Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals (Long Edition)

My son Kyle turned me on to Tim Ferris, the podcast king, a few years back.  What I love about Tim and the stories he tells is he always strives to do something new, something impossible.  Just to name two of the incredible things he has done is teach himself to swim in one week.  Going from being afraid of dunking your head underwater to swimming out in the open water for one mile all in one week is quite amazing.  Equally remarkable is teaching yourself an obscure form of Jujitsu and then becoming World Champ in a few months!  Tim has done both and much more.  You can listen to more of Tim here!

Another one of my favorite podcasters (as anyone of my readers can attest) is Father Mike Schmitz.  Recently he did a series on the definition and examples of courage.  According to Father Mike, “Fear is not taken away, courage is given!”  To paraphrase, you cannot be truly courageous without fear.  Courage is striking out even when you have that dry pit in your stomach.   Indeed, being fearless is a bit of a misnomer.  You must drive through your fears to become a better person, a better you.

To be like Mike and to take on Tim, I started the practice a few years back to declare improbable goals and then set out a plan to accomplish them.  I used these goals and the efforts to reach them to overcome fear, gain confidence, and lose weight.  The best example of this is finishing a Kennedy Walk – 50 miles in 20 hours or less.

When I started my weight loss journey in 2015, walking 50 yards was hard enough.  I was 358 lbs. with a distinct fear of throwing out my back even walking around the block.   I had several debilitating bouts where doing simple tasks – even walking thru me into traction.  One of the worst was just before I had to go to a very important work meeting.  A few steps too fast and boom I was at the Chiropractor.  I am not sure he was happy to see me (I always gave him a workout moving my bulk around).  He could get me to walk upright just barely and I had to wear a back brace throughout the discussions.  I tell you all this to understand just how impossible this goal seemed at the time.   To me, it was just short of climbing Mt. Everest.

To take on any large task or goal, you must take the first tentative steps to prepare.   You also need to break it up into sub goals to enable the conditions of achievement.  In this case, my sub goal was not something grandiose.  It was simply to look half way decent at my 30th West Point reunion.  So, I started Weight Watchers and exercise routines that would enable walking distances over time.  Those were water aerobics, yoga, and elliptical trainer – all low impact exercises that enabled better alignment and brought about a base level of fitness.  By the time I reached the reunion I was down about 90 lbs. and could walk a mile or two that was needed for the old grad march without throwing out my back.

Now I was ready for something bigger, something with my back history was just a bit scary.  I wanted to walk a long distance.  I started to research on the internet what was equivalent to a marathon but for walkers.  And I found it –  the Kennedy Walk.

The Kennedy walk was established by John F. Kennedy to demonstrate the fitness of the Armed Forces.  It must be completed in 20 hours.  Bobby Kennedy famously completed the walk one winter’s day in his loafers walking along the Potomac and dragging some of his reluctant staffers along.  Bobby, the epitome of grit, made it (not sure of his staffers).  In honor of Bobby’s rendition, a Kennedy walk is held along the Potomac every few years.  Unfortunately, there was not one in the timeline wanted.  So, I set out to find one or make one.

One key element for establishing a large goal was done, I now had the target.  But I needed a second element – a reason.  The reason in this case was more important than the goal.  I wanted to honor a former colleague in the Army who was lost while serving this country in Afghanistan – Richard McEvoy and to raise money for returning vets.  Dick was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together in the 3-60 Infantry Battalion. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. In honor of Dick, the walk served as a fund raiser for the Merivis Foundation, a non-profit that trains returning veterans in Austin for the IT industry and the Young Marines, a service group in Austin.

With a worthy cause and a goal firmly established, I set out to complete a 50 mile walk in 20 hours or less.  But I could not do it all at once.  So, I broke it out in sizeable chunks.  I also picked a venue – the Lady Bird Lake trail in Austin – that could be walked 5 times to equal 50 miles.  It also had shorter paths to start off.  So, in the spring of 2016, I started to train for the first Annual McEvoy Memorial Kennedy Walk.

