Our new Sunday workout: The ‘wall ball shuffle’


My sister Traci saw this killer core workout at a tennis coaches’ seminar in Indianapolis a few weeks ago. Naturally she felt compelled to buy an oversized medicine ball of her own, and now our Sunday dinners at my parents’ house are invariably preceded by a couple sets of the “wall ball shuffle.”

It’s pretty simple: Basically, the person doing the workout shuffles back and forth, catching the heavy ball and tossing it back. It’s way more grueling than it appears; we set the timer for 30 seconds and we’re always glad when it goes off. The ball tosser gets fairly gassed as well, so we usually rotate through and take a turn at both spots. (To see the video version of Traci and Madison doing this workout, click here.)


Madison rotates into the ball tosser spot and Colleen takes a turn as the “shuffler.” . 

Traci got her ball at Dick’s Sporting Goods for around $70; you can get them on Amazon in a variety of sizes and a pretty huge price range – up to 150 pounds for just under $500!





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A visit with my favorite fitness guru


Interviewing Bonny Damocles at his home in Midland, Mich., earlier this month. On the fireplace mantel are photos of his youngest son and “guardian angel,” Arnold, who died in 1999 of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Of all the diet and fitness folks I’ve consulted in seven years of doing this blog, the one who inspires me most is an 82-year-old diabetic chess addict who’s never run a race or joined a gym.

Bonaparte C. Damocles doesn’t  own any fitness equipment, not even hand weights. He doesn’t walk or jog around his neighborhood. In fact, he rarely leaves his home.

But the man who may hold the world’s record for reversing type 2 diabetes (nearly 27 years, using only diet and exercise, no meds) believes he’s found the optimal exercise formula for human health — and it’s much simpler than most people realize.

Like Tim Ferriss, the best-selling hero of the human potential movement, Bonny experiments on himself. Though Ferriss’ ideas are more exciting, Bonny’s philosophy ultimately resonates more with me because of his focus on frugality and simplicity; you don’t need money or connections to follow his lead. After a recent visit in Midland, Mich., I came away feeling inspired on all kinds of levels – not just new ways to tweak my own diet/fitness plan, but a renewed determination to see the positive side of the most challenging situations. Because nothing I’ve had to deal with comes close to the trials this Filipino immigrant has endured throughout his life.

Bonny controls both his weight and his blood sugar by keeping one simple principle in mind: Exercise is medicine. And the right dosage for him is 15 minutes four times a day.

He used to run the stairs in his home; I’ve written before about how my attempts to replicate his workout left me gassed. He’s since discovered that simpler, easier sessions work nearly as well, so he now mixes in power walking around his house and jogging in place on a mat in his kitchen to his workout routine.

For a look at Bonny’s unique style of power walking, check out this video on the new Type 2 Diabetes Pioneer Youtube channel . And for more on Bonny’s inspirational story of overcoming challenges – from enduring starvation as a child during the Japanese occupation of Manila during World War II to coping with losing his youngest son to Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy – check out my book   Type 2 Diabetes Pioneer  ($8.78) on Amazon.


Always re-evaluating his best practices for good health, Bonny recently took up drinking coffee for the first time in his life at age 82 because he’d read enough to finally be convinced that one cup a day provided some positive effects. At breakfast at Bob Evans, he ordered a veggie omelet and told us how his wedding to Nemia, left, was delayed by flooding in Manila on June 2, 1958, that had him taking a roundabout route to her house — only to discover that she had done the same thing trying to get to his house. They will celebrate their 60th anniversary this year.

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A VO2 Max test for mere mortals?


Nate, a soccer player at Huntington University, gets ready to undergo a VO2 Max test in the school’s Human Performance Lab. The face mask worn during the test helps a metabolic cart assess system assess an athlete’s expelled air for oxygen consumption. At right is Dr. Fred L. Miller III, chairman of the school’s kinesiology department.

