a half marathon, and although I'm terrified, I'm also excited. No one's ever challenged me like this.

And using what I've learned with Dr. Charlie, I'm now coaching my mother by e-mail and over the phone. She lives in Miami and has a host of health problems. I give her the same "get in the game" pep talks. I tell her I'm not interested in excuses, just results. I send her a fitness journal like mine and tell her that if she ever wants to see her grandchild again (I play dirty), she'd better jump to it.

And then I got this e-mail from her: "Thank you for helping me, even if I fight you kicking and screaming. I had a physical with a new doctor a few months ago after I returned from seeing you, and my cholesterol and glucose levels were not what he wanted to see. Because of the encouragement you gave me, I have been able to continue on my own. Well, on Friday, I had a follow-up visit and yesterday I got a call saying that my cholesterol had dropped from 215 to 195, and that my HDL (good cholesterol) had jumped while the LDL (bad cholesterol) had plummeted. So thank you very much for caring for me when I didn't have the discipline to take care of myself."

In August, Dr. Charlie began audioconferencing with his clients who would compete at the Olympics in Beijing. I felt silly talking about how I was struggling to hit my four-mile run when he was working with men and women who were literally going for the gold, but Dr. Charlie was insistent: I'm as important a client as his athletes. I may not be training for the games, but recovering from my illness is the Olympics of my life. His job, and he takes it seriously, is to make sure that I'm ready, each and every week, to get out there and play.


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