I’m humbled and honored to have this opportunity to share my experiences on health and fitness with this column.

I call North Port home and I have the privilege of working as a special education and history teacher with Sarasota County Public Schools. In addition to being a beach bum, the owner of a loveable chocolate Labrador retriever and an avid classic rock aficionado.

I also am a competitive runner and triathlete. But it was a journey to get to this place in my life.

Ten years ago, I was lost. I spent my time in the fast lane, hanging in clubs, chasing parties, glamour and late nights on the town. My previous career was in shambles, my physical health deteriorating, my finances were a mess and my relationship with family and friends was strained. I was not happy and I was not in a good place.

Something had to change, and some serious lifestyle modifications were in order.

One of those changes came the day I registered for a 5K run to benefit a local charity. I hadn’t done any serious running since my days as an athlete in college. I had eight weeks to get myself into respectable shape to complete the race.

I started slowly, running three or four days a week. The first month was discouraging, painful and overwhelming at times.

But something happened right around four weeks into the training. I can’t explain what, but something clicked. I started to enjoy it, it started getting easier and I started getting faster. I ran that first 5K and signed up for another, and another and then a 10K.

Then a friend suggested I try a triathlon with him. “‘Ok, why not?’ I said, ‘I’ve come this far.’ ”

I bought an old used bike off Craigslist, registered for an Olympic distance triathlon and started to train.

Competing in and finishing my first triathlon was a life-changing experience for me. The experience was indescribable. I had a rush I’d never felt before, and I was hooked. Swimming, biking and running became a lifestyle.

It’s been years now since my first race. Each year I’ve become more immersed in the sport, the culture and lifestyle.

I’ve competed in and finished dozens of running races and triathlons, including the infamous Ironman 140.6 triathlon which involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile marathon.

There have been some wonderful experiences and accomplishments since discovering this sport. I’ve gotten involved in several local clubs, met some wonderful people and forged lifelong friendships.

At 42, I’m stronger, fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been. I’m also happier.

This lifestyle has instilled a newfound confidence and provided a positive, wholesome outlet for me to channel the frustrations and hurdles that daily life throws our way. It helps to have a goal to work toward, a race on the calendar to train for and the feeling of accomplishment when the achievement is fulfilled.

Life isn’t perfect, it never will be, but the man I am today is a far superior version to the one that I saw in the mirror 10 years ago.

If you find yourself struggling in life or searching for purpose, think about taking that first step to change.

Countless peer-reviewed studies in scientific and medical journals have proven the physical and psychological benefits of exercise.

It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you can run, your body composition, how others perceive you or what your athletic background is. Take that first step and stick with it for a while, give it time to take hold, and the change will come.

Start your journey toward self-improvement today and let me know how it goes, I’m rooting for you!

Jim Jordan is a special education and history teacher with Sarasota County Public Schools. He also is a competitive runner and triathlete. Contact him at jimjordan2576@yahoo.com.^p

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