The VO2 Max test has long been associated with elite athletes – a training tool for Olympians, a way for NFL scouts to assess would-be draft picks, that type of thing.

But recently I had a chance to sit on a test in the Human Performance Lab at Huntington University for a newspaper column I was working on, and discovered it wasn’t as intimidating as you might think. Even better, the school’s kinesiology department is making the test available to the community at large for $50 – less than the entry fee to many races these days.

VO2 Max is a scientific measurement of how much oxygen your body uses at peak performance – a combination of how much blood your heart can pump to your muscles along with your muscles’ efficiency in extracting oxygen from that blood and using it for energy.

A metabolic cart system, the same type of machine hospitals use to conduct stress tests on cardiac patients, analyzes the athlete’s expelled air. It’s a much more accurate means of assessing fitness gains than comparing your performance from one race to the next, according to Fred L. Miller III, the chairman of Huntington’s kinesiology department. Whether you do 5Ks or marathons, no two courses are the same. And a change in weather can make the same course a much different experience. Whereas in the lab, Miller says, the conditions are always the same.

So, how does it work? The test I watched was done on a treadmill, starting at a comfortable jogging pace for the freshman soccer player who was being assessed and then increasing in intensity every three minutes. The test typically takes 12-15 minutes. It’s up to the athlete to decide when he or she can’t take it anymore.

Nate, the soccer player being assessed, scored 60.0 ml/kg/minute, which put him in the 99th percentile for his age and gender. While this score may impress his coach, he didn’t take the test to improve his standing on the team per se. He’s working on gaining five pounds of muscle in the offseason, and he hopes to do that while maintaining – or perhaps even improving – his VO2 Max.

The speed and intensity levels of a test vary according to the individual, of course. To see a video of Nate’s test, click here and page down to the middle of the story. If  you’re interested in scheduling a test of your own, email Dr. Miller at fmiller@huntington.edu.

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Editing inferior pizza out of my diet


little caesars heroin

When I saw my husband’s tweet about this disgusting case at an Indiana Little Caesar’s last month, I wondered if I’d finally had my fill of this particular brand of budget pizza.

Just because a heroin user with open sores and hepatitis C was making food sans gloves at one Little Caesar’s doesn’t mean the same thing’s happening at our local outpost, of course. But it was yet another reminder that fast food, regardless of how much fat and calories are involved, is often made by folks who don’t care much about the cuisine they’re preparing. Given that I’m always on the lookout for motivation to improve my diet by editing out so-so food – especially if it’s of questionable nutrient value – I wondered if it was time to end my inner cheapskate’s reliance on Little Caesar’s as a weeknight convenience meal.

I wasn’t sure I could give it up, to be honest. With only four of us home for dinner these days, a $5 dinner already prepared has A LOT of appeal.

Over the past month, though, I’m at least 4-for-4 on managing to talk myself out of making a Little Caesar’s stop. And the longer I resist the impulse, the easier it is to imagine life without it.

The thing is, we already eat homemade pizza at least once a week as it is. And my whole wheat cheese pizza is only 7 of the old-fashioned Weight Watchers points for TWO slices. Given that I make the dough up ahead of time, it’s pretty close to a convenience food anyway.

At some point I decided to stick $5 in an envelope for every time I resisted the impulse to buy Little Caesar’s, and now there’s twenty bucks in that envelope. While on some level it drives my inner cheapskate nuts to know that would only buy one splurge-worthy pizza instead of four budget pizzas … I must also acknowledge that we hardly ever splurge on good pizza.

So, for the same cost as we were spending on frequent inferior pizza, we could now occasionally have splurge-worthy pizza.  Plus we’d have the added satisfaction of knowing we were supporting local businesses – who presumably pay more attention to things like intravenous drug use and open sores in the kitchen than out-of-town chain operators do.

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Versatile oatmeal breakfast cake


This is a hearty breakfast cake you can pick up and eat. No fork needed! 

