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Bill Maeda, 54: Humility and Gratitude

Struggling with cancer recovery and the impact of the pandemic on his business, Bill Maeda started posting fitness videos on social media, earning him a loyal following of millions. He discusses his journey to better health, how his family “saved” him, and how he is “as fallible as anybody else.”

Sometimes the worst of times leads to an unintended gift — something develops well beyond our imaginations of what we thought we could do. Bill was recovering from cancer and then the pandemic hit, crushing his business. Then something that was originally just a way of keeping track of his days became a magnet for millions of people, all with very little planning.

Bill is known for his rather amazing Instagram, YouTube and TikTok videos of his seemingly super-human feats of physical prowess. He is an extremely humble, shy guy who almost never speaks on his videos. Admittedly highly fallible, he is just now getting his lifelong sugar-focused diet under control. He gets it that there is much to learn and improve within himself; he is not one to tell anyone what to do, preferring to be the student who is learning from his people, not the leader.

Bill shot by David Stewart for AGEIST.

How does it feel to be 54?
You know, 50 felt better, but 54 is not so bad. I’m kind of joking, but I didn’t really feel older until I hit 50. Then I noticed a difference, even though I was trying not to. Now that I’m 54, my joints are different than they were just a few years ago, but I’ve also cleaned up a lot of bad habits.

What are the habits you gave up?
Ooh. Good question. One of the worst habits of my entire life was my diet. Despite what I look like and do for a living, I had a pretty significant eating disorder from the time I was a child, just due to the culture I’m in. Sugar, junk food, was a major part of my diet. So about three months ago, I finally cut that stuff out of my diet. 

I’m also trying to get more sleep. I’ve averaged four to five hours of sleep a night, for my entire life. Now, I’m trying to get six to seven hours. I don’t think I’ll ever really make eight. I just don’t sleep that long. 

And I’m very grateful to my body. I didn’t realize the degree to which I was abusing myself, because I’ve been doing it my whole life. 

I’m actually flabbergasted how stupid I’ve been for so long. Because I’m sure a lot of the people that leave comments on my feeds are living more sensibly than I am. So that’s why I’ve never told people to be like me. In fact, I’ve been pretty open about how crappy and terrible my diet was in the past. I’ve never tried to hide that. I’m a student in life, just like everybody else, and I’m learning as I go. This lesson took me over 50 years to learn, but hopefully I’ve got some time to benefit from it.

Bill shot by David Stewart for AGEIST.

“I’m a student in life, just like everybody else, and I’m learning as I go”

So, you were diagnosed with cancer. When was that?
That would be 11 years ago. I’m pretty sure it was a combination of all that sugar, which is just fertilizer for cancer, and the inflammation, and then no sleep, so that my immune system couldn’t go after and knock down those errant cells. When I was told that I had it, I thought: “Oh, really? It’s about time.” Because I knew I had it coming. I take full responsibility for it. Luckily for me, my wife bore the brunt of it. So, if anyone thinks I’m a badass for surviving cancer, I’m nothing. It’s my wife; without her, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation. 

What kind of cancer did you have?
It was stage 3 colon cancer. I went into the ER for what I thought was just a little tummy ache. When they X-rayed me, they could see the cancerous lesion very clearly on the X-ray; that’s how advanced it was. So, they had to remove 13 inches of my ascending colon. Then I went on six months of some pretty good chemotherapy after that.

What was the recovery process from that?
It was long. To stop feeling chemically toxic, I would say it took me maybe two years. My joints feel like they’re more fragile now because, in the years following the chemo, I had very resilient joints. And once again, it could be just normal aging. But the way they’ve changed is so fast, it doesn’t really make sense to me.

“The pandemic was a very profound experience for me”

Tell me about the pandemic.
Well, the pandemic was a very profound experience for me; in a way, it saved me. We locked down in March of 2020.

I wasn’t doing well with my recovery from the cancer. I didn’t realize it, but I had slipped into a little bit of depression in the years following. I was also thinking of closing my business. When 2020 rolled around, it was a relief for me, in a way, because I could now close my business without it looking like I failed. I could just hide inside all the smoke from all the other businesses closing. 

After this, I started posting workouts on social media. I had clients who were just hanging out at home, drinking, eating, and wasting time. So, I asked one of them, “Hey, man, I see you twice a week, but that’s not enough. We need to do more.” He says, “Tell you what, you do your workout, put it on YouTube, and then send me the link. And I promise, just seeing you do your thing will inspire me to do mine.” Of course, that never worked out but I did start working out more and posting the videos. 

