My Fitness Transformation Story
You may not know me, but I’d bet we have a lot in common. Take fitness for example. Growing up I was fairly active for a nerdy kid, never out of shape. Then college I lost myself, and I’ve tried to get in shape many times. I’ve also failed many times. There are a variety of reasons for this: lack of knowledge, support, or motivation for sure, but primarily simple contentment (let’s be real, I was lazy). Nonetheless, off and on I’d try to do better. Perhaps my most pronounced fitness effort was during and after college, squarely after gaining fifty pounds as a freshman. Even with a strong desire, I never made significant or sustained progress. I’d go to the gym a few times a week for less than a month, then fall back to old habits and routines. This is my story of how and why I turned that around.
Although OU has some of the best health facilities in the nation, my failures in college were primarily due to my own ignorance. I’d read a column in a magazine or website, try the routine, then move on to something else. I had no form, no real effort, and never gave any program enough time to see results. The bicycle I purchased near the end of my freshman year had been gathering rust as well.
My first real consistent push was while living with an air force friend. Joe was fit enough to run a few miles every morning, which was inspiring to me – I hadn’t been able to run a mile since high school. In fact, I have often wondered if enlisting in the military would help me better myself, but I always reject the notion through either self doubt or fear. In any case, Joe’s encouragement was enough to get me trying, and I joined him beginning in the crisp early mornings of November. Lungs burning from the cold, I did see small progress in my endurance. Unfortunately this too was not lasting: I gave up again when Joe deployed. It was then that I gained even more weight than I had lost.
Now at my heaviest, my friends and family probably wouldn’t have described me as fat, but it was there and I knew it. At nearly 6’4” tall and 220 pounds, it may not have been immediately obvious, but when I started shopping for 40″ pants I decided something had to change. I was not happy with how I felt or looked.
When I moved at the end of the year, I took advantage of the change of locale to change other parts of my life. This included activities and investing more time in my hobbies, as well as improving my diet. While I continued making modest attempts at regular running, I’m convinced my diet was of the most impact. Over the course of the next two years I slowly lost weight. I was not fit nor strong, but I was averaging around 165 to 170 and feeling a little better about my energy levels and, at least to a lesser degree, my appearance.
Getting Plugged In
When I joined Teleflora in October 2010, one of the most intriguing perks of the job included an impressive on-site gym and trainer on staff. The week I was hired, I signed up for a month-long 100-mile running challenge (which I successfully completed). However, I was initially too shy to take advantage of the gym benefit — mostly because I was embarrassed to go workout where anyone would see me at such a novice level. Six months into my employment I had the courage to join one of the small group sessions our trainer had been advertising. Starting in late March 2011, exactly one year ago, I volunteered to let Cody torture me for thirty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday before work, along with two fellow Gladiators — what we called our small group. Because of my stature, I hesitate to admit that the fellas called me me Lace. I didn’t care, I knew I’d change that soon enough.
Given the duration and generalized nature of these morning workouts, I can’t say they were super significant. However they were challenging and consistent, and I liked having a routine and accountability. I was finally going to get in shape.
Stepping it up
A couple of months into the training, I was feeling more confident. That’s about the time when an upcoming 5k race called the Dirty 30 caught my attention. It isn’t a typical run, this one involves obstacles, running down riverbeds, crawling through mud and wading through a pond. As you might imagine, I was incredibly hesitant to sign up — and had it not been for Cody’s encouragement I probably would have looked the other way. But in late May, I eventually gave in — I would train for my first 5k. I purchased the first pair of running shoes I’ve ever owned, and instead of the normal 30 minute sessions three days a week, we’d run a few times a week on our own and let Cody coach us on a run and sprints every Wednesday — which I proudly went to at 6:30am and then immediately followed it by the normal workout with the Gladiators. It was grueling, invigorating, and addicting. Plus, the workday seemed to go by so much more smoothly after you’ve been torn apart beforehand.
Vacation, no time for a break
The second week of June, I went on a short vacation to Corpus Christi to visit and housesit for an old friend Crystal. Another common old friend, JJ “The Machine” Kelley, traveled along this trip. A brief note about JJ: the machine nickname doesn’t do him justice. This dude is the epitome of fitness. He’s a runner, cyclist, and competitive Ultimate player. He’s participated in triathlons, biked around the United States, and rode his bike back to nearly OKC from Texas one night when his truck broke down. He doesn’t own a vehicle, rather he commutes to work in Shreveport on bike, rain or shine. Before moving closer, his daily bike to work was a 20 mile ride. I have few friends that are such inspirations, and JJ is among the top.
