Being asked if you’re Santa Clause can bring up many mixed emotions. For Neal Bendesky, it was his pivot point.
On October 12, 2015, a young boy innocently mistook 57-year-old Bendesky for Santa Clause. Bendesky, who had been working out at Orangetheory Fitness, was wearing a 5X red pullover after working out at his home studio in Arizona.
“That instant transformed my life,” Bendesky says. “I’ve never been the same.”
Within the past seven years, Bendesky has shed over 199 pounds. With the help of Orangetheory and keeping his goal in mind to run the Statesman Cap10K, he totally transformed his life and body.
Bendesky first moved to Phoenix for an executive sales position for an indoor football team, with one part of his job consisting of recruiting corporate partners. There, he recruited Orangetheory for the team and was surprised as he connected with a community that was dedicated to life transformation.
“I needed a transformation,” Bendesky says. “They motivated me to try.”
Orangetheory is a science-backed, technology-tracked workout. They utilize a heart monitor with exercises, which has come in handy with Bendesky because it allows him to be aware of any hereditary heart issues he may be having. But more than just exercise, Orangetheory also focuses on nutrition, something Bendesky struggled with.
At one point, one of Bendesky’s sons worked at a pizza place.
“I used to go in and have two slices of pizzas and sneak the third one,” Bendesky says. “(My son) came out one day, brought me a salad and goes, ‘Dad, I think it’s time for a salad.’”
Bendesky also chose Orangetheory as the way to lose weight based on how it felt when he walked in.
“They told me, ‘We’re going to get you results, but they’re going to be your results and goal,’” Bendesky says. “So that is a big difference than just walking into a box gym, seeing all these different machines and not being led by a certified trainer.”
At the beginning of Bendesky’s training, someone set a goal in his mind to learn accountability as well as the value of better nutrition.
“I didn’t go on a diet; I didn’t change,” Bendesky says. “Fitness is transformation; I transformed myself.”
Bendesky says he put himself in a position where he wanted to get better so he could live with his sons and family. One way he did this was by aiming to run the Cap10K, the largest 10K race in Texas. Bendesky dedicated his run to his cousin Greg, who passed away from a sudden heart attack at age 59.
“I used to say to people ‘How many family members died before they were 60 years young?’” Bendesky says. “On August 2nd, 2016, I (almost died), and my wellness journey saved my life.”
Bendesky says one of the most important things he learned was that transforming your body isn’t necessarily about how much you weigh but more so about how you feel. When he started Orangetheory, his official weight was about 415 pounds, something only he and his trainer knew.
“I was embarrassed to share my weight,” Bendesky says. “But (everyone else) was so encouraging that I kept showing up.”
Then, he participated in an Orangetheory 6-week weight loss challenge with a goal of losing 40 pounds in 43 days. And he did it, even finishing third place in his Orangetheory studio.
Bendesky says it’s important to stay in touch with what your body is telling you. As you work out and eat healthily, Bendesky emphasizes that you need to listen to your own body and not compare yourself to what others around you may be doing.
“You’re not competing with the person next to you,” Bendesky says. “You’re competing against yourself.”
And as you grow older, Bendesky says you need to continue to listen to your body and understand what it’s saying. While your goal may be to run miles every day, it’s helpful to moderate the type of exercise you’re doing. Consistency and moderation should be at the forefront of your mind.
“Go out and celebrate your life within the limitations for what your body is allowing you to do,” Bendesky says.