This is the third part in a three-part series. To read Part I, click here. To read Part II, click here.
I had just boarded the plane to go back to Wisconsin and as we took off into the night sky, I couldn’t help but use that time of solitude to reflect on my journey. I had really never thought of what it would be like once I got to the point of where I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but rather trying to maintain my weight loss. For so long, I focused on my goals. After each goal was accomplished, I immediately set the next goal. I would have the goal of getting below 500. Check. Then 450. Check. Slowly, but surely, I was hitting my goals. My favorite one was when I hit 271. At 271 pounds, that was officially my 50 percent mark and I couldn’t have truthfully envisioned that something like that would actually happen to me.
During the flight, I also came to the conclusion that there were goals that I simply wasn’t going to make. At first I was really bummed. I had tried so hard, believing in the impossible and having faith that with enough work that anything was possible. As odd as it sounds, I started the flight feeling disappointed, as though since I didn’t reach all of my goals that this whole process was a failure. Sometimes when you’re so fixated on a specific goal and you don’t reach that goal, you focus on what you didn’t accomplish, rather than what you actually have accomplished.
I mentioned in the beginning that there were two very important quotes that I had in my office. The second is from one of my favorite shows, The Biggest Loser, and one of my all-time favorite contestants Sonya Jones. The quote reads, The Journey is Long, The Journey is Hard, But the Journey is ALWAYS Worth it. I began to think about this quote a lot on my way home. I kept thinking that this quote doesn’t say destination, it says journey. I really needed to focus on the journey that I have been on, rather than the destination that I didn’t reach.
Often we view success and failure based on what goals or accomplishments that we have obtained rather than what we have learned or gained through the process. For example, a charity trying to raise $10,000, but only raises $7,000. Was that a failure? A cross country runner misses getting to state by one place. Was that a failure? A FFA member participates in the job interview contest but doesn’t place. Was that a failure?
The answer is NO. None of these are failures. For the charity, yes it came up $3,000 short, but what great things can you do with $7,000? For the cross country runner, no, the runner didn’t make it to state, but did the runner learn to be a team player? Did you learn to have good sportsmanship and compassion for your other competitors? Did you learn to give it your all and push yourself beyond the limits of what you thought you could do? If yes, then it wasn’t a failure. The FFA member didn’t place in the job interview contest, but the member completed a résumé that could be used later in life. Did the member practice interviewing skills and learn from the judges so that when interviewing for a real job the member is more prepared? If yes, then it wasn’t a failure. Even for the guy who participated in his first 5K and didn’t win. His effort was not a failure!
Through this journey, I’ve become much more appreciative of what I have accomplished instead of what I haven’t. I’ve learned that if you focus on the negative, you will never be able to feel joy about the positive. To constantly remind yourself that The Journey is Long, The Journey is Hard, But the Journey is ALWAYS Worth it.
90 inches and seven pounds later . . .
One of the most frequent questions that I am asked is if I have excess skin. The truth is that yes I do have a fair amount of excess skin. Since I was big everywhere, so is the excess skin. In October of 2015, I started the process of seeking out surgeons for skin removal. There were four areas of concern for me, or areas that I wanted to explore having surgery on. They were the arms, stomach, thighs and around my face.
Since these surgeries are viewed as ‘cosmetic’ in the eye of insurance companies, I knew that any sort of surgery was going to come out of my own pocket. Financially speaking, there was no way that I could just simply write a check for the amount that the surgery was going to cost.
Well, I take that back, I could have written the check, but it would have bounced higher than an over-inflated basketball. So not only was I having to seek out surgeons to get price estimates, I also was doing some shopping for loans. These surgeries are not cheap. One place that I priced was nearly $25,000 just for the arms and stomach.
I finally secured a loan and found the surgeon who I was not only comfortable with, but also was in an acceptable price range. So in the very early morning hours of December 11, my mom and I trekked up to the Twin Cities where I was going to have the surgery.
The surgery itself was around five hours. I have incisions from about three to four inches past my elbow that run up my arm, down and through the arm pit and then curved to go under the breast area. On my stomach I have what looked like an inverted T. There was a large horizontal incision around my waist and then an incision that ran a good two-thirds up my chest. At the time, my mom and I estimated that I had probably anywhere from 60 to 70 inches of incisions, but the surgeon did tell us before we left that he had removed a total of seven pounds of excess skin.
