When Rory Causseaux’s back problem jeopardized the extreme exercise that was the central common bond of his marriage, it was time to try something new.
He and his wife of 30 years, Terri, share a deep passion for exercise that goes beyond an hour-long workout a few times a week. From the moment Terri saw Rory playing football shirtless in a University of Florida parking lot in 1979, the two have played hard and played together.
“Exercise is a major part of our relationship,” Terri says. “Part of our fun in life is exercise and competing with one another.”
That doesn’t pause even on the most romantic day of the year.
“I’d rather have a pair of tennis shoes for Valentines Day than a dozen roses,” she says. “If we do something special for Valentines Day, it will be something all out and crazy, then we’ll go home and relax together.”
But more than 30 years of physically fit fun was jeopardized for the Casseaux couple when Rory injured his back. His doctor gave him a choice: pain medicine or core strengthening utilizing Pilates.
He chose the latter, and, of course, Terri joined him.
“We liked the challenge,” Terri says. “We’ve always been people who are physically fit and healthy. We knew how to use our big muscles, but we didn’t have a clue how to use our little muscles.”
The Pilates program helped strengthen the couple for the everyday activities they loved. But, what started as a rehabilitation program for Rory inevitably opened the door for one of the biggest adventures the couple had faced to date: the highest freestanding mountain in the world.
“Pilates is the most challenging class because you’re using your mind and learning to work tiny muscles you didn’t even realize your body had,” Terri says. “You’re not just pushing through the exercise; you’re thinking, coordinating and making little muscles do the work versus using your big muscles. Doing that gave us the back, abdominal and core strength that we used to carry our packs up the mountain.”
When the two turned 50 in 2011, Rory decided they should do something memorable. The two had talked about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for years, and they decided 50 years young was as good of a time as any.
They continued to train using a combination of Pilates, strength training and cardiovascular work that, among other things, included stadiums.
“Pilates played a major role in helping us carry our heavy packs and climb day after day and make it to the top,” Terri says. “We were totally prepared physically. What we weren’t prepared for were the elements.”
While they had great weather with minimal snow and only a tiny bit of rain, the challenge of constantly being outdoors was wearing. They spent six and a half days working to the summit, climbing a bit each day and descending a little more in order to allow the body to acclimate to the elevation, which is over 19,000 feet above sea level at the top.
They spent between 8 and 10 hours climbing each day.
As they neared the peak, it became increasingly difficult to sleep, as the thin air left them gasping for breath from which they would sometimes wake. Rory had a more difficult time adjusting than Terri.
“You’d finish a day of climbing, come into camp, set up, pull out your clothes, try to clean up, eat something, have a meeting, and basically go to bed because you were waking up the next day to do the same thing.”
Without their physical preparation, they may not have made the top.
“Because of Pilates and our training, the hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro wasn’t any more challenging than a good dose of exercise we would normally do,” Terri says. “We enjoy the program; we enjoy the people. The instructors always want the best for you and from you, and they do and say the right things to bring that out in you.”
She especially likes that she can still participate in the classes even when her back or body feel “icky.”
“The instructor won’t push you past what you can do, but you will certainly know you’ve been worked out,” she says. “I’ve watched people come into class looking like they would never last, and with kind instruction they are making advances.”
The couple’s next challenge will come in June, when they plan to climb Machu Picchu. Although a much smaller climb than Mt. Kilimanjaro, the couple doesn’t plan to change their training strategy. They will incorporate Pilates, stadiums and just being physical, meeting the challenge with ease.
“It won’t be as challenging, but it will be a neat ‘both of us doing it’ experience,” she says. “Our vacations aren’t relaxing, they’re challenging.”
Those challenges, she says, are possible, and fun, because of their Pilates training.
“It just really has me totally fit in ways I don’t even understand.”