As fate would have it …

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Beauty and the Beast. Of course, if anybody else were to call her a beast …

Unbelievable. I still think that sometimes when I think about my future wife. It happened again Monday while I was shooting photos and videos of convocation at Washburn University.

During his speech, our president told the students that many of them would meet their future husband or wife during their years at the school. My mind wandered as I thought about my fiancée and paths we traveled before falling in love 20 years after we met.

To say we met is a bit of a stretch. We went to high school in a small town where you couldn’t help but know everybody, at least their name and face. Neither of us remembers talking to each other. In her mother’s words, “Neither of you knew you existed.”

Girls like Shana were out of my league, especially when you consider she was three years older and Burlingame’s equivalent of Eliza Dushku. While she was dazzling people as captain of the dance team, my goal in the one year we went to high school together was simple: survival.

Freshman year, 1990-91, Shana’s senior year.

Like many other teens, I had the confidence of Joel Barish in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Throw in a little bit of a weight problem, and my chances with the ladies, at least as I viewed them, were one in a million.

In other words, I wasn’t approaching Shana (or any other girl) back in those days.

The confidence didn’t improve in the years that followed. Now that I look back, it contributed to the end of every single relationship I’ve had.

Sure, there were other reasons — obviously, it wasn’t ALL my fault. But the adage that you can’t love somebody until you love yourself is true.

I’ve known that for years. I’ve said it for years. But I didn’t believe it until a few years ago. And that’s when everything changed.

On the far left, my future wife, 20 years ago.

As the fiancée and I blazed different paths, often thousands of miles apart, the years piled up. We each had a failed marriage, numerous jobs (she’s been at the same place for 17 years now, I’ve had eight workplaces in 13 years), ups and downs, and highs and lows.

But there were times our lives intersected, even if we didn’t know it. Unknown to me, her mother, our high school English teacher (how’s that for fate?) often updated her when I moved up in the newspaper industry or ran for school board during college.

We didn’t realize it until recently, but both of us were at her youngest sister’s graduation. As a member of the school board, I was sitting on the stage as her sister walked across it with her diploma.

Years later, while thumbing through a photo album with our daughter, I found a photo of her sister receiving her diploma. Sure enough, I’m in the background, along with hundreds of the graduates’ family members, including my fiancée. Cue the goose bumps.

A few years later, I left Kansas to advance in my career as a sports journalist, moving from Emporia to Texas. Meanwhile, Shana lived in Kansas City, Mo., as did the guy who replaced me at The Emporia Gazette. He was my future wife’s neighbor. What are the odds?

Five years had passed when I moved to Virginia in 2007. Though we barely knew each other, the future mother-in-law kept her daughter up-to-date: Ernie is on the move again. As it turned out, my willingness to “go for it” appealed to Shana.

On the way to our first date. Talk about nervous.

It was during those two years in Virginia that she added me as a friend on Facebook … after thinking about it for a few days. Again, we barely knew each other. If not for all those updates from her mom through the years, I’m probably not writing this blog.

We were both on the move in 2009 – me to Tulsa for a job at a bigger paper, her away from a marriage. Several months later, I was back home, living with my dad in tiny Melvern, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life.

For the first time in years, I didn’t have a job. As fate would have it, my three weeks away from the workforce were critical. It was during that time that I read a post from Shana on Facebook about moving from Kansas City to Overland Park. She was contemplating the move and seeking advice.

That I saw the post is unusual. With more than 800 friends on Facebook, the odds of seeing any random post in my news feed are low. I wouldn’t have seen the post (sent in the morning) had I still been working at a newspaper. I would have been sound asleep.

But I did see it. And I responded with a direct message containing the Darius Rucker song “Learn to live,” a tune about taking risks. That was our first interaction.

Both of us were in relationships at the time, but we did stay in touch over the next few months. We spoke to each other for the first time at a high school football game (the first for either of us in years) at our alma mater in September.

Once the relationships ended shortly thereafter, we essentially hit on each other daily on Facebook. Finally, by the beginning of 2011, we got together. That was Jan. 8, 2011. We’ve been inseparable since.

If you like it, put a ring on it. Indeed.

My belief in destiny was beginning to fade. That doubt clouded my vision. Now that I see how our lives have intersected so many times in the last 20 years, I have no doubt that fate is alive and well.

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I’m into fitness: Suck it, soda

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I’ve dropped 111 pounds and only need to lose a few more. If cutting out soda is what I need to do, I’m game.

Lose 100 pounds. Check. Break the 200-pound mark. Check. Run five miles. Check. Revamp my diet and lifestyle. Check. The victories have been plentiful and rewarding. More importantly, they’ve completely changed my quality of life and added countless years to it.

But there’s been one vice. One thing I haven’t conquered. Pop. You are evil, soda. I know it. We all do. And you have absolutely owned me for more than 20 years now.

It’s time to change that; time to break off a bad relationship. I’ve got to quit you. Not because I hate you (honestly, I love you, really). But because I love myself (and not in a Divinyls kind of way).

Remember when soda was a treat we got every now and again?

GOOD OLD DAYS

Amazing how things have changed in a relatively short period of time. For many of us, pop was not a staple of our diets as kids. Mom didn’t put pop on the grocery list, even when we were in high school.

Coke, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi … all luxuries back in those days. You might get one every couple of weeks or on special occasions. But we didn’t treat it like water, which many of us do now.

Back in the college days. Note the collection of empty pop cups in the background.

DRINK UP

It’s not a coincidence the weight gain came as I drank more soda. There’s a photo of me while I was running the newspaper at college. In the background you can see a graveyard of empty 32-ounce Pepsi cups, all of which likely contained the remnants of Dr. Peppers with cherry flavoring (this was way back in the late 1990s, when you could only get Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper at Sonic).

Before long, I stopped drinking water. I’d have a soda in the morning, at lunch and dinner. As a journalist, I was attached to an IV of Dr. Pepper. During 10 years as a journalist, my weight climbed from the 190s to more than 300 pounds.

Soda wasn’t the only vice, but it might have been the worst one.

Do I have the strength to quit pop? I think so, especially if it means more tickets to the gun show (and, yes, I usually think people who post pictures like this are dbags).

LIQUID POISON

Why is soda bad for you? There are dozens of reasons, beginning with the amount of sugar they contain and extending to the carcinogens they’re laced with. That’s right, soda can cause cancer.

Studies also show that soda can lead to memory loss, accelerated aging and obesity (duh).

Think of it this way: If you drink three cans (36 ounces) of soda, you’re consuming 450 empty calories. That’s a three-mile run, 90 minutes of lifting weights and about one-fifth of your daily caloric allowance.

Diet soda isn’t much better. You might cut out the calories, but you get the same carcinogens and artificial sweeteners like aspartame. According to the FDA, side effects of aspartame include death, headaches, seizures, vision loss, hearing loss, joint pain and breathing difficulties.

IT’S TIME

I’ve known all of this for a long time, of course. What you eat and drink is an addiction. Soda is my addiction. But I’m going to beat it.

I started Monday, and it wasn’t easy. I had a headache all day. I was sluggish and tired. That alone should tell you how powerful liquid poison is. But Tuesday was better, and I didn’t think about it much today.

My weight has leveled out at 200 pounds. I’m convinced cutting out pop will change that.