We make a lot of oatmeal at our house, which gets recycled into an oatmeal breakfast cake about once a week. If I’ve added apples or blueberries to the oatmeal, then that goes into the cake, too.

But plain old oatmeal cake is pretty tasty – enough so that, topped with my homemade caramel frosting, it makes a company-worthy dessert. Last summer I took this cake to the 4-H Foundation Bake Sale labeled as “Caramel Apple Cake.” Every piece sold.

In terms of making the cake, it really couldn’t be simpler.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Start with 2 cups cooked oatmeal in a saucepan. (The oatmeal shown below had been stored in the fridge, so it was cold and clumpy. Nothing to worry about.) Add 1 stick butter (I substitute applesauce if I have any on hand) and ½ cup each of brown sugar and white sugar, then turn burner about halfway between low and medium to melt the butter. Stir the sugars into the butter as you go, breaking up the oatmeal in the process.


Step 3: While keeping an eye on the pot on the stove, measure out 1 ⅓ cups flour. Add 1 teaspoon soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients until well mixed.


Step 4: When butter is melted in the pot on the stove, the lumps have been stirred out of the oatmeal and the sugars have “disappeared” into the mixture, remove the pan from heat.


Note that the cold, clumpy oatmeal we started with is getting into mixture mode even before the butter is completely melted. 

Step 5: Beat two eggs in a bowl, then add to the warm mixture once you feel confident the temperature has come down enough that the eggs won’t start cooking in the pot.


Note: Given that I’m generally in a hurry, I often break the eggs right into the pot and beat them into the mixture. But my mom has always warned that this is a bad idea, because if there’s blood in the eggs (or anything else that looks yucky), then you’ve ruined your mixture. In more than half a century I never recalled seeing this happen – until one day a few years ago when the whole family was gathered over at my parents’ house and somebody cracked a bloody eyeball of an egg into whatever we were cooking and we had to throw the entire batch out. It made quite an impression on all of us, and so now I always remember this step (even if I occasionally choose to disregard the  warning and proceed anyway).

Step 6: When the beaten  eggs have been mixed into the warm liquid ingredients, add the dry mixture. Stir well.

Step 7: Pour into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, using a toothpick or fork to make sure the center is no longer gooey before removing from the oven.


Cake’s done! 

Step 8: Eat!

Recipe for optional caramel frosting, if making this cake as a dessert:

(Note: This comes from p. 53 of the 1996 Wells County Extension Homemakers Cookbook, where it is attributed to a contributor named Aileen Mertz. I’ve been making it for many years as a topping for my homemade cinnamon rolls.)

½ cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup milk

2 cups powdered sugar

Melt butter in saucepan. Add brown sugar and boil over low heat 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk, stirring until mixture boils. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Gradually beat in powdered sugar.


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On giant sloths and chocolate avocado pie


What does this scary looking 12-foot tall Ice Age creature have to do with the modern human diet?

It turns out that avocados might not have blossomed into 21st century nutritional darlings without the help of the giant sloth, which ate the fatty fruits whole, allowing the oversized pits to pass through their digestive track and get dropped in a new location to start an avocado tree.

This was just one of many fun facts we learned at the Joseph Moore Museum at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., last weekend. The museum focuses on the natural history of Indiana dating back 350 million years. Weird as it is to consider, giant sloths once roamed the Hoosier state up til about 11,000 years ago, along with mastodons, saber-toothed cats and the dire wolf – all of whose skeletons you can find on display at the museum.

The museum also contains the world’s most complete skeleton of a giant beaver, which was the size of a modern black bear. This guy was found in Randolph County, Indiana, about 60 miles south of where we live.


Luckily for us, avocados didn’t go extinct when the ground sloths did. Humans began collecting and then cultivating what may be one of the planet’s most nutritious foods, packed with healthy fats, fiber and nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. They’re also tasty, whether eaten in salads, guac or this tasty chocolate avocado pie. (Recipe from triathlonobsession, via Gluten Free Gus.)


