Dutch never considered himself an athlete. And his weight loss transformation didn’t happen overnight. But, he made the conscious decision to start training and turned into an athlete on his own – with a triathlon under his belt! Here’s his story.
It’s natural to set goals to be a better, more fit version of ourselves.
The problem is that it doesn’t happen overnight…nor will you experience a “bump free” road getting there, and that is usually enough to halt you “new you” journey. Fear not friends, we’ve ALL had such experiences! The thing you have to do is keep your eye on the prize and you will see results and eventually achieve that new version of you you’ve always wanted. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m a prime example of how things can turn out when you stay focused and I hope sharing my success, and failures, will show you that you can do it too.
Remember it takes time. The journey begins with one step, followed by MANY more.
Look, by no means was I an athlete growing up.
I was that skinny little dork kid who was in chorus, played piano, was in the band, read everything I could get my hands on and was in theater. My sophomore year of high school I found the football team and the weight room. I was taken aback at how I could see change, in the mirror as I got stronger…and as I got noticed. I got my first real bicycle then, too, and started adding 25-50 miles bikes rides to my training schedule. I joined a local cycling club and then got involved in the local racing scene. Although I showed promise as a young cyclist and had aspirations of going pro, an education and a “stable” job were more important life pursuits.
Enter the Army and college.
Being physically fit was a staple in being a successful Airborne Ranger Infantryman but to be honest it killed all my desire to race on weekends or for fun. My life was more about training specifically for the kind of torture a soldier’s life brings than trying to get miles as a “runner.” One of my roommates, however, was a long distance runner and and of course talked me into going out on a few long runs with him which got me thinking about running long distances. But then my Battalion Commander threw out the “marathon challenge” to see who could ramp up their training to run the inaugural Atlanta Marathon. A challenge? Um, ya…I’m in. That first marathon was an experience and I dragged myself to a 4hr finish. That kind of lit the fire for wanting to run and sure there was a stretch in there where I jammed in a few marathons and triathlons but I never took it seriously or trained that way. Not to mention, due to my “have to be better than everybody” attitude led to a number of serious injuries and surgeries that always required my doing some type of rehab from injury so I never really got to enjoy running or cycling.
Due to a career ending injury (a misdiagnosed broken ankle, originally called a severe sprain, that I continued to train and run on for months until I killed the bone tissue) my time as a Soldier came to an abrupt end.
Now, because of an active lifestyle and quick recovery time, I could (and did) eat anything I wanted. I LOVE food. My mom is a great French cook and my father (a dyed in the wool Georgia boy who could give Paula Dean a run for her money) introduced me to chocolate and butter. Which, to be honest, is the staple to making any recipe better. However, the lengthy recovery from the ankle in addition to my continued eating like it was the Apocalypse led to me throwing on the pounds. And…the additional pounds aggravated the pain I’d been suffering in my lower back for a couple years. It got so bad that I had difficulty getting out of bed on my own. That resulted in trips back to the docs for x-rays, MRIs and analysis…which led to my finding out that the pain I’d been feeling all this time was due an undiagnosed broken back and pelvis (L4, L5 and S1) that had healed incorrectly.
Now, I have a lot of people tell me they have no idea how I could’ve dealt with that but let me tell you that a: I have a high tolerance for pain and b: (and most importantly) there is no such thing as being pain free when your job is to be an Infantrymen. That job makes you do things to your body that it was never meant to do…and that results in pain: daily and often. But you’re taught to “suck it up and drive on.” I mean where else are you expected to throw yourself out of an airplane, strike the ground at roughly 22 feet per second, wearing in excess of 100 pounds of gear and then walk under that load for 6-10 miles, to THEN attack the enemy?
I got depressed. My level of activity was was next to nothing, my personal life was going to crap and my job, post Army, wasn’t particularly fulfilling. I turned to the one thing I did love, food…any and all of it…which led me to balloon up to 245 pounds with a 38 inch waist. My increased size made me feel terrible about myself. There is only one picture that shows me at my heaviest (I put it up here to prove I was that size) and that’s because I had no idea it was being taken. I was so ashamed of myself that I would either step out of or completely refuse to be in photographs! To add insult to injury (or the reverse I guess), the extra weight made it even more difficult for me to get around. The docs were telling me that I should look into walking with a cane or consider getting my back fused. I had to get cortisone shots to help with the back pain. I couldn’t believe where I’d ended up. I was the “I can do anything,” “No Fear” guy and now I’m just another old fat guy!
That led me to some doing some research into my options and getting in touch with some great doctors which included my favorite who told me, “well, if you weren’t so fat, your back wouldn’t hurt so much. You could spend time in the gym strengthening your core and that would help support your spinal column. You’re too young and if you fuse your spine now, you’re likely to have to continue it over time.” You know what? He was absolutely right and that was just the kind of kick in the butt I needed.
Unfortunately I went about my weight loss all wrong with a routine of fat-burners, a restricted calorie diet and excessive amounts of working out. I shrank to 158 pounds. That weight, on my 5’10” frame made me look gaunt. Ya, I was thin and relatively pain free but I was nowhere near healthy nor living a healthy life. And that of course led me to falling off the wagon and putting weight back on again…swelling back up to 200 pounds. Sure, I was down from the 245 but I was still overweight and looked terrible…and the cycle started all over again.
So, I took a deep breath and focused on getting in shape the “right way.”
I found a local 5k about 2 months away and started training. I have to admit, finishing that race, exhausted, drenched in sweat and salt and ecstatic to finish under my goal time was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life. That re-lit my competitive fire and I got into training and racing full bore.
I now average 20 plus races a year and haven’t looked back. I take great pride that people now refer to me as the “crazy, fit guy.” By no means do I look like I want or race to the level I’d like but I can appreciate how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished. I have not arrived arrived here easily however. The past 4 years of training and racing have been peppered with poor training decisions, injury and self doubt (I am REALLY great at the self doubt part) but I work at it everyday because I’m nowhere near figuring out the right formula for me. I fight my own demons about my weight, my build and my performance on a regular basis. But…at the end of the day it’s not about the failures, it’s about the SUCCESSES and that’s what you have to focus on to continue growing as an athlete and a person.
I really do believe that a positive outlook and never say die attitude can lead you to be successful in any endeavor and I hope my journey, perilous as it’s been, can motivate others to get off the couch and make the long term commitment to changing your health.
There are 2 mantras that I use as constant motivation to get me through training, racing and life:
- “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” and
- “Be smart enough to know you’re stupid.”
You need to realize what you don’t know and ask for help. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t be in the situation of needing to lose weight and be healthier if we had all the answers. Ask people who’ve been successful and surround yourself with them! Look, if I can drag my fat, broken, old self out to train and race…SO CAN YOU!