Editor’s Note: Brian Smith is a 6’ 6” former offensive lineman for the Ohio State University football team. After a career ending injury, Brian’s weight, health, and fitness spiraled out of control. Nearly 20 years later, his life was changed after registering for a 5K run with his family. We thank Brian for sharing his story, and for Matt Young from Genesis 5K for introducing us to him.
My struggle with obesity began in college when I was an offensive lineman for the Ohio State University football team. During my redshirt sophomore year, I sustained an injury to my lower back that ended my football career. After surgery I was unable to exercise, let alone move, due to a cumbersome back brace.
Three months of inactivity led to weight gain and depression, and as the recovery process dragged on I adopted a smoking habit. A year later, the hardware in my back failed and I had to undergo surgery a second time.
Football was over for me and despite the benefits I received from exercising in college, I swore I would never again touch another weight or run even a mile. Ever.
A Destructive Cycle
My eating habits deteriorated rapidly and my muscle mass from college turned to fat. I ate food to feel better, but it only made me feel worse about myself – which led to more eating. This destructive cycle continued for almost 20 years, and peaked in December of 2013 when I weight 362 pounds. At my healthiest, I weight 280 pounds with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 21%. I shudder to think what my BMI was that December.
An Emotional Toll
Obesity has taken an emotional toll on my life, and depression and low self-esteem have been my primary emotional baggage. I never felt comfortable in my skin so I withdrew from relationships and abstained from any event that would involve physical activity.
I was ashamed of myself and felt that exercising in front of people I didn’t know well would expose me to be the fat slob I thought I was.
Physically, weight gain also manifested itself in the form of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and obstructive sleep apnea. At my heaviest, I took four high blood pressure medications and relied on a Bi-PAP machine during sleep.
I was an audibly loud breather and got winded simply walking up one flight of stairs. My knees hurt. My back hurt. I was a mess.
After starting my fourth blood pressure medication and being diagnosed with sleep apnea, I knew that something had to change. I had a family whom I wanted to grow old with.
The Color of Change
A friend of my wife invited her to run The Color Run™ 5K. I made the decision to set aside all my past negative declarations about fitness and we registered for the race as a family. I paid for the race immediately and committed to put in the effort to run my first 5K ever!
My lifelong friend Matt Young, founder and head running coach for the Genesis 5K Training Program, provided tips and encouragement. Although I lived a couple of hours away and couldn’t participate in his weekly training sessions, I got on his mailing list and downloaded the C25K® - 5K Training App on my phone. I also downloaded the MyFitnessPal App on my phone to keep me accountable, and committed to watch what I eat and adopt a healthier lifestyle all around. I cut out fast food completely and replaced it with fruits and vegetables.
I decided that unless I was injured, I needed to commit to training. I started running in mid-January and ran a half a dozen times in single-digit temperatures, twice in subzero temperatures, and with snow on many of those days. The first 20-minute jog I completed was with 14 inches of snow on the ground!
I started my training plan for The Color Run™ a week or two early so I registered for another 5K that was scheduled before The Color Run™. I finished that race, The Color Run™ and have since run another 5K.
When I first started, I couldn't jog 60 seconds without thinking I was going to pass out. I'm now running 12 + miles per week with my longest run covering 5 1/2 miles. I used to loathe running. Now, I love to run and want to be the best runner I can be! In fact, I’ve run over 150 miles so far.
The most significant results have been in my overall health. I have maintained a 2000 calorie-per-day diet, and with exercise and eating properly my weight is now at 298 lbs. That’s 64 pounds lost in just over 4 1/2 months!
I was told I would never be able to quit beta-blocker medications once I started. HA! - With doctor supervision I have successfully eliminated all 4 high blood pressure medications. My cholesterol went from 220+ to 160 and my triglycerides decreased to 147 (normal and the lowest they have ever been).
While I have not been able to ditch the Bi-PAP machine, I am on my way. My physician advised me in my last visit that with further weight loss and exercise, I am likely about 6 months away from curing my sleep apnea.
A Healthy Home Life
I experience struggles that are generally centered on the time commitment and falling into old habits. Fortunately I have a very supportive wife. We've adapted to my new fitness schedule and have worked together to find the best schedule for a healthy lifestyle but mot importantly, a healthy home life. Easter was especially difficult with loads of Easter candy around. This caused a plateau for a week or so but I'm back on track!
Weight loss has given me my life back. It has given me my family back. It has given self-esteem in spades, great joy, and happiness. The impact is truly immeasurable.
I am excited about physical activity again. I am actually looking forward to going to the beach this year! I've rediscovered hiking and fly-fishing. I’m a much more active person and love playing with my children and going to the park. I will never be the one to shun an activity because I may get to tired or I'm too lazy.
My Greatest Goal
I have a goal to lose an additional 65 pounds, be at a healthy BMI, and rid myself of my Bi-PAP machine forever. I also plan to run my first 10K in July and my first half marathon in November. I have a goal of running a 15-mile race next summer and running a marathon in 2016. And I want to help motivate at least one person to get off the couch and get running. If I can do it, they can do it!
But my greatest goal is to stay healthy so that I can take my son fishing and camping, walk my daughters down the aisle, and grow old with my lovely wife.
Thank God for running.