When people die they are not gone. Their physical body may have expired, but the essence of what made them a unique human being remains forever. We must learn how to connect with our loved ones in a different way after they pass. I’m not referring to Ouija boards or mystic séances, rather knowing how to discover a new connection with them within ourselves. This may happen as a result of our actions or simply through introspection, by exploring the deep reaches of your psyche. For me it happens when I run. Whether I am pushing my limits to go faster and farther, or just being mindful during a relaxing recovery run, I have connected to the memory of my grandfather in a sacred way and have drawn strength and endurance that I did not know I had available. I did not know it at the time, but his passing was the beginning of a new life for me.
If a man is honest with others and with himself… If he receives gratefully and gives quietly… If he is gentle enough to feel and strong enough to show his feelings… If he is slow to see the faults of others but quick to discover their goodness… If he is cheerful in difficult times and modest in success… If he does his best to be true to his beliefs… Then he is truly an admirable man.
My decision to join the Marine Corps was a direct result of my grandfather’s passing. He died in 1999 and it ignited a fire inside me to reflect on where I was in life, where I was going, and what I would leave behind. Within a week of his funeral, I was at the recruiting office signing up for a new life direction. I had no idea what to expect, only the promise of challenge and adventure.
Bob Stange was an admirable man, for many reasons. When I was young, without realizing it, he was setting an example for young Mike that would end up saving my life, or rather the life I would have known had I not changed direction in 1999. A few days after he died, I discovered something new inside me; he would always be with me. Over the next decade or more, I learned how to connect with him, within myself.
As the hard-working father of four girls, Bob was a living example of how a person should treat their body. Most of the memories I have of my grandfather involve tennis. Bob and his wife Nell, my grandmother, were avid tennis players. They played several times a week socially and often in competition. When Bob was not on the tennis courts, he was in the gym lifting weights, spending time with his family, or working around the house. I had great respect and admiration for my grandfather, but after his passing I began to learn more about his daily habits and outlook on life, and my admiration for him grew.
The Early Days of Health and Fitness
Bob was born in 1918, a time when the fitness industry was just beginning to grow into what it is today. America was giving reference to what was known as the physical culture, with iconic names like Charles Atlas bringing physique, fitness, and health into the mainstream. The first physique contests and publications were seen in the early 1900s, only a short time before Bob was born. Bob rode the wave as an early practitioner of healthy, fit, and strong living. But beyond merely subscribing to popular culture of the time, Bob had a much deeper meaning and impetus behind his journey into lifelong health and fitness.
When Bob was a child, living in Washington, D.C., his father became ill with tuberculosis (TB). Following doctor’s orders, Bob’s father left his wife and three children to live in Phoenix, AZ. The dry air in Phoenix was the only treatment for TB at the time and unfortunately Bob and his siblings could not go with their father to Arizona. This unfortunate circumstance would last several years; the children would never see their father again. Bob and his siblings were placed in foster homes temporarily, but eventually came together again (without their father). Bob was 13 when his father died. Bob’s father, Jacob Herman Stange was described as a “true family man…a man of honor” by his boss, who continued to pay his life insurance premium for several years during his illness to keep the Stange family afloat.
The passing of his father ignited a fire inside the young “puny teen” (as Bob described himself in an old journal) to search for ways to live a healthy, fit life. As noted in one of Bob’s old journal entries, he avoided the kids who got into trouble, stayed away from smoking and alcohol, and kept himself busy with school and work. The habits he set in motion early in his teens would allow him to be around to enjoy a full life watching his four beautiful girls grow into successful women. Each of them, as well as Bob’s wife Nell, recognized and admired Bob’s dedication to living healthy and fit.
Young Bob in Washington, D.C.
Bob’s worked as a skilled machinist in the Washington Navy Yard through World War II. He was deferred from the war draft, being more valuable as a machinist than as a service member. He later worked at General Motors, with a short stint as an automotive mechanic with Sears. Throughout his adult life, he exercised on a daily basis. Raising four girls left little time for rest and relaxation; Bob was active on a routine basis, day in, day out. He maintained a consistent weight of 155-160 for his entire adult life with very little fluctuation.
Everything in Moderation
Bob’s mindset in most areas of life was everything in moderation. When it came to eating, he kept to modest portions and believed that a colorful plate was a healthy plate. He ate only the minimum amount to provide energy and nutrients necessary. He did not snack very often, only occasionally on fruits. Bob did not partake in drinking alcohol or smoking. He had no need for an alarm to get up in the morning; waking up naturally every day at 6:30am and a solid eight hours of sleep.
Lifestyle of Movement and Exercise
Bob was active in sports during his teen years, playing high school football and track. He developed a disciplined daily stretching routine, which he learned from the classic “Bad Back Book” by Jerry Wayne. He grew a passion for weightlifting in his twenties, working out both at home and at the gym. He was a competitive bodybuilder from his mid-20’s to early 40’s, then again in his 70’s in the masters class. He also played tennis throughout his adult life in leagues, competitions, and social matches. Tennis is a sport that Bob and Nell cherished and played together several times a week after retirement.
Bob was not “preachy” about his health and fitness beliefs. He was very humble, and quick to help another person out. He was also stoic about pain and did not like to outwardly express that he was in pain or feeling discomfort.
I have never regretted not knowing my grandfather better when he was alive. My relationship with him has actually grown since he died, by connecting with him spiritually and learning more about the way he lived from those who knew him best. Bob was a devoted Christian and believed the human body was to be treated as a sacred temple. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, we can all agree that we will only occupy our physical bodies for a short time, taking care of it makes sense, it is the vehicle in which you form relationships, make memories, and experience this beautiful world. What you do while occupying your physical body sets the stage for the relationships you have and the life you experience, which affects your friends, family, and those around you. Take this recollection of my grandfather with you, and make choices throughout each day that bring good health, fitness, and happiness to your life and set a good example for others.
When I die I do not want mourning at a funeral marking a sad day. I want my loved ones to discover how to connect with me on a different level, as I have been able to do with my grandfather. I am certain I know how they can do that. By pushing themselves physically and mentally, to their limits, they find the essence of my soul there and in that moment I will help them to go farther and faster than they thought they could. I do not want them to look down upon a headstone and feel sad, I want them to challenge themselves physically and mentally, and in those tough moments, know that I am there with them and that together, we will push through and endure.
We have all experienced the passing of a loved one. The natural response is to be sad, mourning their death and longing to be with them again physically. Take some time to look within yourself and discover the pure essence of what that person was about, and there you can connect with them and feel comforted by their presence, enduring forever.