I did it that day, and nobody watched it. Then I did another the next day because I was thinking, “Well, let’s do a few. Maybe get this guy going.” That video got thousands of views on YouTube. I started getting all these notifications and subscriptions and I was like, “What?” It’s still there. If you go to April 13 on my YouTube channel, it’s just a video of me doing pushups. That was encouraging to me. I got some nice comments, especially when I was feeling so low about myself. So those comments, one of them said, “Hey, are you going to start doing this now that we’re on lockdown?” I said, “Well, shoot, why not?” 

I’m very grateful for that time. I’m sorry for what happened to Covid patients, of course, but for me and maybe a lot of others it was a time where we could really stop and assess what we were doing and what we should maybe be doing instead of, or in addition to.  

So, you mentioned your clients are older. What kind of people are you training?
They’re mostly professionals. A lot of them own their own businesses. Anywhere from about 40 to 80 years old. But they’re all in very good health given their respective ages. I don’t do the things I post with those clients. There are a few younger clients I do that with, and they do some martial arts. But most of what I post, that’s my personal thing. 

“I have a new mantra now when I train: ‘Smooth is fast’ ”

You’re known for these long, slow movements, oftentimes with bands or the earthquake bar, things like that. Where did that come from?
At my age, I found that if I verify myself through full ranges of very controlled motion, then I start to add speed to those movements. Eventually, I get both. I have a new mantra now when I train, no matter what I’m doing. I think I got this from the great Mark Bell podcast: “Smooth is fast.” I love this. It prevents me from rushing. It prevents me from focusing on the wrong thing. Now, when I jump, I’m not trying to jump high, I’m trying to jump smooth. And I want to land smooth. And if I focus on that, I get the height and landing that I want. 

I also love “smooth is fast” because I know performance. I’m a martial artist. So, most martial arts do not occur at the speed at which I train. And I know we want to always stimulate the competition speed. And that’s a good thing, too. And I’m big on speed, too, because as we age, “Okay, that old man grind strength.” Yeah, we never lose that. That’s why, as my joints have gotten better from my diet improvements and more sleep, you might have noticed that I’m adding more impact and speed and ballistic stuff now that I wasn’t doing for the previous three years. But my main thing is: smooth is fast. And I love that. That just keeps me right every time. 

“My family saved me”

Tell me about parenthood and kids.
Oh, yeah, it’s funny. I have an older brother and a younger sister and, of the three kids, I was the psycho. I mean, I wasn’t like a criminal. I’ve never hurt anybody. So, I wasn’t a mean, punky guy, but I was a wild kid. I was getting kicked out of school and getting suspended all the time, and the police were bringing me in for small things like weed and vagrancy and stuff like that. I thought, “I’m never going to get married. Who wants to get married? Get all tied down, have kids,” and blah blah blah. And it’s funny, now you fast forward and my brother and my sister, they’re much more civilized and mild-mannered people than I am but, of the three kids, I’m the only one with kids. 

When I was younger, I said, “I don’t want kids but if I do have kids they’ve got to be sons. I don’t want girls.” Well, God in the universe knew better, and he gave me two wonderful daughters, and I would never have it any other way. They were the best thing for me. 

Bill shot by David Stewart for AGEIST.

My family saved me. I would not be talking to you. I would not be on the internet. If there’s one gift I’ve been given before I die, it’d just be having those girls. Everything that people think I am is because of them. I still feel like I probably act like I’m 15, but sometimes I just wonder if that has something to do with how people say “Wow, you seem younger than your actual age.”

You’ve heard this before, but I’m just going to verify it for you again. Pay attention all you want, time is still going to go by like a snap. You can just literally watch your child grow and follow them around everywhere, and it’s still going to go by too fast.

“This social media thing — I want to connect to people as people”

Between all these channels, you’ve got like a couple of million people that are watching you. What’s the message you want to give them?
I want them to know that I am truly not special. Well, I’m as special as you might think I am but, if you really know who I am as a person, I’m as fallible as anybody else.

I have the same insecurities. I have trouble parallel parking my car. I am just a normal person. I make mistakes. I spill my coffee. I forget to flush the toilet. All kinds of things. I just want people to know that I’m very grateful for their kind regards towards me, but they would find that I’m just a normal person. And it’s kind of important for me to realize this because I heard that when you ingest too much social media it starts to distort your reality.

