Spring is the time I usually write an article on health and exercise knowing people are wanting to get in shape for summer. Well, summer has come and gone, fall is waning fast. And winter is around the bend. What a great time, I thought to write an article on making a commitment to exercise, not only all year around, but for the rest of our lives. Anyone who knows me knows I have made that commitment and have always encouraged my patients to exercise regularly. It is the answer to almost all that ails us. It improves our emotional as well as physical health.

As I thought about writing this article, I did not want to preach about the limitless value of life long exercise, but instead I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a group of very special and wonderful people I hold dear to me heart. Let me introduce to you the “6 a.m. Mountain Climbers.” It all started when my younger sister, Lorraine- also a Chiropractor and my exercise buddy- told me about Mr. Jim Payne who owns the village gas station and climbs Stone Mountain at 6 a.m. every morning except Sundays. Lori and I have been walking up and down the mountain pretty regularly but I though 6 a.m.? Who in their right mind would do that?

It was March and a very cold and dark morning when I decided to join them and the rest is history. There were four of us that cold morning, but it has grown to as many as eighteen of the most colorful, diverse characters ranging in age from sixteen to seventy-three.

Jim Payne is our fearless leader who lost fifty pounds in a year, got his diabetes under control and is an inspiration to all of us. Not bad for a 65 year old. With a twinkle in his eye he can tell a story better than anybody and is usually the instigator of all our friendly pranks, and I’m frequently on the receiving end. Then there’s Annette, born and raised in Stone Mountain, longer ago than she likes to admit. She says the mountain is her mountain and everyone else is a foreigner. She climbs with her cane talking about her six month old grandson who can “walk, talk and do long division.” Her grown children were teenagers before they realized Stone Mountain was not really her mountain.

Usually right beside Annette is Gerald, a 73-year-old retired minister who is nicknamed, “Tar Baby” because he is always closed lipped and never gossips. A gentle, gentle soul with a very sly and quiet sense of humor.

Passing all of us every morning is Herta, a 68-year-old Yoga teacher whose mission is to greet the sunrise at the top of the mountain with a stop on her prayer rock. Every now and then if we are quick enough we can join her in prayer. When it’s warm she climbs barefooted and on her 60th birthday she climbed the mountain 24 times in 26 hours, and that’s a fact!

Then there is Miss Ann, a preschool teacher as sweet as they come, who laughs heartily at all our stupid jokes. She teaches caring and compassion for others. If I ever come back as a preschooler, I want to be in Miss Ann’s class.

Then we have “Fluffy,” the head cook at the local post office buffet. A mother of five and a grandmother of many more who still looks like a little girl in her ponytail and her bobby socks. She makes the best homemade biscuits in the world that at times await us at the end of our climb.

Then my little sister Lori- my best friend and a fellow caring Chiropractor who keeps me on my toes with her sisterly chides and playful jokes. We call her the cheerleader, “no one should be that happy,” growls Annette. She loves to rub it in that she was the baby of the group at 38 years old, but I am very pleased to announce many younger members have joined us.

Then there is me, having a mild mid life crisis at 42. I am a single parent of two teenage sons, need I say more? Well, climbing the mountain before sunrise has a way of putting life into perspective. So many more wonderful people as diverse as the world we live in who all have one thing in common, commitment to life long exercise and love of climbing the mountain. The friendships, the laughter and the love keeps us coming back even when we want to shut off that 5 a.m. alarm and roll back to sleep. Nothing beats the joyful way we start our day. As Jim Payne says, “the optimist gets up in the morning, throws open the curtain and says Good Morning Lord! Whereas the pessimist peeks through the curtain and says, Lord it’s morning.” Give me the optimist any day.

After the climb, we walk a mile back to Payne’s gas station to shoot the breeze and enjoy a cup of coffee before work. Locals drive by and wave as we all line up on the park bench feeling a little like Mayberry RFD. Sometimes our honorary member, the real Santa, will drop by and say hi. On rainy days when we “flat walk” around the mountain he will pull up in his sleigh ( souped up red Silverado truck) and with a twinkle and grin tempt us to ride instead of walk. Our goal is to get Santa on top of that mountain and we don’t mean by tram.

So what have I learned on the mountain? Everyday is an adventure with the 6 a.m. Mountain Climbers. Sometimes we solve the problems of the world or at times I learn the history of the mountain and village. I have learned bible stories as we pass ancient trees that have lovingly been given Old Testament names; Ruth and Naomi stand right in our path. I learned little words of wisdom such as “love is like money, it ain’t worth a flip unless you give it away.” Most of the time we just laugh and share funny real life stories and then laugh some more. We have found our silver lining on this mountain and I cherish my time with my special friends. I’m nourishing my heart as wells as my body. There is so much more to write, so many stories to tell. Someday I’ll write a book, but for now I challenge you to find that family of friends- climb your mountain whether it be walking in your neighborhood, in a park or on this mountain. Share the laughter, life and love. Walk as if your life depends on it, because it does

Yours in health,
Dr. David Futral