Prior to the surgery, the surgeon told me that I needed to have someone with me for the first 24 hours and then after that I could be on my own if I felt like I could be. So going into the surgery there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that after 24 hours and one minute at my Mom and Dad’s home that I was out of there. I would go to my house and just watch Netflix for the next few days. It would all be hunky dory! Boy was I WRONG!
After getting situated at my parents’ house, my drains from the surgery were producing a lot of fluids, far more than what was anticipated. By 2 a.m. on the day after the surgery, my mom was on the phone with the surgeon and was explaining the amount of drainage that had been collected. It was at this point that we were instructed to go to the emergency room because it was high enough for concern. We arrived at the emergency room and stayed there for about six hours, and then I was moved into the hospital for observation for about another 10 hours.
By Saturday evening, I was given the okay to go back to my parents’ home. What I thought was going to be a 24-hour stay at my parents’ home ended up being a lot more than that. I am so thankful to my parents for putting up with me during this time. They helped with keeping me comfortable, giving me medications, getting me to the doctor and so much more.
While I am a very stubborn independent person, even I had to admit that there is no way I could have recuperated from surgery without them! Having a Dad who is a farmer and had time available during the winter months and a Mom who is a nurse practitioner with great medical advice were huge benefits!
Even with all of the complications, I would still do the surgery all over again. I’m really happy with the results and every day that goes by I heal just a little bit more. It took me a long time just to be able to walk normally again, and now about two months after the surgery, I am finally able to start exercising again!
Just like with my weight loss, I kept this surgery quiet as well. Very few of my friends knew before hand, and even fewer people at work knew. I really didn’t want to talk about it before it happened. I’m fine talking about it now, but it just wasn’t something that I was comfortable discussing prior to the surgery. I even had a co-worker come up to me four days prior to the surgery and ask me if surgery was something I was looking at doing.
I felt bad, but at that point it was on a need-to-know basis, and I just replied that it was something that I was looking into. They had no clue that four days from then I would go under the knife.
Even with the extra expenses with the complications and the cost of the surgery, I would still do it all over again. For my entire life there had been this big flap of skin on my belly and now it is gone FOREVER! You have no idea how freeing that feels!
After I became more mobile and more flexible with the incisions, I decided to actually measure the amount of incisions I truly do have. I measured three times and I came up with 89, 92 and 91. So I decided to call it an even 90. With 90 inches of incisions and seven pounds of skin removed from my arms and stomach, I feel like a new guy! Now I’m looking forward to when I can make the other surgeries possible.
This next step in my journey has been a very expensive one. Between both surgeries I am looking at an investment of more than $31,000. I’m very blessed that the Buffalo County Farm Bureau’s has started a GoFundMe page to help offset the costs of my surgeries. If you are interested and want to contribute, please visit www.gofundme.com/xqyxh5u4.
Fighting the Daily Battles to Try and Win the War . . .
The problem with being big wasn’t that I always ate the wrong types of foods, it was that I had a lot of whatever I ate. If I had cereal, I ate a whole mixing bowl full. If I had pineapple, I ate the whole pineapple. For me it wasn’t always the quality, it was the quantity. It’s really an addiction and it is something that I very much struggle with still to this day.
What I have learned through this journey is that there are going to be the bad days. There are going to be days that I am not on par with my food intake. There will be days where maybe I don’t get a full 60 minutes on the elliptical. There will be days that I feel that I lost my battle with obesity. But I remind myself that every day is a new battle, and to not define myself by the battles that I lost, but to be defined by the war I’m winning. In the end, this isn’t a sprint that I’m trying to win, but rather a marathon.
As I entered into the phase of this journey where I am allowing myself to have foods that I hadn’t before, I find that the urge to over-consume is still very much there. Do I have one piece of pizza or do I have the whole pie? Do I have just one brat or do I have three? Even after all of this time, I have to fight to limit myself. To tell myself that a piece or two of pizza is okay, but only a piece or two. I have to tell myself that one brat is okay, but three brats is not. That having a half a cup of ice cream is okay, but the whole pint is not.
Truth be told, there have been days where I did have the three brats or the whole pint of ice cream. Those days do happen, but I don’t lie to myself about how bad the day was and I use that experience to fight on the next day and work to do better. In reality, I will probably struggle the rest of my life with an eating addiction, but the key to my success is whether I am able to control my urges over the long term.
