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Whether fighting a back injury, breast cancer or a debilitating disease, these nine members are redefining the meaning of strength.
GOLD'S GYM CHALLENGE WINNERS
In just 12 weeks, these three members transformed their bodies—losing a combined 150 pounds—through the time-tested method of healthy eating and hard work.
Male, Overall Winner
Life before… In June 2009, I injured my lower back, and a month later I underwent surgery for an extruded disk. Following the surgery came the standard recovery process involving medication and physical therapy. My activity level decreased but my diet remained the same, and I began to gain weight.
Inspiration… I had two photos on my phone: one of last year's Gold's Gym Challenge overall male winner, Bryan Darnell, and the other of my uncle Winston Johnson, who is an award-winning bodybuilder.
Motivation… The will to become a healthier person for my wife, son and two stepdaughters gave me that extra drive to walk through those doors at Gold's Gym in Grand Junction, Colorado. At times I had to push myself to go to the gym even when the pain and the excuses rolled through my head urged me to pass it by on my way home.
Secret of your success… I drink a gallon and a half of water a day and work with my trainer, Mark Chisim, who planned my diet and showed me alternative exercises to help prevent any further back injuries.
New life… I feel that I have more energy and my overall mental focus is sharper, and I don't have to take pain medication for my back.
Inspiring others… Life will give you back what you put into it. Half the battle is showing up.
Female, Overall Winner
Life before… I was always Daddy's little girl. He gave me strength, support and love. After he passed away in 2009, I felt like I had lost everything. My only comfort was food. Then I became pregnant with my second child—being pregnant and addicted to food was a very bad combo. I gained 60 pounds.
Inspiration… After having my beautiful baby, I saw the banner for the Gold's Gym Challenge at my local gym in Bountiful, Utah. I didn't have the self-confidence or motivation to do it by myself, so my whole family signed up.
Motivation… At first it was hard for me to go do something so exhausting. I kept thinking, If I have a babysitter, I should be doing something more fun than going to the gym. Every day got easier, though. The trainers would give me tips on how to do another great exercise. New eating habits and the amazing classes made it fun to work out.
Secret of your success… My mom, my two sisters and I all did Zumba dance classes together. Since my dad loved dancing, it felt like he was right there shaking his booty beside me.
New life… Now I am the mom I've always wanted to be, the one who can play without being exhausted, who can take my kids swimming instead of making excuses because I don't want to be seen in my swimsuit. I thought this contest would just be something to help me lose a little weight, but it has changed my whole life.
Inspiring others… Always make time for yourself, eat right, and know that it's your job to keep yourself happy, healthy and fit. And when you're in shape, it's much more fun to do everything—even getting dressed is more fun!
Female Winner 30–39
Inspiration… My mom joined the Gold's Gym in Palisade, Colorado and really liked it, which I didn't expect. She was learning so much from her trainer, losing weight and getting in shape. Her example totally inspired me to join myself and get into shape too.
Motivation… I was missing out on so much life. My husband and daughter are both very active and did so much without me because I knew I couldn't keep up on their outings.
Secret of your success… There is no secret to losing weight, but there are many key factors: Don't drink alcohol, and eat six small meals a day, with lots of protein and complex carbohydrates, like multigrain bread and brown rice. And make sure you have accountability to others, not just yourself—a trainer really helps with this. My trainer, Bo Stohler, was my rock. I worked out with him in the gym twice a week,
and every weekend he met me at the local football field on his own time. We did laps, bleacher runs and sprints.
New life… My life has changed dramatically since the challenge. I go hiking and horseback riding and play softball. I shop in regular stores instead of specialty stores. But most of all, I just feel good.
Inspiring others… I would like to tell other people to quit waiting and to get busy. I wish I had done this so long ago. More than anything, I really want to pay it forward. I want to see every overweight person learn what I have learned.
In 2007, Berdis contracted West Nile virus, the effects of which have limited his ability to walk and forced him to use a wheelchair. He has now returned to work as a real estate agent with Chapman Hall Realtors in Atlanta, and he plans to advocate for the handicapped.
Life before… I was in the best shape of my life and doing a lot of manual work on a fixer-upper I had purchased when disaster struck—a mosquito carrying West Nile virus bit me. It was a one-in-a-billion chance. The virus attacked my nervous system, and my body became fully affected by spinal meningitis. I had to be put in a medically induced coma for a month. I lost 35 pounds, and had almost no strength.
Inspiration… The main reason I made myself start working out was the endorphin release—my own kind of antidepressant. I started feeling better about myself and putting on more muscle. I'm able to do more things for myself without asking for help, and I can get in and out of places that I couldn't before.