Sorry for the crappy photo – this was taken several years ago with a crappy phone camera. But the pie is really very tasty, and now that I’ve been reminded of it I can’t wait to make it again soon!

Chocolate avocado pie

For crust:

8 oz. walnuts

6 oz. pitted dates

1/8 teaspoon sea salt (I used regular)

For filling:

3 avocados, peeled and cubed

½ cup agave nectar

3 Tablespoons coconut oil

1 Tablespoonvanilla extract

1½ cup cocoa powder



  1. Pulse the pecans, dates, and salt in a food processor until the consistency of (rolled oats).  Press firmly into the prepared pan.  Chill while you prepare the filling.


  1. Puree the avocados, agave nectar and coconut oil, vanilla and salt in a food processor or blender until creamy.  Add a bit of water if the mixture is too thick.
  2. Add the cocoa powder and pulse to blend completely.
  3. Spoon the filling  into the prepared crust.
  4. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.  
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Ramping up a burpees-and-suicides workout by doing it outside – in winter


Traci and Colleen doing our outdoor workout Saturday morning in 20-degree weather at the Washington Park tennis courts in Bluffton.

On Saturday my sister and I wanted to try a grueling softball workout Colleen had told us about, but we couldn’t find an indoor court to do it on. So we met at the Washington Park tennis courts in Bluffton for a session of “suicides” sandwiched between ladder-style calisthenics, including burpees – an exercise I hate so much that just last year I’d resolved to never, ever attempt one again.

Still, when Colleen came home from softball conditioning last week and described the latest torture session their strength-and-conditioning coach had come up with, we couldn’t resist telling Traci about it. Which meant, of course, that she would insist we try it. (The three of us happen to be teammates, along with my dad, in the latest incarnation of Wells Weighs In at the local YMCA.)

The idea was to do a ladder progression starting with one burpee, one pushup and one sit-up, increasing each set by one until you reached 10, then working your way back to one again. In between each set of calisthenics, you run a “suicide” – a series of four sprints from the baseline of a basketball court to the near foul line and back, followed by a sprint to the half-court line, far foul line and far baseline.

Because we were doing this workout outside, there would be an extra payoff – bonus calories burned keeping our bodies warm in the 20-degree winter weather.

“The easiest part of this workout is the running,” Colleen warned us, and she was right.

As expected, the burpees were pure torture by the third set of just three reps. Having been informed that few of the athletes on the high school softball team had been able to maintain a sprint pace – and that some had even resorted to walking near the end – we gave ourselves permission to simply run the suicides without attempting high gear.

Compared with the burpees, the running segment of the workout felt like a recovery break.

Our primary goal, in this initial session, was to simply complete it. No skipping burpees when the others weren’t looking. Thus, with legs burning and my perpetually sore left wrist howling – and both Traci and Colleen already well into their pushups – I forced myself to do the requisite number of burpees called for in each set.

Initially I’d been hesitant to get down on the cold surface of the tennis court, even wearing gloves. (Unlike my sister, it hadn’t occurred to me to bring a beach towel to do calisthenics on.) But before long, I’d discarded my gloves and wasn’t giving the cold ground much thought. There were too many other hardships to consider.

Eventually we got past the set of 10 and started making our way back down the “ladder.” Because we were getting so tired, doing five instead of 10 only provided so much relief, By that point, those five felt exponentially tougher than the first set of five.

But by the time we got to our second set of three, we were grinning like idiots, knowing we were almost done.

“We just did 100 burpees, 100 pushups and 100 sit-ups,” Colleen announced when we finally finished, about 40 minutes after we started.

Needless to say, we were no longer feeling the cold.

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Checking out a racewalking meet

blurred race walker

Indiana Tech distance runner Aleesha Goodwin was participating in her first racewalking meet in an attempt to qualify for NAIA nationals. (To see video from this event, click here.)

