When Bill Polnick began to get chest pains at 33, he knew it was time to do something about the extra weight he put on, especially with a wife and two young children at home.
"I actually went to the hospital because I was that concerned about it. I almost passed out. And it turned out I was just coming down with the flu or something."
At five-foot-11 and 255 pounds, Polnick knew he needed to improve his physical condition. That was five years ago.
"I just said after that, 'Forget it. I've got to get in shape," says Polnick, who will participate in his fourth straight St. Joseph Island Triathlon this Saturday, during the eighth annual running of the event.
Polnick admits he received a bit of scare when he experienced the chest pains, partly because of family history. His mother died of cancer when she was 53.
"I just said listen, you can't really pick the diseases that you get. "but if you are in optimum condition, you optimize your chances of survival."
His wife Mary wanted to get a pair of cross-country skis that winter, so they bought two pair, Polnick says, and they hit the local trails together.
"I probably lost 30 pounds really quickly that winter," he said.
He continued to exercise and run after the snow disappeared. That's when he got the idea he could become more fit and stay in better shape if he challenged himself.
"I was always a good swimmer. I decided to get a tri-bike when I heard about it (the St. Joe Triathlon) and entered. I figured if you're competing every year and you've got that as a goal, then it would lead to a healthy lifestyle."
And it has.
Polnick is now down to 180 pounds and usually participates in five endurance races each summer. He takes part in the annual St. Joe Tri, the Starkerman Duathlon in Gaylord, Mich., the Run the Great Lakes half marathon, as well as triathlons in Petoskey and Interlochen, Michigan.
He continues to ski with Mary and their children - Gregory, 8, and Lauren, 7 - and usually competes in two cross-country races each winter. He has even run a few marathons over the years.
"But I'm as slow as molasses," he says.
Not long ago he went for his first physical in about four years.
"The doctor told me that I was in the best shape of my life. I've turned my health around tremendously," he said. "No one's in control of my health except for myself.
"When I go to the doctor I'm really just going, I guess, for a second opinion or the blood work. I know I'm in the best shape of my life. And I only plan on getting better."
Last year Gregory also participated at the St. Joe Tri in the Kids of Steel event. Both Lauren and Gregory will join dad this Saturday at the event.
While Polnick trains between seven and 20 hours each week, the children are not quite as dedicated. He says they're typical kids.
"They're hooked up on the TV and computer, like the best of them."
However, he and Mary "drag them out" for bike rides, walks and runs, he jokes.
He says the kids are excited about this Saturday's event, and also a little nervous.
"The point is just to go out there and have fun"
It's a family affair with dad and the kids taking part, but Mary does not compete.
"She cheers from the sidelines. … My wife feeds us. She is our competitive chef."
Polnick's goal during his first few triathlons was just to finish the race. Even now he is not gunning to outdo others at the annual Island event.
However, his competitive nature does seem to surface when he talks about the guys he swims with two afternoons each week, and others he sometimes cycles with. Polnick jokes about getting the best of them.
"It's just a matter of being competitive against those guys, your pals," he says.
"It's a lot of fun, it keeps us in good shape. It keeps us out of trouble."
Besides swimming regularly, Polnick also run or cycles some mornings before work. In the evenings he stretches or lifts weights while watching TV.
"I call it commercial weight lifting, which means you lift weights every time there's a commercial."
Polnick says he must get his training in whenever he can. But it's not really work, only sometimes.
One of his heroes is Canada's Terry Fox, who died of cancer in 1980 at the age of 22. Fox's Marathon of Hope - a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research - has inspired countless people around the world.
"So anytime things get tough, or I kind of feel hurt, or I need a kick of adrenaline, I always kind of think about him running up the Montreal River Hill (on Hwy. 17 N) on one leg, dying of cancer. And I think, if he can do that after running 100 marathons in a row, I should be able to make it the last hour or half hour."
The St. Joe Triathlon is set to go Saturday morning
For more information about times, events or registration, log onto the website at www.stjosephislandtriathlon.com