He used to have 4% body fat, could run a mile in 4:37 and bench press 300. Now these numbers plague Brandon Sickler. His body isn’t what it used to be. Unlike most of us who get out of shape due to gluttony, laziness, too much partying over the holidays, Sickler has a pretty good excuse. He had leukemia.
It’s been nearly eight years since his treatment, plenty of time to hit the gym and go for a few jogs. But his battle has been all mental. He’d go to the nutrition store, buy the protein shakes and all the right vitamins. Then a few days into a workout routine, lifting a fraction of what he used to, he’d give up in frustration. A few months later, he’d do the whole cycle over again. He chalked it up to the cancer for a while, but then he came to a realization.
“Brandon you are out of shape because you haven’t worked out for two years,” he told himself recently.
He’s to the point where he feels the need to take ownership of his situation. And he’s found the perfect place to do it – Kathmandu.
When Sickler, who is originally from North Dakota, followed his wife Janessa to Des Moines to be with her while she attended med school, he didn’t know what he’d find. All he knew was that she was his soulmate and there was no question he was going to be at her side.
“I thought I was just doin’ my time in Iowa,” he said with a laugh.
Then he met Charlie Wittmack. Janessa had attended a presentation given by the adventurer and local attorney one afternoon. Her and Brandon had been following Wittmack’s World Triathlon for some time, and Janessa couldn’t believe what she heard when Wittmack stopped back in Des Moines for a couple weeks. He was organizing a group of cancer survivors to travel from Iowa to Nepal to hike for 18 days to the base camp of Mt. Everest.
She told Brandon, who attended Wittmack’s evening presentation, but as he was away, she discovered on the website that the team was full. Meanwhile, Sickler was shaking Wittmack’s hand on the side of the stage, asking a few questions. Sickler, being the humble, thoughtful young man he is, asked Wittmack all about his wife’s cancer experience. Finally, before they parted ways, Sickler mentioned, oh by the way, I’m a cancer survivor. Wittmack got excited. You gotta come to Nepal!
The rest was history. Sickler began training with a group of 13 other cancer survivors at the YMCA Healthy Living Center in Des Moines, taking part in spin class and yoga and weekly workouts and fellowship. All of a sudden, he found himself with a new group of friends. He found a purpose to get in shape. And, being around such interesting people with similar stories, it was fun, too.
What he liked most about Wittmack’s speech was the talk of not giving up on your dreams as you age.
How could he teach his future kids to dream big when he himself stopped chasing his dreams as an adult? Sickler has spent the past year renovating a home while Janessa completes her second year of med school.
“You take turns building each others dreams, and he’s spent a lot of time building my dream,” Janessa said.
When Sickler battled his Leukemia, it hit Janessa hard. They weren’t sure what the future had in store.
“The world is the same but everything is wrong,” she would think. “Why does the sun think it can come out?”
But today, Sickler looks healthy and happy. His home renovation is near completion. His hair has grown back into a shaggy brown, and a scruffy beard contrasts nicely with a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. He just returned from a weekend camping trip with his beautiful wife. As they make pizzas from scratch and talk about life, you realize they are the perfect pair.
When the time is right, the couple plans to spend half of every year living abroad, doing missionary work in the far corners of the planet. Janessa could provide medical care. Brandon could build homes.
For now, Sickler will spend nearly three weeks in Nepal, making a dream come true.
“Of all places, I’m in Iowa and there’s a group of twenty-plus people going to Nepal,” he said, shaking his head in awe.
Just doin’ his time.