It’s About the Journey by Kevin Cleary


Kevin is a Student Affairs Specialist at Bellevue University just outside of Omaha, NE.  He attended Creighton University where he received a Bachelor of Social Work, and then the University of Arizona where he received a Master of Arts in Higher Education.  He ran his first half marathon in 2010, and his second in September 2013.  He loves to hate running and can’t wait for his next half marathon in May.


Let me be clear. I don’t like running. In fact, I’ve even gone as far as saying I hate running. I cannot even begin to count the number of things I would rather be doing than running.

Actually, I shouldn’t be so harsh on running. My dislike really extends to most all extended physical exercises. You see, I grew up doing a whole lot of sitting around. I loved being inside where I was comfortable, in front of a screen. This pattern continued through high school and college. Finally one day I got on a scale and realized I had ballooned to 250lbs. It was at that point during my last year in undergrad that I realized I needed to start taking care of myself. I had been so focused on taking care of others during college as both an RA and a social work practicum student, that I had completely neglected myself. I knew something had to change.

I attended the University of Arizona for graduate school beginning in the summer of 2008. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by active individuals. My first supervisor in graduate school (Linda Kasper) rode her bike across the country that first summer! I knew I needed a change, but what I didn’t realize was that these people were going to be the ones to push me to new levels.

Since I had such a disdain for extended exercise, I started by changing my eating habits. I followed Weight Watchers for nearly a year, and lost almost 30 pounds! That spring, I got talked in to biking with my colleagues. We started slow riding ten and fifteen miles. I should be clear, I was ALWAYS slow. However, I was finding that the biggest blockade for me was not the mileage. It was mental. I was finding that the more I trained, the farther I could go on my bike. We were doing 40 and 50 mile rides on the weekends. I was getting into great shape. In fact, this may have been the best shape of my life. Not only was I getting in to better shape, but I also was forming closer bonds with the people I spent almost every day with. I found that it gave me time to relax and think. Having been educated in the Jesuit tradition, I took the time I was spending on my bike to reflect on life and discern my next steps both personally and professionally.

However, even as I was getting in to better shape, I found that I was not losing weight like I had wanted to. I hovered at just over 200 lbs, not being able to cross that line. I got frustrated. I started making more excuse for eating worse. Old habits started kicking back in. My weight started to creep up. I desperately tried to stay active. During my ACUHO-I internship at Texas Tech, I ran my first 5K. I don’t remember my time, but I remember walking a good bit of it. I remember that it hurt, and I felt terrible afterwards. It was at that point that I realized running was definitely not for me.

In December of 2009, I was challenged by another co-worker (the wonderful Torry Bruce) to run a half Marathon only a month later. My fiancée (Hollyanne) at the time (now wife), had always been a runner, so she was all in. I knew I had to give it a shot. I had never run more than five miles in my life, but then again, I had really never done a whole lot of really active things in life. It was time to see how far I could push myself. I knew I wasn’t going to be breaking any World Records. In fact, my plan was to run three miles, walk three miles, etc. All I wanted to do was finish in under three hours. I’m not sure what I was doing by the end of the race, but it was something between a jog and a walk. I would probably call it close to a shuffle. Regardless, the point is, I finished. In fact, I finished in less than three hours. Success.

Looking back on that experience, I really count that as the beginning of my fitness journey. I’ve started focusing less on my weight, and more on being holistically healthy. My wife and I went completely vegan for six months a few years back. Though we no longer strictly eat vegan, most of our eating is plant-based. I find that I am feeling as good as I ever have. However, I have now realized how important it is for me to stay balanced. When life gets out of control, it’s easy for me to creep back in to old habits. Late program or weekend event? I’ll just grab food on the way and go. Stressful week? It’s easier to eat out than to cook dinner at home. However, I find that becoming mindful of these things is a victory in itself. I now realize when I have been eating poorly, or when I haven’t exercised recently.

This past year and a half has brought a lot of change. I’ve changed jobs twice. We moved four times this summer while we were in the process of buying a house and lived with family as we transitioned from a live-on position to a live-off position. During this period, Hollyanne and I made time to train for and run our second half marathon. Once again, I didn’t break any world records, but my time improved.

I’ve even learned that us slower folks on the course tend to bond together. At one point, I offered to trade places with a spectator holding a funny sign. She declined my offer, but then hopped on the course and ran with me for a quarter of a mile. Towards the end, I met a woman who I had been running near for the better part of five miles and struck up a conversation about running. While I will never see any of those people again, I like to think that we helped each other get through the race.

While I’m still not in perfect shape, I’ve realized that fitness is not a state of being. Fitness is a journey, just like everything else. Sometimes that journey is hard. Shoot, for me, most of the time that journey is hard. Sometimes that is what makes those little victories even sweeter. If this was easy, it wouldn’t feel as good when I beat a personal record. I’m learning that the struggle is what drives me to keep pushing and keep working. I still don’t like running. However, I’m getting to the point where I can’t help but think about the next challenge and how I’m going to accomplish it (Lincoln Half Marathon 2014 – Sub-2:30). No matter where you are in your fitness journey, keep pushing. Whether that push is a walk around the block or a ride on your bike across the country. Challenge yourself to strive for more, and you will continue to be successful.

2 comments to It’s About the Journey by Kevin Cleary

  • linda kasper  says:

    KC! I love this! I was honored that you joined the ResLife Cycle team when you were in grad school – and that you continue to challenge yourself holistically. We continue to have a common goal – finish with a smile (and don’t get hurt). 🙂

  • Laurie Berry  says:


    Thank you for this honest post. I am on my own fitness journey and can relate to many things you wrote especially your owning not liking running. I am not able to run yet, but with some work may get to slogging. Each of our journeys are different and I appreciate your sharing yours. 🙂

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