Every Saturday, I took an increasingly longer walk.   Lady Bird Lake trail was the perfect venue.  It is shaded much of the way, had adequate rest rooms and water and the city was immediately reachable.   I started breaking up some of my longer walks by stopping at a restaurant or store to eat some healthy food/snacks (and ok a beer).  Slowly, I went from 3 to 5 to 10 to 30 miles!  I was ready.

I finished the 50 miles, McEvoy Memorial, Kennedy Walk on Nov. 5, 1986.  I started out at 6 AM and finished at approximately 10:15 PM.   I made it in approximately 16 and a half hours.  The drive to finish the walk gave me the impetus to reach the Lifetime distinction at Weight Watchers (meeting your suggested body weight) and lose another 85 lbs.  As I walked along the path, I thought about how striving for big goals helped me to become smaller in weight and more confident in my health.  I came up with these three major elements that commend the art of setting improbable goals.

  1. Compelling Purpose to Move Forward – Setting a major goal that seems improbable gives you added motivation to stick with the day to day difficulty of staying on track.  Once I set the goal, I could not let myself, the Veterans, and the memory of my colleague down.  Life is indeed 90% perspiration, but you need the 10% of inspiration to compel you forward to a better you.
  2. Decomposable into Smaller Chunks – You cannot achieve monumental goals in a day or a week (unless you are Tim Ferris who makes a living out of it).  For ordinary people such as myself, the only way to achieve something big is to plan to break it down into smaller chunks.  In this case, the selection of the Lady Bird Lake loop was the perfect venue.
  3. A Cause Worthy of the Effort – When you are selecting an improbable goal, it is important to back it with a worthy cause. In this case, the cause was worthier that the effort.  Our Veterans, both the fallen and the living, protect us and sacrifice for a greater purpose themselves – the freedom and liberty of the United States.  50 miles is not nearly enough to walk for sacrifices they have given.

On Memorial Day, I will do a five-part sequel to this blog with the words that I spoke at each 10-mile mark in 2016.  Never forget our soldiers and service people this Memorial Day.

5 by 5, Rumination on a Milestone

Five years are both a blip and a long time in a lifetime.  Five years ago, today on my Birthday I was not in a good way.  Carrying way too much weight and way too much stress, I needed to change quick.  5 years later I am healthier, happier and looking forward to my next milestone Birthday.  To provide some insight into the past and plans for the future, I titled this blog 5 by 5.  I will discuss 5 things that I am thankful for in the last five years and five things that I will do in the next five.  An alternate title could be 55, Still Alive and Starting to Thrive.

What has helped me to thrive in these last five years as I turned on to a healthier and happier existence? The following are the five things that helped me to shed over 170 lbs. and a lot of angst and anger.


  1. Health – Five years ago I had some scary moments. I wrote about one of them on my first blog but another one really stands out.  My son was just nominated for homecoming king on his Senior Year.  I had to walk on the field and got to the stadium late coming from work winded and a little dehydrated.  I started to move with the line of parents and nominees and my legs got an incredible cramp.  I could barely move without my calves seizing up.  Luckily after 5 minutes of stretching, I was able to hobble with he and my wife on the field but it was a close call.  From that point on I swore never again.  I am proud to say that in the intervening 5 years I got my health back.  I walked 50 miles in one day and did 4 hours consecutive spinning as two examples of my improved health. Here is a picture of that event.

    Homecoming picture
    Nearly missed homecoming
  2. Family – I could not have got back to the future without a lot of help from my family. Starting with my wife and children, everyone has been extremely supportive.  Colette would ask to go on long hikes with me, clean the cabinets of all my transgressions, and hide her favorite – chocolate!  My kids all gave me support and actually let me put out a lot of my corny Facebook posts and liked them!  Also, my siblings and in-laws really helped.  In particular, my sister in law Shari created a fitness page and activities that helped us all progress.  Lastly, our German exchange student Annika, who I consider part of our family, went on hikes with my wife and I and encouraged my healthy eating (except for pizza night)!
  3. Friends – Both old and new friends really helped me. My friends at work walked with me, encouraged me and stood by me.  I will never forget how many of them walked with me during the 50 miles walk in honor of Veterans – some with children in strollers!  I also made new friends that I will keep for a lifetime and never forget.  My Weight Watcher friends at Round Rock on Saturdays cried with me, lifted me up when I was down, and gave me ideas and inspiration as I moved to my goals.
  4. Work – I will never forget how Dave McCurley, my boss at work, stood by me and got me a life coach that encouraged me to get healthy first and foremost. Then Accenture started Accenture Active and allowed me to be 1 of 3 Accenture Managing Director journeyers.  That program both with a discount initially to Weight Watchers and later with its support mechanism with Jiff helped make weight loss fun!
  5. Heroes and Mentors – Throughout the last five years I have drawn on heroes and mentors for inspiration. Julie my Weight Watchers lead inspired and mentored me with weekly meetings.  I would have not made it without my Life Coach –  who drove me to seek the medical help that I needed.  She worked on my health first prior to work.