I’d been curious about racewalking ever since I got beat in an indoor marathon by a racewalker a couple of years ago. Last weekend I got to cover a collegiate race walk at Goshen College, which has become something of an NAIA powerhouse in that event.

There’s a lot more to racewalking, it turns out, than simply walking fast. The rules dictate that you keep your front leg straight and maintain one foot in contact with the ground at all times.

The most obvious difference is in the hip rotation, which looks odd but boosts speed and efficiency while using more muscles and burning more calories than regular walking. Competitive racewalkers can maintain speeds of up to 8-9 mph at marathon distances, yet injuries are uncommon.

“Racewalking is hard,” says former Goshen track coach Doug Yoder, who started recruiting racewalkers a little over a decade ago after meeting Ohio high school star Tina Peters, who went on to become four-time national champion while at Goshen.

Racewalkers, he says, are “very committed and serious athletes” who work just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else on the track team.

“It is not for everyone, and not everyone can do it successfully. I have worked with some good athletes that just couldn’t do it – they couldn’t get the technique.”

Though not well known these days, racewalking was a popular spectator sport in the 1800s and has been an Olympic sport for more than a century.

“Back in the day, people would bet on race walks. Now it exists primarily in small pockets around the country,” says Jennifer Peters, who helped time the event at Goshen.

The wife of former USA Track and Field national racewalking chairman Vince Peters, who coached their daughter Tina as well as current Goshen racewalking coach Jacob GunderKline at Yellow Springs High School in Ohio, says their daughter learned the sport at an age when most kids are trying T-ball or soccer for the first time.

Peters can vividly recall her kids racing around the dining room table, with 6-year-old  Tina admonishing her younger brother, “bent knee, Andy, bent knee!”

According to Yoder, it’s actually possible for a racewalker to walk as fast as he or she can run, at least in longer distances. That wasn’t the case at the relatively short indoor race at Goshen, which was the equivalent of 1.86 miles. Still, some impressive times were posted, with Ohio high school phenomenon Taylor Ewert placing second overall in the combined male-female event at 13 minutes, 45 seconds.

The six-time Junior Olympic champion was one of a handful of unofficial entrants in the college meet, which also included 2013 Indiana University graduate Melissa Moeller, who placed fifth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in the 20-kilometer racewalk.

“Had there been enough certified officials at this race, (Ewert’s) time would be the new national indoor high school record by 30 seconds,” GunderKline said.

I don’t have any plans to learn racewalking myself – not at this point, anyway. But it would be an interesting cross-training tool, not to mention a great way to learn to keep up with my quick-striding sister.

race walk field.jpg

The field was so small for the racewalk at Goshen College that males and females competed together. No. 200, in the center, is high school racewalking phenom Taylor Ewert out of Ohio. 

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Colleen’s concert review: Addison Agen


Addison Agen in concert at Fort Wayne’s Embassy Theatre on Jan. 21, 2018.

Guest post by Colleen, age 15

I used to play tennis and kick the can and go skateboarding with Addison Agen. Sunday night, I watched her on stage at Fort Wayne’s gorgeous Embassy Theatre, playing the second of two sold-out shows for her “Welcome Home” concert after finishing runner-up on NBC’s The Voice in December.

Addison put on one heck of a show, alternating her “Voice” hits with her own original songs on acoustic guitar. There was even a special guest performance with Karli Webster from “The Voice,” who came out to do their “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” duet from the battle round on the show. I was floored by how little difference there was from her televised performances to her live show. She is an amazing singer with a powerful voice that really draws in the audience, yet she still seemed like the same person I remembered, joking and goofing with the audience like we were just hanging out in a really big coffee shop.

