There is nothing idyllic about running in the sweltering, summer humidity of South Carolina. Hydration seeps from your pores before it can lubricate your fiercely tight muscles and each breath has a good chance of being accompanied by a mouthful of Dixie-sized mosquitoes. Sidewalks radiate heat that make your shoes feel like they are lined with hot coals and it becomes difficult to tell whether the horizon is wobbly from heat refraction or from your own dizziness.
Under the boiling southern sun Bart Deferme, now 37, made a decision that would change his life. He would run. And in running, he would transform himself from a sedentary creature awash with unhealthy habits into a genuine athlete, one so far removed from his prior, bloated self that it is hard to imagine him as anything other than the trim, fit, 6’2, 190 pound man with an impish smile and bulging calves he is today.
“I started running after a panic attack,” explains Deferme. “This panic attack was caused by the message I received from the nurse sent to my house by a life insurance company. I had recently applied for coverage and assumed I would be approved.The decision to invest in life insurance was inspired by the recent news that I'd become a first-time dad in about 9 months.”
It was in this moment Deferme had to take a long hard look at his life. He had been refused health insurance due to his unhealthy habits.
“Being declined for life insurance as a 25-year old was rough, but should not have been a surprise. At 250 pounds, smoking at least one pack of Marlboro Reds a day and eating two double-whopper-with-cheese-meals per day -- and an entirely sedentary lifestyle -- I'd invest my money elsewhere too, if I were a life insurance company,” says Deferme.
The fact that a company promoting the financial virtues of good health wouldn’t spend a dime on the young man triggered his decision to make a major change. Summoning a defiant will, he took his first steps into a new life under the vortex of the sizzling, southern sun. As expected, that first jog was a jolt to his dormant body.
“I decided to quit all the bad stuff cold turkey, downloaded a free marathon training plan and ran my first mile that day in South Carolina's sweltering heat,” says Deferme. “It felt impossible to run a mile without doubling over and gasping for air. But I stuck with the plan religiously, steadily increased mileage and decreased my BMI. By the time Maya was born, I had dropped close to 50 pounds and was healthier than ever.”
For Bart, this wasn’t the equivalent of a fad diet or a short-term fix to a long term problem. He remained vigilant in his healthy habits. The hard ones, like quitting smoking and giving up fatty foods, were difficult. But running was no longer a struggle and become the centerpiece of a fitness routine that improved both his mind and his body.
“Running has been the constant in a healthy lifestyle ever since,” he explains. “Whenever I start to slip back into old habits of complacency, running brings me back to where I need to be. I evolved from the road runner obsessed with heart rate, anaerobic threshold stats etc., to a more relaxed trail runner who runs for the joy of running.”
With a reflective pause, Deferme adds, “Running is never competitive, except against the former, unhealthy me. I run half marathons primarily, like the Aspen Golden Leaf half marathon, the Bear Chase, and so on. These races serve as a reminder of the person I was 12 years ago, and why I'll never go back to where I was.”
Bart is a regular visitor to Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, an avid cyclist (perhaps an homage to his Belgian heritage) and does plenty of hiking with his rescued dog, Sherlock. At the center of it all is running -- for body, for mind, for soul.
“My favorite running quote is by Dean Karnazes,” says Bart, “ ‘somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness.’ ”
Now living in Denver, Colorado, Bart’s runs take place a much more accommodating setting -- usually in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains or along the placid rivers that course through the Front Range. Many miles removed from his former self, Bart Deferme is a reminder that running isn’t just about the miles you log or the pace you set, it’s about sheer joy of movement and how that radiates into many aspects of a healthy, balanced life.