I have accomplished a lot in the last five years!  But the next five years look even better.  Here are the goals for which I strive!


  1. I plan on writing a book or two. The book I long to write is a memoir chiefly of my Dad, Mom and family.  It will be a half Hillbilly Elegy and half Bruce Springsteen song.  It will follow the life and times of Don Grier, Sr.  Big D.  I already have a title – 15 Minutes from Palestine And I am Coming Home.  It will be about my Dad’s journey from a Texas kid picking cotton to Steelworker Union man, and then boss.   Through it we will see the changes to our nation.  Palestine is a bit of a play on words.  My Dad passed away on his ranch in Slocum Texas which is 15 minutes from Palestine, Texas.  But what he taught me was Holy  – hence the reference to the Holy land (And a little “Angel with One Wing in the Fire”).  To this end, I have been taking courses with my daughter at Austin Writer’s Group and keep blogging until done.
  2. Start easing into my second act which I have given the acronym – CRAFT. It stands for Coach, Religious, Author, Friend, Teacher.  I always wanted to be these five things.  Now, I am going to figure out how to blend the five as a second act either at my current company or as a professor.  I want to mentor and not mangle as unfortunately I sometimes have done in the past.
  3. Which leads me to number 3, becoming more kind. I have made the initial baby steps toward a kinder and gentler Don but I intend to take it to another level.  I will continue journaling (read about it here Feed your soul, heal your body ) and learn how to help others.
  4. I want to take a trip to the holy sites in Europe and the Mid-East. In addition. I want to visit Germany and visit the place that could nurture such a great person as our exchange student Annika.
  5. The last and most important thing is I want to shift focus outward and help others. God has given me a gift and a second chance with a healthier life.  I want to pass this on with others that our struggling with their weight.

So, there you have it.  The Double Nickle is a great place to be in your life.  I will keep you up to date on the progress as I progress to my next milestone.

Spinning is Winning! A Ride for A Reason

In a previous blog, I talked about the importance of keeping your Why Close By when driving to lose weight and be fit.  Here is a link to that blog.  Why and Why Not? – Two Key Questions for Weight Loss

I just got a new Why and it is something I strongly believe in.  The St Jude Children’s Research Hospital was started by Danny Thomas to take care of sick children.  I recently took up spinning at my local Life Time Fitness in Round Rock and they are sponsoring a Ride for A Reason to support St. Jude’s on March 3.  I will be riding for 4 hours and just purchase my first set of Bike Shoes from Amazon!  Now i am going to see if I can exceed my peak of 232 Watts and 132 RPMs.  The key to spinning is having a driving song.  Please, please, please Lifetime play some Bruno Mars for the event!

Spinning is great exercise and is a good break from running  or walking (my usual go-to’s).  I found that has the following benefits:

  1.  Builds up and strengthen your legs, especially hard to hit muscles like those that support your knee.
  2. It really can work your core especially when you are standing on the bike and when you ride with good form.
  3. It pumps up your cardiovascular endurance especially during interval training or power (hill) endurance rides.
  4. It is fun and uplifting start to your morning.
  5.  It is great for weight loss especially if you are pushing it.
  6. It is  an awesome way to meet friends as you share your one part misery one part exhilaration!

Please consider joining me or donating in support of this worthy cause.

Don for St. Jude’s

Person in Spinning Studio
Getting Ready for St Jude’s Ride for A Reason