January 9th, 2012
02:23 PM ET
Every day this week, CNN will introduce you to one member of the 2012 Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge team. Today, meet Rick Morris, a web developer and volunteer firefighter who hopes to kick his smoking habit and improve his odds for living a long life.
It was the week before Christmas when I got a call from the CNN Fit Nation team. I happened to be finishing up a vehicle fire call with my department when it came in. After a 10 or 15 minute interview, I felt I would be hearing from them again.
A few days later, CNN Medical news producer Matt Sloane asked if I would meet with him on Skype to go over a few things. I agreed and we connected the next day - December 22, 2011.
In February, I'll turn 44. Realizing that I'm not a 20-something anymore, and noticing moderate changes in my health, I knew it was about time I started paying closer attention to my medical future - especially my heart. Like many Americans, I live a relaxed lifestyle. And what is clear to me is extended relaxation leads to all kinds of problems, medically speaking. This is one of the reasons why I submitted my entry for the triathlon.
Really, there are three concerns that motivated me...
First, I want to live well into my 80s or 90s. Heck, I wouldn't even mind being a centenarian! But the way I'm treating my body, I previously doubted I would make it into my 60s.
Second, there are so many negatives bombarding Americans nowadays that encourage us to live and feel crappy. We have been programmed to live a convenient lifestyle. For example, drive-through windows are everywhere –- from the bank to fast-food restaurants... even convenience stores have them!
Food comes so far from the garden that by the time we nuke it in the microwave, we get little nutritional value. We super-size our food. We have a remote control for everything. And, there is a gimmick to make life “simple” or “easy” with a myriad of products. We sit in our car and eat in our car. Tasty, yet unhealthy food is everywhere: In vending machines, retail shopping centers and the bedroom fridge. We even ride powered scooters when shopping for food.
The bottom line for me is that much of what ails us today is our own fault, including smokers like me. So, I aim to change my way of thinking and living, get off my rump and get to work preparing my body for its later years.
Perhaps the most drastic reason I submitted my entry to Dr. Sanjay Gupta is I want to kick the cancer stick. Yeah, I smoke and, yeah, I love it when I smoke. But I realize the serious health complications of smoking.
My father died at 63 from lung cancer, following 50 years of smoking. A brother-in-law followed a few years later from the same cause. My grandfather died at 52 from a heart attack. My brother had throat cancer and passed at 39. My grandmother was diabetic (albeit she lived well into her 80s) but she also died after a heart attack.
So I have to say that my family dynamic concerns me - gotta do something about that if I don't want to join the statistics.
If you ever smoked, you'll know the immediate problems of doing this triathlon. Less air, higher blood pressure, stinky clothes, inability to run more than a few hundred yards or climb a set of stairs without becoming winded. And then there's the risk of a heart attack. Other than the initial pleasure gained, smoking does nothing positive and only makes you feel badly.
One of the things I enjoy most in my life is my participation with my local volunteer fire department, Center Pigeon Fire and Rescue in Canton, North Carolina. Nothing is more rewarding than helping rescue men, women, and children from entangled car wrecks, or helping at a fire scene.
But, I've learned that to be a firefighter, you can't be a smoker. We wear airpacks and work with heavy equipment. As a smoker, I wear out quickly. I also know that the number one killer of firefighters is heart attacks.
As a member of my fire department, I have always tried to be a contributor. By my contribution is limited by my poor health habits. I'm concerned that I could endanger one of my fellow firefighters while doing an interior attack. What if something goes wrong and I don't have the energy to assist a downed firefighter? What if I run out of energy before my colleagues and cause them to have to come to my aid?
Perhaps I'm over-reacting. But I volunteer with dedicated, true professionals. I refuse to let them down.
NFL great Mike Ditka said it best: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today's a gift.” I plan to take advantage of today in preparing myself for many tomorrows, trying to eliminate any health-related mystery.
With that, I say thanks to the entire CNN Fit Nation team for selecting me in this humbling endeavor. I realize I'm fortunate to have been selected and understand this is going to be a very challenging and rewarding journey. I can't wait to meet my six teammates, trainers and the CNN crew who are busy behind-the-scenes making this happen.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.