It’s kind of weird to become a fan of someone who started out as a friend. Mom and I had diligently followed her performance on “The Voice,” watching her performance every Monday and voting for her online. (In fact, it was the first time in my life I had a regularly scheduled time to watch a tv show.) It was clear from the beginning that she was extremely talented and would make it to the finals. But on the show, she only sang other people’s songs.

Last night we got to hear her own songs, and I have to say that her songwriting ability is, if possible, even more impressive than her singing. The meaningful lyrics combine with the music to create something truly special. As a band nerd myself, I can get picky about music. But some of Addison’s songs would make the top of my list.  

It would be nice to post a video from the concert last night but of course we don’t have smartphones around here so we didn’t take any video, nor does my mom pay for the blog package that allows her to post videos. But here’s a link to one of my favorites:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bTrDK2WMs8


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Skiing for frugal flatlanders

zartman on skis

Our instructor, Fox Island Park manager Ron Zartman, demonstrates how to point your toes out to walk uphill on cross country skis. 

My sister has now gone on two ski trips since Christmas. Technically, so have I – at a fraction of the cost.

While Traci’s getaways to Colorado and Michigan were undoubtedly much more exciting and glamorous, Colleen and I had a blast learning to cross country ski at Fox Island Park near Fort Wayne last week.

Our first venture, to a $10 ski clinic Jan. 6 that included ski rental, took place on a morning when the temperature had rose to 4 degrees after several days below zero. Our instructor was park manager and naturalist Ron Zartman, who started skiing 40 years ago during the Blizzard of ‘78.

Despite the frigid conditions, Zartman was enthusiastic as a kid, because there hasn’t been much ski weather locally in recent years. After zero ski rentals at the park last year, he told us he’d been able to ski every day between Christmas and New Year’s – sometimes twice a day.

The first segment of our clinic took place in the nature center, where we learned about ski equipment. Then it was out onto the snow covered trails, where pre-existing grooves cut by  other skiiers made it easier to maneuver. As our group moved along in single file, a bit uncertainly at first, it felt a little bit like moving along a human-powered railroad track.

The key to skiing, Zartman had told us, was to shift all your weight from one foot to the other. Basic forward movement really was about that simple. But in the early going, at least, it was entirely possible to feel perfectly at ease one moment and find yourself sprawled in the snow the next. At one point, I fell while simply standing in one spot.

Because your boots are attached to your skis via a locking mechanism, getting up is tricky. Zartman advised rolling onto your back and raising both legs in the air so your skis don’t get entangled. From there, we learned to roll to the side and then position ourselves over our feet in a kind of crouch. It took quite a bit of practice. Luckily, most of us fell several times so we had ample opportunity to work on this maneuver.

The hardest thing to learn was going uphill. At first, it took several attempts to make it up a laughably small incline without sliding back two feet for every foot of progress.

Zartman advised pointing our toes out and stomping up the hill in a kind of duck walk, while punching our ski poles into the snow behind us. We did better on a slightly higher rise midway into our trail session, and by the time we reached a legitimate hill at our turnaround spot, most of us were able to climb without fear if not actual confidence.

Down hill was easier, thanks to gravity and the “snowplow” technique, in which you keep your ski tips together in a “V” shape while bending your knees for balance. Only one member of our group made it down the hill without falling, but by then almost everybody was able to get back up in a minute or less, which felt like amazing progress.

By the time we made it back to the Nature Center, Colleen and I were hooked. This was an awfully fun way to burn more than 400 calories an hour. Though I doubt we invest in a pair of skis, given the uncertainty of snow around here most years, we went back to Fox Island one afternoon last week when the kids had a snow day. An hour of skiing cost us just $6 each for equipment rental.

I’m looking forward to hearing about Traci’s most recent ski trip when we go for a run this week. But for me, the cost, convenience and minimal risk of injury make cross country skiing more appealing.

xcski labrats

Colleen the science nerd was excited that we had a couple of microbiologists in our ski clinic group. Jane and Angela work in the Parkview Clinical Laboratory in Fort Wayne. 

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