Nation's Tri blog

Cunningham blog

I am honored by the opportunity to share some thoughts about exercise, training and their value in life. I am an aging Triathlete that comes from a running background. Being fit has always been important in my life thanks to my Mother who insisted that my siblings and I “get out there” and try a variety of sports to keep us balanced. We skied, swam, biked and ran all the time…it was not negotiable.

It took joining the Secret Service, however to see the practical and long-term value or more accurately, the critical necessity for being fit. The true test came when the job demanded you be alert, focused and strong (with more “go muscle” than” show muscle”) to handle rotating shifts, travel and the unpredictable nature of a law enforcement career.

In March 1981, when President Reagan was shot, I was assigned to our Training Division as an agent instructor. This event resulted in a major revision of the Secret Service fitness and medical screening programs. Among my other duties, I was asked to research and develop this mandatory fitness program for agent and uniformed personnel. That was more than 30 years ago. Since that time, the program has evolved to include specific exercise protocols for specialized assignments.

One thing that hasn’t changed – the need for everyone, in any job, to exercise. Of course, we hear this all the time…we are inundated with countless articles and admonitions from experts promoting its health benefits. The meta-analyses of thousands of exercise studies support this. The recommendations from a variety of respected organizations say a minimum of 5 – 6 days a week, 30 minutes per day of exercise is required, consistently throughout life, to get long-term health benefits. (For an interesting summary of these meta-analyses, review the following video.)

Certainly proficiency in a triathlon takes quite a bit more than that. Which brings me to the ultimate goals of exercise. As I write this, the day after Robin Williams’ very tragic and untimely death, I can’t help but wonder what role exercise played in his life? His death reminds me of one of the well-documented benefits of exercise that fosters unending discussions among epidemiologists, physiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.–the mental health benefit(s).

People exercise for a variety of reasons but I can tell you for my money the sanity piece is among the most important. After competing in hundreds of road races and triathlons, the best trophy for me and most of those I have trained is the mind-body benefit. Years ago my goals included breaking the 3-hour barrier in the marathon or trying to win an age-group in a triathlon. I have done both a few times but if I had to choose between an isolated win or being balanced and happy for the long term, the choice is obvious.

Juvenal, the Roman satirist as far back as far as the first century offered this wisdom: “Orandum es ut sit mens sana in corpore sano…” Pray for a sound mind in a sound body. That ultimately becomes the enduring goal. Even the best athletes in the world come to the realization: you can’t win forever! Mark Allen, six-time winner of the Ironman Championship race in Kona during his streak more than 20 years ago and arguably among the world’s fittest athletes at that time, came to this realization after an aortic aneurism was discovered at age 51. The Wall Street Journal article: “Older, Wiser, Slower” can be retrieved by cutting and pasting the following url:

So these days I am happy to be able to train and compete moderately while balancing my family and security consulting commitments and enjoying life for the long run.

Larry Cunningham

Larry Cunningham is a retired Secret Service Agent. His diverse, 20-year career included supervisory positions at the White House Presidential Protective Division, and the San Jose, CA Field Office of Investigations. He served in the Office of Training where he developed innovative training programs for agent personnel. Larry is now a security consultant and a member of the adjunct faculty at The National Center for Biomedical Research & Training – Academy of Counter-Terrorist Education. He holds several DHS certifications and trains emergency responders in a variety of integrated law enforcement courses across the country and in several international countries.