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Smoke-free for seven months... and counting

Smoke-free for seven months... and counting
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Monday, September 10, 2012 - 6:09pm

(CNN) -- In addition to visiting all the micro-breweries in Asheville, North Carolina, every bucket list should contain the goal of completing a triathlon.

It just makes plain 'ole sense. Why? Well, for starters, this former smoker and couch "tater" knows how the rewards of tough training and a commitment to prevail teaches a man how to feel better and live stronger.

Yeah, it's me... Appalachian Rick. I'm the same feller who recently discovered the tasty bean paste plenty of folk call "hummus." That's right, the guy who told Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he was fed up with the cancer sticks. The guy who as of today (September 4, 2012) has been smoke-free for 7 months.

You know me as one of the Lucky Seven.

Along with six other Fit Nation participants, I'll be completing my first triathlon next week in Malibu, California. Astronaut Sunita Williams will be joining us as well, except she'll be doing hers on the International Space Station. I still don't know how she's going to swim a half-mile in space!

I can't believe how quickly time has passed since I was notified by CNN that I had been selected as a member of this year's Fit Nation team.

Discovering new friends was the best part, without question. Getting the opportunity to toss future Hall of Famer Jerry Stackhouse an "alley oop" and training with the Atlanta Hawks is unforgettable! And, though humble at the time, I quite honestly didn't mind CNN's cameras in my face every moment -- whether on an exotic beach in Hawayer, in Centennial Park, or while bouncing around the CNN Center.

The hours of training and support from my personal trainers Bill and Susan Wilkins are immeasurable. The support from my local fitness center at MedWest Haywood has been second to none. The equipment provided by CNN is top-notch. Our mid-term tour on the Big Island of Hawaii was tolerable.

Crashing a road bike was educational.

I'm writing this - my last blog post before I jump head first into the Pacific (they said there ain't no rope swings on Malibu Beach) - to let you know how I'm feeling, what has made me successful, and what I expect to accomplish by completing my first triathlon.

One of the more important things I wanted to accomplish has already been achieved: I quit smoking for good. I don't have enough room here to tell you how great I feel. But, what I can tell you is I'm so glad I quit. Thanks to Kathy Keogh at MedWest, my smoke-free teacher, in part for that.

I cannot wait to cross the finish line in Malibu. In my Army days, accomplishing the mission was always the focus. I can't remember when I didn't succeed. Of course, I'm not 20 years old anymore!

Physical success comes less often these days it seems. Prior to coming on board with the Fit Nation team, I was certain that I had reached a point when life stops giving and starts taking.

Today, at 44 years old, I refuse to believe that.

I recall a moment in the movie "Shawshank Redemption" when Morgan Freeman's character says, "Get busy living or get busy dying". That statement has silently been a driving force in my training this year.

There have been plenty of times where I have ridden my triathlon bike 30, even 40 miles. I've also swam 4,500 meters time and again. I ran 3 and 4-mile treks more in the past eight months than I did in the 10 years after leaving the military.

There have also been plenty of times where I have moped and groaned about training for the day. Excuses were easy to find. Overcoming those notions was often less easy.

But the overwhelming desire to accomplish something that I'll use to launch my bucket list keeps me focused. Plus, my local trainer Bill happens to be the race director for the King of the Smokies Triathlon right here in Western North Carolina. He and CNN's fitness trainer - who I refer to as "Drill Sergeant" - have been extremely supportive.

In my video submission I stated, "I don't want to die from controllable circumstances... I want to live." And, by God I'm going to do just that!

Start you own bucket list today and join me in getting healthy and living longer. Yeah, you! Do you see me talking to someone else? Quit making excuses and start moving.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to CNN, medical producers Matt Sloan and Caitlin Hagan, Dr. Gupta, April Burkey, Laura Cozik, Roni Selig, Ilana Katz, and the entire CNN team. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

See you at the finish line!

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