I’ll just remind myself, it’s not about the battles lost. It’s about the war you’re winning. So to quote Charlie Sheen, “#WINNING.”
L.A. Here I Come . . .
I have been a huge fan of The Biggest Loser for many years. In fact, back in 2007 I tried out for the show when they had an open casting call at the Mall of America. I understand the reasons that people have a problem with the show, arguing that the weekly weight loss amounts aren’t realistic in real-life and that it sets people up for false expectations.
Sure, I’ll buy that argument, but here is what The Biggest Loser did for me. It was a constant reminder that IT IS POSSIBLE. It really is possible to be a morbidly obese person and to change your life and make yourself a healthier you. You have to take shows like this with a grain of salt, like many things in life, and use the information and motivation you can glean from it and channel it in a way that can be beneficial for you.
For me, I would watch The Biggest Loser any time that I was exercising. It was motivating for me to see these big people who were just like me exercising as hard as I was. When there were times where I thought about slacking a bit, or not giving it my all, I could just look at the TV and I would see someone just as big as me giving it all that he’s got. Now, I wasn’t exercising six to eight hours a day like they were, but for 60 minutes a day I surely gave it my all, and The Biggest Loser helped keep me accountable.
I was fortunate enough to maintain communication with one of the producers of the Today Show after I got back from New York City. In one of our email exchanges I asked her if by chance, even though she worked for the Today Show and not The Biggest Loser, if she might have some connections to get me tickets to attend The Biggest Loser finale. A few days passed and I got an email from one of the individuals who does public relations for The Biggest Loser informing me that they don’t allow the general public to attend the finale, but given my story they would give me a ticket to attend the finale on February 22.
On February 21, I boarded a plane in the Twin Cities bound for Burbank, California, with a short pit stop in Denver. Once in Burbank, I got settled in at the hotel to prepare for the next day. The weather was absolutely amazing. The temperature was in the low to mid 80s with a nice soft breeze to keep you extremely comfortable.
The instructions from The Biggest Loser were pretty simple: show up to the studio with ID, along with a couple other additional materials. Other than that, I really didn’t have any additional information.
On the day of the show, and after getting an early morning workout in, I got ready to go to the studio. I gathered my materials, ordered up my Uber car and I was on my way to the Radford CBS Studio in Studio City, California. The interesting thing about this, at least from my perspective, was that The Biggest Loser is a show on NBC, but we were shooting the live finale from a CBS studio. Ironic huh? There were big signs for shows like Last Man Standing and The Talk, which I suspect were the studios where those shows are filmed.
It’s a good thing that I arrived a little early to the studio as the address that was given by The Biggest Loser was about a block off from where we were supposed to enter. As I walked the extra block to the parking ramp, I saw others who also were dressed up. Believe it or not, as I got closer I actually recognized who these people were. I actually recognized them from the makeover episode of The Biggest Loser. This was Colby and Hope Wright’s family.
For more than an hour, I sat and talked with the Wright family, his Momma Karen, Aunt Debbie, cousin Scott and a few other relatives. I can’t thank these people enough. They were a true example of southern charm and hospitality, as they graciously took me under their wing and allowed this northern Wisconsin farm boy to visit with them. Like any adorning fan, I made sure that I got a photo with Momma Karen! It’s fun to keep in touch with the Wright family on Facebook and I’ve asked numerous times for them to please send some of that Georgia weather to Wisconsin.
Prior to flying out to California, I had reached out to Sonya Jones on Twitter to see if she was going to be at the finale. She responded that she was and we made arrangements to meet her and get a photo. Between hanging out with the Wright family and getting to meet Sonya, I was truly on cloud nine!
As the time got closer for the show to start, we were lined up in our given sections. I was in Section B, row 2, seat 1. It was cool in that directly across the aisle were many of the past contestants of the show.
It was very evident watching past contestants who were there, that they really are part of a strong brother or sisterhood. You could tell that for them, it was like a family reunion. Lots of hugs, winks and high-fives. Not just among the contestants themselves, but also between the crew and staff members.