Motivation… I keep going to the Gold's Gym in Norcross, Georgia because I have to. If I'm having a hard day, then I make myself go. I also get compliments from strangers, trainers and friends, which keeps me motivated.
New life… Before I couldn't move either leg—I can now move my right leg, but still need to use a wheelchair. When I got out of the hospital, I couldn't even wrap my head around the idea of starting new hobbies, but going to the gym helped me gain clarity
and look forward to my future. I joined a wheelchair softball league, and I'm going to Canada soon on a deep-sea-fishing trip with my dad. I love going to sporting events and concerts, and I want to become an advocate for disabled fans—handicapped people should be able to buy tickets online and know where their seats will be, just like regular tickets. Right now, most venues make you fill out a form, then contact you later.
Inspiring others… More people than I can remember—and all ages from twentysomethings to 70-year-olds—have said that I'm an inspiration. "I've got no excuses after seeing you," they tell me at the gym. I was also recently asked to tell my story at an AA meeting because I've been in recovery for seven years, and through this whole experience I never even thought of having a drink.
Bush had been overweight almost all of his life, but after watching his father die from heart disease, he decided he had to act. With the help of his trainer and a healthy diet, he lost over 140 pounds and has never looked back.
Life before… I'd been heavy my whole life. I used to show up early for restaurant reservations to make sure we had a table, not a booth, because I couldn't fit in a booth.
Inspiration… I watched my father die from heart disease, and I was already on medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I felt like I was trapped in my body and knew that I was killing myself.
Secret of your success… I still log all my food so I know what I'm taking in. I work in organ donation, which means I'm flying all over the country pretty frequently. It's so easy to grab fast food or order pizza. I'd snack on high-calorie foods; now I grab fruit.
Motivation… My father. And my trainer, Mike Shimono at the Gold's Gym in Carbondale, Illinois. Mike had been heavy his whole life, like me, and transformed himself through exercise and proper diet. He knew my pain. I also got a group from my
church to join Gold's Gym with me. We restructured our social life together. We used to meet to eat, now we meet to work out.
New life… I no longer need to take any heart medication, and my self-confidence has skyrocketed since I reached my weight-loss goals. I remember the first time a hostess showed us to a booth and I slid right in. Not one worry! And I had old injuries that my trainer helped me work through—what I thought were limitations were actually opportunities for me to learn even more at Gold's Gym.
Inspiring others… So many people still ask if I had surgery, and I say, "No, I did it all with diet and exercise." I think that really opens their eyes to how a healthy lifestyle can change your life.
Like many working moms, McKee-Clark thought she was too busy with her family and career to get back in shape. Finally after beating breast cancer, she stopped making excuses and started losing weight—over 100 pounds.
Life before… When my brother became catastrophically ill with pancreatitis and was hospitalized, the highlight of my family's day became eating out. I put on weight, and added to it with my next pregnancy. Then I entered law school and began a life of sedentary work, motherhood and running a home. Before I realized it, I was 100 pounds heavier.
Inspiration… In 2002, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and both my parents died. To say it was a hellish year is an understatement. I started going to Gold's Gym in Ashburn, Virginia while I was going through chemo. I felt better, but I didn't stick to it. In May 2009, I was post-cancer and tired of being overweight on vacations, holidays and other major events. I never liked any photographs of me and would hide from the camera. My epiphany had arrived.
Motivating tools… A good friend can make all the difference. I had one such friend. As she saw my size diminishing, she got excited and even joined the gym with me. I would text her with every pound of progress, and she would celebrate it with me.
Secret of your success… I gave up television. It's a passive activity, and when you watch, it becomes easy to eat. Now I read and I can stand on the cardio machine for hours when I have a great book.
New life… At my highest I was 243 pounds and a size 18. The first 20 pounds came off and you would have thought it was 80, I felt so great. I reached my goal of 138 pounds and a size four, and have been maintaining it for almost a year now. My energy, my confidence and my joy in life have all returned.
Inspiring others… I get so excited when I meet people who are trying to lose a lot of weight. I tell them that they can do it, because I did. There is nothing magical about me. It just took commitment, making working out a priority and following that old adage: Less calories in, more calories out.
Bad eating habits (and easy access to food) caused Denicola's weight to reach almost 600 pounds before his father's dying wish finally sunk in: Lose the weight. He's now dropped almost 350 pounds and is still losing.
Life before… My eating habits were extremely bad! You name it, I ate it: fast food, cookies, chips, cake. When I was in the 10th grade, my father opened a restaurant. Our business became successful, and I would work long, late hours and eat constantly. My weight skyrocketed to 500 pounds.
