Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Testimonial

We had our last Biggest Loser finale at my gym tonight. Since Vision Quest was recently bought out by LA Fitness, they have sadly chosen to close down four branches of VQ that have an LA Fitness within a few blocks. This marks the end of an era, but a journey that I am not giving up any time soon. I was listening to testimonials tonight and wishing that I had written one to share. After I got home, I realized I can do the next best thing... Blog it!

When I was young, I struggled with my weight, but in retrospect, I don't think it was as bad as I thought it was. I remember one of my classmates in 3rd grade constantly teasing me about being fat (and any other subject he could possibly think of teasing me about). It's possible other peers teased me over the years, but that's the one I remember offhand. In any case, while I otherwise had good self-esteem, I always felt like I weighed more than I should.

My high school senior picture, 1996

Looking at this picture now, I have no idea where I got the idea that I was overweight, as I wish I weighed that little (and I'm working on it)! After graduating from high school, I attended Edmonds Community College for two years. My first quarter, I took a weight training class, and I determined that from then on, I would work out faithfully. My second quarter, I didn't take that class, but still resolved to work out every day. It didn't happen. So from then on, I resolved to take the class every quarter to force myself to work out. It worked wonderfully, and after two years, I looked like this:

I felt amazing, and more fit than I ever had. Well, maybe when I was little and had boundless energy, but aside from that...

Then I transferred to Seattle Pacific University. Those were some amazing years, and well worth the exorbitant prices they charged. But one drawback is that their cafeteria has amazingly delicious food. After two years at SPU, I had gained the weight back, and then some. In the years that have followed, I have seen my weight increase more and more. My parents tried several times over the years to talk to me about it, but it has always been a touchy subject for me. I know they meant well, and I could tell they did it because they cared and wanted me to stick around for many years to come. But somehow it unintentionally triggered a rebellious side in me. I didn't tell them that I was just as worried as they were (well, probably not AS worried, but I was more worried than I let on). Food and I have always had a wonderful loving relationship, and not having the motivation of a grade, or even access to a weight room, I didn't get much exercise aside from walking with my parents once in a while.

Two events really got to me, though. An aunt sent me a card, and inside was a typed letter warning me about the dangers of diabetes and other serious consequences of being overweight. She told me she wished she had heeded the warnings sooner, as she had struggled with it, and had recently been diagnosed with diabetes. Another time, an uncle visited from California, and one night he and I sat down in the living room and had a conversation about weight. He told me about one time when he worked in a morgue and had to prepare the body of a friend who had died from being overweight. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done. Neither the aunt nor the uncle in question had ever confronted me about anything before (that I can remember).

With my friend Bob Smiley in 2010

With my cousin Darcy in 2012

My weight was getting more and more of a serious issue. I remember once I hoped I would never get above 200 pounds. I got way over that. I don't think I ever reached 300, but I got too close for comfort.

Then in 2011, I went back to Edmonds Community College for further studies. EdCC has amazing effects on my weight. I really should go there more often. Anyway, I was studying Visual Communications, which include graphic design, photography, video and the like. My final quarter, at the beginning of 2013, I did an internship with Steve Sosa, one of my teachers. He taught me a lot about creativity and design, and I wanted to do my internship with him as he always brought out the creative side in me. In that internship, I worked with my friend Shanel, who I had had some classes with, and it was then that I met her boyfriend Tyler. I knew who he was before that, but I didn't really get to know him until then. He worked at a local gym called Vision Quest, and he was constantly passing out cards with special deals for joining the gym. The thing that really got me was, not only did I want to support a friend, but he never once talked to me directly about it. In the past, people who have confronted me about my weight (either because they cared or because they felt like making fun of me) tended to make me put up my defenses and resist. The fact that Tyler never mentioned it to me (though I heard him talking to others about the gym) was what sold me. In addition, I like to support my friends. So I asked him about it, and he gave me a coupon, which I was to present when I went in.

So at the end of January 2013, I went to Vision Quest in Edmonds, WA to check it out. I sat down with Tyler, who was on duty at the time, and we discussed my goals and how we could work on this problem. He paired me up with Mara, one of the trainers, and the two of them alternated training me. My membership came with one free training session a month, which Tyler did, and other training sessions were with Mara. I joined Mara's team, called the Savages.

Vision Quest has a Biggest Loser program, which they do three times a year. Shortly after I joined the gym, they had the finale for that Biggest Loser session, and Mara practically dragged me into the aerobics room where they had the final weigh-in, testimonials, and other festivities. One testimonial that really got to me was from Erin, who shared that people had teased her mercilessly about being overweight. It got so bad that she had very nearly committed suicide. She had joined the gym and lost a lot of weight and now felt much healthier. The support system is amazing there, and she had made friends who appreciated her for who she was and who she was becoming. One thing that really got me was that her "before" picture didn't look fat to me. Maybe it was because I was comparing it to my weight at the time. She did look much healthier than the "before" picture, though. Another person that got to me was the winner of that Biggest Loser challenge, Kathy. She had lost 100 pounds, and the difference was striking. Erin and Kathy (and many others) have both been great support and inspiration since then on the journey we've all been on.