A unique thing about being at the show is that I wasn’t the only person there from Wisconsin. Unbeknown to me, there was a couple from near Hudson, Wisconsin, who had lost a tremendous amount of weight. They had worked with former contestant Lisa Rambo. Even cooler was learning that they were also graduates of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Megan Wilson and her husband did an incredible job changing their lives and I tip my hat to them.
The show was coming to an end and it was coming down to Roberto, Stephen and Colby in the final three. You might think that they were able to see each other prior to the show starting back up, but they literally were walked out on the stage in blindfolds when they were given the opportunity to take a three-pound disadvantage for $50,000. Colby picked the $50,000, which turned out to be a smart move on his part. Each of the three knew that if they were the winner that they would be immediately swept away and taken to the airport to board a plane bound for New York City to be on the Today Show the following morning.
Roberto ended up winning the show and $250,000, and coincidentally, his twin brother won the take home prize and $100,000. Once the winner was announced, the confetti cannons went off and like that, the show was done. Contestants were taken back stage, while family and the rest of the audience exited the studio.
When everything was done, there was a gathering at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in Glendale. This is where family, current and past contestants and crew met up. Truly it was a great time!
The next morning, I had an early flight back to a very chilly Twin Cities, a far cry from the mid80s that California had.
For me, this trip was a very meaningful experience. From getting to meet someone who I had looked up to and admired (Sonya Jones, Season 16 of The Biggest Loser) to getting to hang out with Momma Karen, Aunt Debbie and Scott and to just being able to sit back and truly absorb the entire experience. It was hard not to smile and not beam with pride of my accomplishment.
Looking back, I could have easily missed this opportunity, but I took a chance and asked, and with that, I was able to be a part of something pretty amazing!
Lesson learned: Don’t be scared to walk through opened doors. Because you never really know what opportunities await you.
Parting Words of Wisdom . . .
In my parting words of wisdom, what I really want you to learn from this, is that this is the path that worked for me, but that doesn’t mean that it will work for you. Counting and limiting calories, exercise on the elliptical are the things that worked for me. No matter the personal struggle or hurdle that you are trying to accomplish, you have to do it in a way that works for you.
When you are trying to climb what seems like the highest mountain in the world, you must look at what is sustainable for the long haul, not what you can tolerate for a week. In my case, yeah, I could have lived a week on 800 calories a day and worked out three to four hours a day. But what I can tell you about that is that there is no way I could have lived like that over the long-term, and that is what this is really all about.
Finding what is sustainable, tolerable, doable over the long term for you. Remember, it’s not a sprint, but it’s a marathon!
At the end of the day, it comes down to YOU! If it were as easy as others wanting it for me, I would have been healthy a long time ago. All of the support from family, friends or your community is mute if you are not willing to match that energy towards your own success.
Many will do what they can to assist you, guide you, be there for you, but make no mistake about it, you have to work for it, no matter what it is that you are trying to accomplish! Wanting to do something to better your life is the easy part, taking the necessary steps to do something about it, well that is the hard part!
For myself. I live to fight today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Each day being its own battle, and working ever so hard not only to win the war, but also to conquer the demons! I’ve set new goals and still continue to dream big. In the future, I hope to do motivational speaking about my journey and the life lessons learned and heck, maybe even write a book. Who knows? You never know what you can accomplish when you take chances and chase silly dreams! #livealifeofnoregrets.
Facebook: Eating to Live, Not Living to Eat
Megan lyngen says
Hi Steve it’s megan lyngen. I graduated with Cera. I can’t believe yer story i got tears in my eyes u did an amazing job. You look great now. I bet your happy to where u want to be now. Hope things keep looking out for u now.
Francis Cherney says
Read all three parts and am glad you kept fighting the fight. We appreciated seeing the 911 memorial last summer, too. It really sinks in how horrific it was. Our best to you as life moves on!
Ann Dee says
Well, now I have read all three parts. I am inspired BUT now I have to make the commitment. Wish me success! 🙂
Tracy Heinbuch says
Steve, You continually inspire so many people! I am so proud of all that you have accomplished and understand the daily struggle with food. It is hard but so worth it in the end. I am so proud to call you my friend. Keep up the great work! With each day that passes you are one day closer to winning the war! 🙂 Hugs and love to you my friend.
Chuck Kubicek, says
You are truly an inspiration for me. Your TOPS talk was outstanding. Thanks again Colonel Chuck Kubicek, US Army Retired and on the same journey