Fitness as a Catalyst for a New Way of Life
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons
Two transformational stories of men who used fitness to turn their lives around and are now inspiring others to do the same.
Managing Diabetes through Exercise and Diet
My fitness and wellness journey has roots in Southern Virginia where I grew up. I had an active childhood, much of it spent climbing trees and running through the woods. My parents, who were raised with limited resources, taught me that it was a punishable offense to leave food on your plate filled with Southern comfort foods. Looking back, there is a dotted line from aspects of my youth to my eventual diabetes diagnosis. Yet, my upbringing also gave me the grit that has allowed me to take control of my health and get in the best shape of my life.
Fast-forward to post-college, when I began working in software and technology. Career-wise, these were exciting years. In terms of my health, they were brutal. I was working 100-hour workweeks on little sleep, no exercise and fueled by queso, brisket and Coca-Cola. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when, in 2005, I was suddenly tired, lethargic, urinating excessively and hungry all the time.
Eventually, I went to my doctor, who quickly diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes at age 30. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had heard of diabetes, but only knew that it had something to do with blood sugar and eating candy bars when you got shaky. I had a lot to learn. Since then, there have been many ups and downs: medications that didn’t work, a trip to the ER, learning the right foods to eat, re-introducing external insulin with an insulin pump, no-carb diets, the Master Cleanse, and weight gain.
Fortunately, over the past couple of years, I’ve made shifts in my approach to health that have resulted in a truly sustainable diabetes treatment. It is a holistic mix of fitness, bodywork, mindfulness and diet.
Into the Ring
It all started when my former colleague John announced that he was going to train me after I made a half-hearted statement about getting into shape. Something struck me at that moment, and I agreed. We met at Castle Hill Fitness on a Monday morning, and John introduced me to boxing workouts. That evening, I went to Academy and bought wraps and gloves so I could learn to use the punch mitts and heavy bag. Right away, I was addicted to boxing and immediately noticed differences in myself. Over two years later, it’s is still a cornerstone of my weekly routine. For me, boxing is an active form of meditation.
Onto the Mat
As I grew more confident and fit, I mixed things up and tried everything from yoga and kickboxing to plyometrics and barre. However, I fell in love with Pilates. I started taking three to five classes a week. Part of the allure was that Joseph Pilates was a boxer. In addition, private sessions with Mandie Pitre have deepened my practice and helped me connect deeply to my core and, most importantly, my breath. I’d heard about the power of breath and never believed it much. But now, I use Pilates breathwork all the time.
Outside the Gym
I am also firm believer in professional bodywork and stretching. I see Dr. Jessica Tranchina for A.R.T. (Active Release Technique), Jingyu Gu for acupuncture, Sonya Emery (a former professional boxer) for boxing massage and psoas release and Dr. Ben Charlton for chiropractic adjustments. Each of these experts have helped me recover, combat injuries and improve my workouts.
I spend a lot of time stretching and doing self-administered treatments. My one-hour warm up includes self A.R.T. with a lacrosse ball, wooden stick and Therabands, Pilates exercises on the spine corrector and ballerina stretches to release my leg muscles. I end my workout by following a static stretching routine from Castle Hill’s Ben Himes. I wrap it all up with an infrared sauna session and a Wim Hof cold shower — just to ensure I'm ready for my day.
Back to the Plate
Over the last year, I have really dialed in my diet. I started intermittent fasting; by not having breakfast or eating after dark, I have a large fasting window every day. With I.F., my insulin levels and blood sugar have further stabilized, my energy levels have soared and fat has melted from my waistline. I also shifted to a strict Paleo diet, eliminating beans, dairy and high-fat meats. The effect was immediate: I need much less insulin when eating super clean, healthy food. I have found that the combination of intermittent fasting and low-carb Paleo has allowed me to reduce my insulin requirements and has tightened my blood sugar control.
I still have difficult days, but I've made tremendous progress. I used to dread working out; now I crave sweat. I have transformed my body and my mind, and my newfound health has impacted other areas of my life. I’m convinced that my success in my new company is due to the focus and resilience I gain through intense fitness and rigorous diet.
Walking His Way to Health and Happiness
“Enjoy the journey…”
My dying father uttered these words into my cell phone. I rushed to be by his side in Montgomery, Alabama, but it would be his final coherent words to me as the death rattle had begun. My dad — my hero, my golf buddy — died a few days later on December 10, 2014. Our family had not counted on my mother passing just four months later on Easter Sunday of that same year. She could not live without him, and I now had to live without both of them. My parents were gone.
My journey began two years earlier in 2012 when, at age 56, and weighing 290 pounds with a 48 inch waist, I found myself facing the impending death of aging parents and the end of a successful 35-year television sports career. I sat crying, unwilling to get out of my recliner on a sunny Saturday morning in Lakeway. I prayed to God for deliverance, and two days later an article appeared in the Austin-American Statesman about a walking group for the heavyset in downtown Austin called ATX-100 coached by running guru Paul Carrozza, who I had known from my days in sports TV. I showed up the next Saturday, February 25, 2012, driving the 40 mile round trip from Lakeway. This fitness and lifestyle journey led me to lose 110 life-changing pounds in two years of ATX-100 workouts — despite injuries that required two surgeries (meniscus and sports hernia repairs). I wasn’t giving up.
I remember vividly my first Congress Avenue Mile in 2012, walking between blocks and jogging the intersections — just in case anyone recognized me at the stop lights. Gazelles’ coach Gilbert Tuhabonye shouted encouragement from a sidewalk bench, "Don't stop, keep going!" Governor Rick Perry was at the finish line just across the Ann Richards Congress Avenue bridge to congratulate us ''red shirts" in the ATX-100 heavyset group. That size XXL red shirt (which now serves as a constant reminder in my bedroom closet) and my training group were everything to me. Members had become my new friends, and the workouts helped me get through personal challenges that included my June 2013 retirement from my all-consuming job as a TV sportscaster.
After shedding 100 pounds in two years down to 190 pounds and building endurance to handle Paul Carrozza’s now twice-weekly running workouts, Paul suggested Train 4 the Game to improve my stride. It was there that I began a three-year relationship with a top notch training staff who I was familiar with through my coverage of Texas men's basketball.
LOVE Cycling Studio soon followed at the invitation of She-She Media founder Suzanne Hofmann Erickson. Now, two years later, I ride four Maria Groten coached spin classes each week, covering the what is now a 36-mile round trip from Steiner Ranch. Frequently, it’s my second workout of the day after biweekly U.S. Masters swimming workouts coached by Hollie Kenney in Steiner Ranch, where I live and train now with Kirk Leavell and his dedicated staff at Wild Basin Fitness. I didn’t give up.
At age 61 and a fit 195 pounds thanks to a totally healthy lifestyle, I want to provide a place for more people to change as I did. This was the inspiration that called me to start the ATX-100 program in Steiner Ranch. My excitement is hard to contain as I kick off the 2018 program, thanks to my partners Wild Basin Fitness and the Gene Arant Team of Keller Williams Realty, who is providing the weekly meeting space. The 100-day program will begin with a free orientation and light walk from 8 a.m.–10 a.m. on January 6, 2018.
The "red shirts" will be silver and black this time, Vandegrift High School colors, and I look forward to calling on my contacts from 28 years in the Austin sports media and five years in the fitness community for guest speakers to help bring encouragement and healthy living topics to the people of Steiner, Lakeway and River Place. ATX-100 Steiner will provide a place for change, and hopefully my desire to not give up will inspire others to do the same.