Inspiration… The one thing that changed my whole life was something my father told me before he died: Lose weight. I was the one who found my father dead. I watched the EMTs load him into the ambulance. I watched them struggle to get my father into the ambulance—he weighed 265 pounds. How would they ever be able to get me into an ambulance, at 589? I joined the Gold's Gym in James Island, South Carolina.
Motivation… Seeing changes! I started getting stronger and the weight came off. A couple of months went by, and I had to buy new clothes. I lost 20 inches around my waist. My weight dropped to 259 in a year and a half.
Secret of your success… My trainer, Brandon Carrol, asked me to keep a food log. When he saw
how much junk I was eating, he explained the damage I was doing to myself. Everything started to click. When I saw what I was eating through his eyes, I could see that I was killing myself.
New life… My life has changed for the better, and I don't know where I would be if it weren't for Gold's Gym guiding me in the right direction. I run into people I haven't seen in two or three years and they don't recognize me. We sold the restaurant, but I still work in a kitchen. Now, though, I don't worry about having easy access to food because my friends hold me accountable.
Inspiring others… One of the fitness instructors at my local gym said she uses my story to motivate people in her workout classes.
Dietz was born with no arms or legs, but he does not allow his disabilities to stop him from doing anything he puts his mind to—including hunting, bowling, and, this past June, swimming the Chesapeake Bay. He trained at his local Gold's Gym in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Early life… My older brothers and sisters were really active, and I just followed their lead. My dad always did everything he could to make sure I could do what other kids did. Like, when I was 12, I wanted to go white-tailed deer hunting like my friends, so my dad came up with a rig so I could shoot a gun.
Inspiration… I've been swimming since college. (I put a fin on the stump of my right leg.) Years later I was living in Pittsburgh and my life was feeling a little stagnant. Some of my friends were doing relay triathlons and I decided to join [as the swimming team member]. The competition and the event just got me hooked. The first swim I did was one mile, then I got up to two miles. I just kept looking to ratchet it up a bit.
Swimming the Chesapeake Bay… This race took me to the edge. You have to get through two shipping channels where the currents are incredibly strong. In the first channel I had to swim at a 45-degree angle just to stay straight and not be swept out of the racecourse. The first mile took me 36 minutes. The second took me over an hour because of that current. After expending so much energy just to stay on course, I was really worried about getting through the second channel, but that one wasn't as bad. People keep asking me what I'm going to swim next—and I tell them it's too early to think about that.
Inspiring others… I think people should do whatever makes them happy and healthy. I'm glad that people are inspired by my story, but that's not why I swim. I do it because I enjoy it, not because I want to be in the spotlight. That said, I'm a motivational speaker, because if my story can help someone else take control of their circumstances, I want to help them do it.
Learn more about Dietz at his Website: craigdietzspeaks.com
Schultz, a police offer, had reached 560 pounds before he finally realized his weight was putting his and his partners' lives in jeopardy. He jumped-started his weight loss with gastric sleeve surgery then went on to lose over 300 pounds by sticking to a healthy diet and exercise regime.
Life before… By August 2008 I had ballooned to 561 pounds, and had been hospitalized twice, one stay nearly cost me my life. I had heard of a procedure called a gastric sleeve. I had surgery on November 25, 2008, and haven't looked back since. As soon as I was able to join the my local Gold's Gym in Kingswood, Texas—I did. I transformed my body from 38% body fat to 20% body fat.
Inspiration… Two things. One, I nearly died. The second one is more complicated. I'm a police officer, and I couldn't fit into my police car without taking off my gun belt. Out on patrol one day, we heard shots fired. My partner jumped from the car, and I had to get out, open the back door and get my belt. By the time I reached my partner, a man was dead in front of me—a bullet through the head—and my partner was chasing the suspect. We caught him and my partner survived, but it made me realize how my weight affected my job performance.
Motivation… I keep pictures of my old self around my house. I have one right on my refrigerator.
Secret of your success… My personal motto: Rome wasn't built in a day. You're building an
empire and your body is an empire. You have to be patient and keep focused on your goals.
New life… My wife says she has a new husband. I take martial arts classes with my son and teach a boot camp. I'm currently trying to have my excess skin removed to donate to burn victims at Shriners Hospital.
Inspiring others… I walked into my precinct one day and could smell fried chicken. I followed the smell and saw my police chief, who was pretty overweight, eating three crispy pieces. I said, "You know that's gonna kill you." Right then, he threw out the chicken. He joined a gym the next day, and he's lost 70 pounds. When people ask him how he did it, he just says: "Go talk to Schultz. He saved my life."
Stories of Strength
Despite tough obstacles, like heart disease and obesity, these six members changed their lives through diet and exercise—and inspired others along the way.