Tyler was a great help, as he trained me as much as he could. However, he mentioned that Mara was more qualified and should be my main trainer. He still did my monthly free training sessions, though. But all good things must come to an end, and Tyler eventually decided to move on. He and Shanel later moved to San Francisco so that Shanel could pursue further classes in design.

With Tyler at their farewell
Picture by Ton Sridi, used with permission

Encouraged by Tyler, Mara, and several others, I participated in the next Biggest Loser, starting in May 2013. In that competition, I placed third, losing 33 pounds! Shortly before the end of the competition, I participated in an 18K walk. As it turned out, that was too much for me at that point, but my teammate and friend Johanna (alternately called Mama Jo and Jo Mama), who also participated in it, mentioned me in her testimonial at the end of the competition. She said that the fact that I had done it was an inspiration. I was partly flattered and partly challenged to press on with the journey.

Between that Biggest Loser and the next one, I lost more weight. The following Biggest Loser, I again placed high on the list, losing 18 pounds. Everyone at the gym was a major encouragement to me. We cheered each other on, and in many ways, we became like a big family. While Biggest Loser is a competition, we were all working together. The competition helped to motivate me to keep fighting, and the inspiration from friends helped even more. Mara was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She did some amazing things to help motivate me to work harder, but she also cared about more than just working out. She showed interest in my design skills. I did a redesign of the Savages logo, which she proudly showed off:

© Steven Sauke, 2013

But Vision Quest was bought out by LA Fitness. The new company promised not to make any major changes for 90 days, but during that time, we lost several of our amazing trainers, including Mara. I was sad to see her go, but I had to roll with the punches. (That may have been somewhat literal had I chosen to train with Eli, another trainer who enjoyed boxing with his clients.) :-) So by this time, I had gotten to know several of the trainers. I had come to respect Gareth, who I could tell was an excellent trainer. Several of his clients had scored near or at the top in previous Biggest Loser programs. Gareth turned out to be a great choice, as we lost more and more trainers, but not him. He has been a fun and challenging trainer, and he has stuck it out through everything. Now, not only do I have my former Savages to root for, but Gareth's G$ (pronounced "G Money") team has been a great team. Some of the Savages joined Team Panda, another of the awesome teams, so they've been an amazing support as well. Chris, who has been director the past few months in addition to training Team Panda, has done a great job of helping all the teams to get to know each other and strengthen our bonds of friendship and rooting for each other.

Mara in particular, but also Gareth, have worked with me as well in the area of food intake. One thing I have appreciated about Vision Quest is that they help not only with the workout aspect, but also with the intake and helping to address other factors that lead to weight gain. While I'm still a big fan of food, I'm much more careful than I used to be with how much I eat.

On April 17, 2014, LA Fitness announced that four branches of Vision Quest were closing: Edmonds, Everett, Kent and Tacoma. The remaining six branches would stay open but rebrand as LA Fitness. The closing branches all have an LA Fitness within a few blocks. While I understand LA Fitness' reasoning, it has come as a bit of a blow to all of us who enjoy the "small gym" family feel. In some ways, it's like a loss in the family. Now we all need to figure out what to do next. When I go to a new gym, will I get a trainer I know? I know some of the trainers are transferring to the nearby Lynnwood LA Fitness. How will the much larger gym, which is part of an international chain, compare to the support group I have at my small local gym? I don't know what is to come, though I have no intention of stopping, or even slowing down now that I've come this far.

Tonight we had our final Biggest Loser finale. Since the beginning of this competition, my final weigh-in revealed a loss of 14.6 pounds. 

All told, as of tonight, I have lost 74 pounds so far.

Me on St. Patrick's Day 2014
I've lost a few pounds since then, but this is pretty close to how I look now.

Tyler, Mara, Gareth, Chris, Eli, Erin, Kathy, Jo Mama and so many more people, you are my heroes. Thank you for your constant encouragement and friendship. You have no idea how much it means to me. I imagine I'd still be around right now if it weren't for this journey, but I am quite certain that you have helped lengthen my life considerably. I'll probably never know by how much.

Also, thanks to all my other (biological) family and (not biological) friends who have rooted for me, prayed for me, encouraged me, and done so much more over the years.

1 comment:

  1. Way to go, Steven!!! I couldn't be more proud of you and your accomplishment! :D