You've heard of the 'Wish Sandwich?' That's two pieces of bread and you wish you had something between them.
For baby boomers, we are what's in between, with kids on one side, parents on the other. The classic examples show kids living at home and grandparents in dire health.
My sandwich included kids in school, my wife, and mother in law living together in a multi-generational home. My father in law lived in assisted care with Parkinson's until I volunteered for caregiving duty.
A series of events where he traveled between assisted living, the hospital, medical rehab, then these words from him, "I'm can't go to sleep because I'm afraid of where I'll wake up," brought him home.
That's when his Training Camp For Life started.
As an athlete, my high school and college coaches were enshrined in National Wrestling Hall of Fame. I can't blame them for not turning me into an Olympian. As a fitness fan I've kicked my own butt to avoid the pitfalls of a sedentary life. Obesity and diabetes grow strong on my family tree.
In the spirit of fitness and fun, I coached my kids in sports as often as possible, starting in kindergarten and finishing in my youngest's senior year of high school. No hall of fame for this coach, but no damage to my teams either.
Grandpa moved in with my silent pledge to avoid the common deaths for Parkinson's patients, either falling or choking. At the same time I selfishly didn't want to simply stand by while he laid in bed.
He came home in bad shape after a week in the hospital fighting pneumonia that left him spent. After a vigorous pep talk, the sort you get at halftime when you're losing a game you ought to win, we started training.
The trick to engaging an older man in regular exercise is finding who his sports heroes were. Luckily I was a sports history reader as a kid, so I had a few names to throw out to inspire him.
I wanted him to walk with me as much as he could, so I asked him his favorite runner. Roger Bannister was my guess since he broke the four minute mile in 1954 with a time of 3 min 59.4 sec. And they were about the same age.
While he thought about it, more names bubbled up. I didn't want to decide the runner for him so I kept quiet, but Jesse Owens with four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics would've worked fine.
Finally, Grandpa said, "Glenn Cunningham." It was a perfect answer.
Cunningham, an Olympian in 1932 and '36 where he roomed with Jesse Owens, had been burned so badly as an eight year old that his doctors recommended amputating his legs. Instead, he learned to walk again, then run, and became the premier miler of his time, winning a silver medal in the '36 Games.
Grandpa had been a World War II Marine. He hit the beach on a Pacific island and ran into machine gun fire that left one of his legs permanently damaged. He and Glenn Cunningham would walk in the same footprints. Our track became the circle around a center stairwell where he built up enough endurance for daily doubles.
It started with one lap attempt, grew to more, and when he wasn't feeling like training I'd say, "I want you to walk it out, the Kansas Flyer wants to race. You can beat him this time," and off we'd go with his walker.
The leg work took care of his lower body, but I needed something for his arms and shoulders.
While he sat in his lift chair I asked about his favorite boxer. Rocky Marciano? Sugar Ray Robinson? He thought about it, thought some more, then said, "Joe Louis." We had a match to train for.
I sat in front of him with my hands held up and gave the instructions boxing trainers barked from the beginning of organized fights.
"Give me a right hand, again, now a left jab, make it sting, poke it in there. a left, a left, a right cross, move your head."
At first he could barely lift his arms. Eventually he got stronger, extending each hand all the way out. He'd been a boxer as a kid and seemed willing to keep punching as long as he could. The good trainer knows when to call it a day, when to leave a little in the tank for the next session. He was a gamer, though.
The big surprise was how well he responded. Parkinson's gives it's victims a certain blank expression, a mask, but it dropped whenever we started a session. First time visitors to the house/gym had mixed reactions to our training. They thought it was too much, that an old man as sick as Grandpa shouldn't be pushed.
They were wrong. Boomers with ailing elders in their care need to use caution, but still provide their loved ones with something to cheer about. An extra lap, and extra round house. Do that and the whole family cheers together.
Don't do it and you'll wish you did.
Read this next: Fitness. Sports. Bucket List. What's The Difference?
David Gillaspie is an active researcher, skills he honed during twenty years with the Oregon Historical Society. His education wavered between English major/Fiction writer at the University of Oregon where he met Ken Kesey, to a BS in History from Portland State with news writing. Married, with two millennial sons, he connects sports and fitness to the realities of baby boomer life, with no mention ever of skydiving or base-jumping. David covers a wide variety of fascinating topics on his boomer-centric blog, Boomer PDX. Check it out -- you'll be glad you did.