It’s not like my life is perfect and everywhere I go, there’s birds and parrots and rainbows. No, I got to work a little for that. I just want people to know that this social media thing — I want to connect to people as people. That to me the value is the community of people that were sending me these nice comments, whether they were deserved or not. They saved me. They really did. At the time we went on lockdown in 2020, I was in a very low place. In fact, I was in a low place years before that. 

I feel very grateful to these people, people like yourself and others that watch my videos. I hope that my videos are helpful. I wasn’t really taking this seriously until now. I’m working on an app, but I don’t want there to be a paywall between me and everything I do. So, I’m also going to be working on longer form stuff that will go on YouTube. I do want people to know that more is coming and that I’m learning how to share this because, as I said, I’m still a little bit shy and a little bit nervous about longer-form content.

“I feel very grateful to these people, people like yourself and others that watch my videos”

I get a little OCD about, if I stutter or if I say something wrong then I have to start the whole video over again. I have to learn how to be more comfortable with myself. If I’m talking about being authentic and I stutter and fall over myself then that has to be the way it is. We’re all people. I do like social media for the way it can be used to get us to interact with each other and spend more time together. I feel it’s been very helpful and creative for me personally. It has built me up. It’s not the number of followers. It’s these small little interactions I have with people in comments and in DMs and then on the phone or just doing this with you. Those are the things that are cool.

Last question, Bill. We ask everybody this question. What are the three non-negotiables in your life?
Number one is: I’ll never cheat on my wife. Family will always come first. There were a few issues with some of the social media stuff where I got caught up in it because it was growing and it was exciting and I’d never been popular in school, so it was a fun thing. But I’ve learned to get a grip on it. Family is what counts. Family will always come first. I just need to be reminded sometimes. 

Another non-negotiable is sugar. I think it affects millions, if not billions, of people the same negative way it’s affected me. I didn’t realize how bad I felt on that diet. I mean, I was consuming grams of sugar per day constantly. My toes were burning, the skin on my toes was actually kind of liquefying. It was gross.

“I have to physically and mentally challenge myself in a small way every day”

My third one is that I have to physically and mentally challenge myself in a small way every day. I recently got into this animal flow. These types of disciplines have a huge appeal to me right now because I’m too hyper for conventional yoga. And animal flow seems to be a very dynamic version of yoga. I’m finding that the positions are difficult. Those moves are hard for me to do, and I like that. So, oftentimes, it’s easy to maybe assume that what I post in a given day is what I’m good at. It’s not. Especially my Instagram, that’s actually my workout journal.

I tell people: If nobody ever watches any of my social media, those workouts are still happening and I’m still going to record them on Instagram. There are days where I go, “What did I do on Monday?” I don’t have a journal; I just open my Instagram and I can see what I did on Monday or what I did yesterday. And if yesterday was jumping, okay, well, today I’m going to give my knees a break. I might do some pushups. So, every day I have to physically and mentally challenge and cleanse myself. I believe, especially at my age, slowing down — connecting to the movements that I do slowly — is complex. 

People say, “Well, how complex can a squat or a pushup be?” They’re complex in the sense that I have wrist or joint injuries like damage or missing cartilage. So, I also need that time to distribute the load systemically so it doesn’t stack into a compromised joint, because I refuse to appear to be performing an exercise with compensation. So, if my left wrist is busted up, I’m not going to shift over hard. I’m either going to stop where I cannot go anymore or I’ll figure out a way to safely and competently go past that, but it takes time for me to do this.

I wish I could send you out with some magical philosophy like, take responsibility for all the failure in your life, or whatever, but I’ll let somebody else say that. For me, I do have small amounts of carbs but the sugar I really try to eliminate. I did have some ice cream this weekend… My daughter was home. I find that physical and mental challenge — it’s short, I think I told you — I don’t call them workouts, I call them practice sessions, and they last 20 to 30 minutes. I’ll try to do something. If I’m feeling slow and heavy, I’ll probably do some kind of a jumping movement, just to really counter that state. If I’m feeling my balance isn’t that great, I might do an asymmetrical lunge with an orbit, or orbit a bell around my head with a split stance, something like that. Anyway, that’s it.

Connect with Bill:
Instagram
FitPro Hawaii

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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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