What does age mean? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, part of the explanation of aging is “a decline of biological functions and of the organism’s ability to adapt to stress.” Well, those authors and researchers have not met Hector H. Garcia.
Garcia has spent 23 years in law enforcement, five of those years with Hidalgo County, and has faced his fair share of intense challenges. He is currently a Deputy Constable at Precinct 4.
At the age of 51, Garcia retired from the Department of Public Safety and started to face a different challenge – his health.
“I found myself at home, of course, doing the unhealthy things. It got to the point where I got sick very often. I was always going to the doctor,” said Garcia. “During one of those visits, the doctor went to the extremes of doing a complete physical and that’s when he told me my cholesterol was really, really, really bad. He told me I was a walking time bomb.”
Garcia says he went home after that doctor’s visit and shared the upsetting information with Gary Garcia, his son. Gary, who is a trainer and works for the Mission Fire Department, told Hector he needed to cut out the unhealthy foods. However, it wasn’t the doctor’s analysis that sparked Hector to jump on a new path.
“My son said, ‘You need to realize, sooner or later you’re going to have grandchildren. Do you want to live a long time?’” Hector said.
His son mentioned the reason why he was always getting sick was that Hector had a weak immune system. He wasn’t eating healthy.
He soon started with a diet. Hector says he used to drink about six Diet Cokes a day, eat the tacos that were given at work, and occasionally drink a beer. He cut that all out completely.
“No more alcohol during the week. No more Cokes. No more tortillas,” he listed. He did that for an entire month, as his son instructed. Hector also cut back on his favorites, which were enchiladas, sugar in his coffee, and ate more fruits, and watched his meal portions.
Soon after cutting back on foods, he started exercising. In 2014, Hector’s son took him to his first CrossFit class. He was hesitant to take on the workouts because he had heard it was for younger people but trusted his son to guide him. He started to see results. After a while, he gradually took on weightlifting. He gained endurance and was lifting more than he ever could in his 30s or 40s.
Hector’s motivation grew from there. He wasn’t getting sick as often. His wife also lost weight and his doctor took notice.
Hector started his journey at 222 pounds and eight years later has kept it steady at about 190 pounds. He also no longer needs to take cholesterol medication. He says alongside having his son as his trainer, he is always educating himself on healthy eating habits.
At work, Hector heard about the Hidalgo County Wellness Program through its emails. He applauds the county’s effort to promote health and wellness to its employees. Although he mentioned, many law enforcement officers do not have a lot of time to participate in wellness events the county provides.
Hector explained being in law enforcement doesn’t always make it easy to focus on health. Depending on their schedules, some officers can be sitting in their units for long hours and have to make time on their own to work out. He says some of his coworkers over the years say they simply can’t or don’t want to make the time.
“Police work is a lot of stress. A lot of them don’t want to work out. They stress out. They want to go home, they want to eat. Everybody deals differently with stress,” explained Hector. “In my last eight years, the more stress I feel, the more I think, you know what I got to go find something to do. Whether it’s going outside, doing landscape work. Or my son will call me for a light workout, so I go do that.”
When Hector is talking to his fellow officers about improving their health, he tells them, “I call it fit for duty. I tell these guys, ‘If you’ve never fought for three minutes, I challenge you, go hit a [punching] bag for three minutes. And tell me how you feel.’ After three minutes of hitting a bag – you’ll get tired. Now, the bag isn’t hitting you back though. Can you imagine struggling with somebody for three minutes? And this person is hitting you back. Will you survive?”
Hector calls his change an investment in himself – on his body and health. He spoke to us about one conversation he had with a fellow officer.
“I was telling one of the guys, he said, ‘Well, you know, I want to work out, but you pay a lot of money [at a gym].’ I said, ‘Look, how much money are you spending a month on drinking beer?’ And he just looked at me. I said, ‘I’m serious. C’mon. Tell me the truth. Every weekend you’re sending me a picture of you drinking or you BBQing. How much money are you spending on alcohol? So, you can buy that, but you can’t invest in yourself? In your body? A hundred dollars a month?’ He just says, ‘Well, that makes sense.’” Hector said.
Hector hopes his story can influence some officers and others his age to make the same investment.
“My advice would be to make the change and get on this journey for your benefit and the benefit of your family no matter what age,” he said. “The healthier you are, you’re going to be healthy not just physically, but also mentally. You want to be sharp in the mind.”
Hector just turned 59 years old and now has a 5-year-old granddaughter. He says his goal is to be able to jog and play with her as she grows.
“That’s something that’s very dear to my heart,” he said. “I want to be healthy because I want to extend my life. As much as I can.”