Needless to say, JJ was kind enough to commit to continuing my training (He was going to get up and run every morning before dawn anyway). Crystal lived only a few miles from the shore, so running along the shoreline drive and seeing the sun rise over the gulf was a spectacular experience. These were some of the longest runs of my life as well. The pace wasn’t outstanding (sorry JJ), but I did learn that I was capable of higher endurance than I previously thought. While enjoying the beautiful weather, we ran daily and spent as much time as possible outdoors (disc golf took up the majority of our time, and there was no shortage of courses in the area).
Thirsty for more
On June 19th, the same day I returned from the trip, I sent an email to our trainer. My confidence had been going up slowly, but I was still very timid and hated asking any questions at all — especially silly ones like this. I asked how legitimate the 12-week body transformations on the internet/magazines were, and if they were, if I’d be capable of such task. I forewarned him that I’d need an “absurdly detailed plan, dictating every meal and workout to the letter”, but that I was fully willing to follow the plan no matter what. To my surprise, the reply was affirmative. Cody set up regular meetings to discuss my goals, diet, and workouts, then created a plan.
The Dirty 30 came and went, and although I wasn’t the first to finish, I was far from last. It was a great experience and I was thrilled to have prepared successfully. True to a promise from months prior, I even competed in full green bodypaint:
My first transformation
Even more surprising to me was the relative simplicity of the plan. More workouts (an hour each morning now) and a strict meal plan (6/7 meals a day, incredibly lean but nutritious of course) was all that changed. The only rare ingredients seemed to be consistency and patience.
The first task was to get lean. Very lean. Changes were difficult to notice as first but I remember having hints of encouragement, such as when one of the Gladiators (since renamed to the News Team) replied-all to an email from Cody with “we want to look like Shawn!!!!!” Five exclamation points, even.
After 4 weeks
Just 8 weeks into my transformation, I had dropped almost 20 lbs of fat and was feeling great (and only slightly hungry). At this point, changes were very noticeable even to myself. I distinctly remember looking into the mirror and thinking ‘that is not even me’. For the first time in my life, I could see some abdominal muscles. Not something I thought I’d ever see — in fact I thought it was genetically impossible for me. It was life changing to know I could accomplish this feat at all, let alone in just a few weeks.
8 and 10 Weeks
And the end product:
Keeping it going
Following the amazing results of the initial project, I wanted to keep going. Cody has been great to keep meeting with me regularly to make regular tweaks and adjustments to my meal plans and routines, as well as great guidance in the gym. Since I started the serious weight training in September, I’ve gained roughly 12 pounds. Not all of this is muscle, of course, but my bodyfat right now is sitting right about 11%. I don’t see it myself to be honest, but I’m told I am looking bigger all the time.
Although I’m solo most of the time, I firmly believe that you should surround yourself with others that share common goals and determination. As Steve Kamb said, you must assemble your A-Team. Not only is the accountability important, but the constant encouragement is a requisite to success. Cody has been a great mentor and a catalyst to my success, as well as the unwavering voice of encouragement pushing me at all times. Without the backing support of my trainer, the ever-consistent Gladiators, and friends like JJ, I’d be nowhere. And Thanks to the Internet, I also connect around the globe with acquaintances at various points along the same journey. Some of these include folks I knew in high school, others I’ve never met on Twitter. All the same, it keeps the conversation going and the dream in sight.
My next quest
I’ve steadily increased my calorie intake, as well as my time in the gym. You can find me lifting from 6:00 to 7:45am every weekday, and I attend three separate HIIT and abs training sessions each week. While I’m a little disappointed to see the subcutaneous fat covering those abs I worked so hard to find, I know that it is an unavoidable necessity during this bulking project. I’m also 100% confident that they will be back bigger and better than ever.
On March 20th, I began a new 12 week campaign with the lofty goal of gaining 10 more pounds. Considering it took about 6 months to gain the first 10, it should be quite a challenge to double those gains in half the time. I’m up to the task. The new loaded diet is rough — it’s incredibly difficult to eat 18 eggs, a few chicken breasts, steak, and so much more every day. I am pushing as hard as ever in the gym and setup some 1-on-1 time with Cody for some additional pain. My only fear is that I’m not doing enough. Every moment I’m not in the gym, I contemplate if I should be (this is a topic I’ll be bringing to Cody at our next meeting).
What started out as a chore quickly became a passion for me with the small addition of guidance. Now, rather than loathe, I cherish my time in the gym. Alone or not, it’s my time. Inside those walls is the only place where I am in complete control. It’s similar to why I love development: computers and technology do exactly what you tell them to do. Input equals output. Now I love my job, and it’s important to be fulfilled in however you choose to make a living — but the satisfaction of having sovereignty over your condition is supreme. I don’t just hope, rather I know that if I continue with dedication and perseverance, I will reach my goal. I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday.