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A baby boomer became a 90 Day Wonder … twice

It’s all about fitness. Well, attitude and fitness. But put together, those are some of the controllable factors that will help baby boomers live long and healthy lives. That’s what Boston’s Dick Pirozzolo has just learned, and it’s what has made him a 90 Day Wonder … for the second time in his life.

I was a 90 Day Wonder.

When I showed up at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas decades ago for Officer Training School, I weighed way too much: nearly 180 pounds. Three months later, I emerged with a pair of gold bars, and my weight was just right: 150.

Ronda Appelbaum Rockett in her gym.

But a half-century later, I’d gotten right back to where I had started — not a good look at 5 feet 9 inches. So just a few months ago, I got my long-neglected body to a gym in Wellesley, Massachusetts. It’s run by a woman named Ronda Appelbaum Rockett and she’s a rocket herself, an MD-turned-fitness-expert. Her gym, CrossFit Launchpad, is, well, 90 seconds from my house, so there goes “it’s too far, takes too long” as an excuse!

CrossFit itself is has become an international phenomenon generally described as the sport of fitness with high-intensity functional movements and a huge emphasis on nutrition. Much of the gym part of the program focuses on measuring strength and agility during each session to determine progress. How well does it work? Elite CrossFit athletes compete internationally.

I had gotten down to 165 pounds the day I started training with Ronda who, like a growing number of physicians, gave up her medical practice to do this. She told me she would rather prescribe lifestyle modifications than medicine. Her goal? Preventing chronic diseases like Type II diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and arthritis.

Rockett, who swam competitively in college, says, “When my patients were in my office, I would demonstrate the movements: burpees, squats, and other exercises. Many of my patients had success but to have the greatest impact you need a community of like-minded people for support. It’s nearly impossible to create that kind of change without the community setting.” That motivated her to switch gears and start the CrossFit gym where that kind of support could be provided.

I’ve done it since mid-December and have adopted a Paleo diet. It is grain-free and sugar-free, but includes red meat, butter, and eggs, which seem contrary to a cholesterol-lowering diet. I also eat as much and whenever I want, and have added protein shakes and protein squeeze packs.

Based on my blood test results that coincide exactly with my new regimen, my LDL (or bad) cholesterol is way down, my HDL (good) cholesterol is way up, and my triglycerides are way down too. Other blood tests tell me that inflammation — a marker for all sorts of diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, which I’ve had for over five years — has plummeted over the past three months. As a result, my rheumatologist cut my rheumatoid arthritis meds in half.

Boomers often get relegated to low-intensity senior classes. One of the things I like about this one is that it doesn’t separate people by age, and classes are apt to include everyone from teenagers to people as old as, well, me.

Ronda brings in a good dose of humor to the experience. But when it comes to her mission, she is dead serious and blunt: “Why do we do squats? Do you know why most people end up in nursing homes? They can’t get off the toilet by themselves. Squats develop muscles you need to be independent.”

She also advocates deadlifts, which consist of safely lifting any object from the floor to a standing position. “This is the strength and skill you need to pick up your grocery bags — or your grandchild for that matter.”

I can now deadlift 100 pounds, bench press 85 pounds, and do burpees. I’ve relearned jumping rope, and can support myself on gymnastic rings, though shakily. Yup, I’m a 90 Day Wonder for the second time in my life.