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E.B. William Olson (in the cap) starts the Connemara International Marathon near Galway, Ireland on April 1. It was the fifth marathon that Olson has competed in over the past two years.

New Richmond artist paints a healthier reality

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If life is a canvas, New Richmond artist E.B. William Olson is busily working on an ever-improving masterpiece.

When he turned 40 a couple years ago, Olson decided that life was slipping away and his contribution to the world was somehow lacking.

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"Right before I turned 40, I just made a commitment to change," he said. "Like a lot of people, I'd been up and down throughout my life. Sometimes I was fit, other times I wasn't."

Olson started his self-improvement quest by eating better, exercising regularly and making better choices about how he spent his waking hours.

He started out simply by running a mile, then added to the length of his runs as days progressed.

"Then, one day, I ran to Star Prairie," he said with a laugh. Olson admitted that his mother couldn't believe it when he told her about that run.

As his fitness improved, Olson started thinking about trying to run a marathon. With encouragement from his cousin, U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Shannon Cody, Olson made steady progress toward that goal.

"Everyone has been so supportive," he said. "Family, friends ... everyone."

Olson began working out regularly at The Centre. He's been lifting weights two or three days a week, and working out four or five times a week. He's also participated in yoga classes and other fitness programs as well.

"My whole goal is to be consistent (with exercise) and to be patient," he said.

Even though he never had a terrible diet, Olson said he also took steps to eat better every day.

"I'm never on a diet," he admitted. "Everyone knows I still love my pizza and desserts. I just try to be more sensible when I eat. I don't need a king-sized Blizzard every time I go to the Dairy Queen."

By controlling portion sizes, drinking plenty of water and consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, Olson said he's been able to drop more than 30 pounds from his frame over two years.

"And I made a commitment to stop drinking," he said, "just as part of a healthy lifestyle. I'm just always looking at how I can improve what I eat and drink."

To introduce more balance to other aspects of his life, Olson opened up an art gallery and classroom space in the city-owned WeTEC building in New Richmond. He offers art classes for adults and children with special needs.

In his full-time job with Paradigm Services Inc., where he works with area residents with disabilities, Olson said he's found fulfillment and a real sense of purpose.

"I've had other jobs that paid more, but they weren't as meaningful," he said.

Olson is also a volunteer coach with Special Olympics, and admitted he considers it a privilege to work with people who are differently abled. He said any such volunteer work does one's soul great good.

Olson said he's also committed to attending church every week, in an effort to grow in his spiritual walk.

"It's all part of having a balanced life," Olson said. "It's all a matter of how you choose to spend your time."

He's heard excuses from others that they'd be healthier and live a more balanced life if they had more time. Olson said it's really about how people set their priorities, because everyone has the same number of hours in a day. Watching less television and making overall wellness a priority has helped Olson make the post-40 life transformation he's enjoying today.

"For me, this is how I want to spend my time and live my life," he said. "I'm going to keep doing this. I want to stay committed to it."

Olson recently returned from a trip to Ireland, where he competed in his fifth marathon - the Connemara International Marathon near Galway. He finished the race in 3:34:48, his fastest marathon ever despite running on a rather hilly course.

"The race was incredible" Olson said. "All my training on the hills out in Erin Prairie, and the big one going west out of town, paid off."

Olson's marathon time has dropped more than an hour since his first race 18 months ago. He hopes to run at least three more marathons this year, with the goal of shaving even more time off his personal best record.

As for any advice he'd have for someone wanting to copy his transformation effort, Olson said the prescription for change will be different for each person. He did offer a couple tips, however.

1. Take the first step.

2. Be patient

3. Make better choices

4. Talk to people about what they've done and figure out what's right for you. "Maybe it's biking a mile each day, or walking, or swimming," he said. "Just get out and enjoy this beautiful city of ours. People out there living life is so essential and so vital."

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