Name: Nick Kovacs
Occupation: Retired Marine
Start Weight: 360 pounds
End Weight: 219 pounds
Time Cycling: 4 years
After I retired from the Marine Corps, I got fat. I mean really fat: I was 360 pounds when I went to get a physical at the VA in Madison, Wisconsin, just before my 60th birthday.
It was there that everything changed. My doctor put it to me straight: “You are going to be 60. Keep this up, and you’ll never see 70.” Talk about a wake-up call.
The biggest culprit was my diet. I was a competitive powerlifter when I was younger, so I still ate and ate to gain bulk and strength. This meant lots of red meat, eggs, ice cream, protein powder, and all the “go-to” foods I thought would increase muscle mass when lifting heavy weights. Well, maybe not the ice cream, but I liked it.
The doctor’s orders were clear: Get my health in check. I started walking—and eventually running—cut down on sweets and ice cream, and I started to feel better. My wife asked me if I would like to do a half marathon at Yellowstone National Park. I replied sure, did the bugger in June 2015, and got my finisher medal with a time of 3:58.
But running wasn’t for me or my knees. The weight I was carrying, my career as a Marine, and that early powerlifting certainly didn’t help, so I looked for an alternative form of exercise. I’d always had a bike and did some touring when I was much younger. Why not start riding again?
I got hooked up with a new bike: the Salsa Vaya. My first question to the bike shop owner was, “Will this bike support me, and will I crush the wheels?” I weighed 342 pounds. The bike held up as I start riding, but everything hurt. A huge accomplishment at first was riding 5 miles, then 10, and sometimes 20.
Yet the more I did, the more I just wanted to get out and ride. It became a daily thing. By the end of summer 2017, I was down to 299, a number I hadn’t seen for a while. The next two years lead to even better results as I started adding races in like Lutsen 19, Maah Daah Hey 13, Dirty Kanza 25, and Heck of the North 50.
With all of the training and racing, I hit 219 this year.
I saw my doctor at the VA again this spring. She almost cried when I stepped off the scale down 141 pounds since my first appointment. She says I added 10 years to my life, and I wouldn’t need medications for blood pressure or diabetes. She even asked if I’d help with other vets in similar situations, which we are working to make happen.
When I do help them out, I’ll tell them it wasn’t all about the exercise. I also sought help from a sports nutritionist to get my diet in check. We came up with a plan that meant red meat, dairy, grains (except for steel cut oats and flax), added sugar, and processed foods were gone.
Fish and chicken are still on the menu, along with lots of seasonal vegetables and fresh fruit, but I don’t eat milk or cheese or ice cream—which is not that easy to do living in the epicenter of dairy production.
These days, I feel stronger. I have more energy and love the challenge I can tackle with cycling. I may not be fast and or go far, but I get better each ride. I can’t wait for each day! And heck, I can buy clothes anywhere now, not just the “big and tall” shops.
What’s better is that my entire family cycles now. Both of my boys, Dan, 17, and Brett, 16, have completed the Dirty Kanza 100. My daughter Reid, 22, runs and has begun cycling again to be healthier. She asks me every day if I worked out.
Our vacations are built around cycling. As I write this, we are in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, remote camping and riding some of the Crusher 225 route.
The process is simple process, but not easy. You want good advice, so forgo fad diets and meal replacement shakes. Include exercise as part of your life. Go to any grocery store and pick up a 5-pound bag of sugar. Still think 5 pounds isn’t a lot? Then go pick up a 40-pound bag of dog food. How much better would you feel not carrying that around? Don’t worry about what others say: This is about you and your life.
I have this motto, “Show up.” Show up for your life on a daily basis for you, in what you do, how you do it, and for those you love. Some days are better than others, but show up.
From: Bicycling US
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