Art's Transformation

Submitted by: Clay Henderson

Art's Success Story

I can’t say enough about this guy. Art is a great example of what dedication and belief can bring to your life. Over the past four years I’ve witnessed Art undergo an amazing transformation with much perseverance. Training gave Art a way to bring out character that was inherent in him but hadn’t been tested like it was in pursuit of his fitness goals.

I first met Art in the fall of 2009. He was shopping the area for gyms and found his way in an Anytime Fitness where I was a young trainer. Interested in getting into shape and taking control of his health, we scheduled a consultation to see if personal training was the route he wanted to take. Art is a quiet guy, so without much feedback it was hard to tell how interested he was in training. He spoke no more than necessary. He seemed neither apprehensive nor excited about doing personal training but he was sincere about taking weight off his 340 pound body. He wanted to turn his life around and I was able to convince him to give me a try as his personal trainer. Art is the type of consumer that often knows more about your product than you do, so the fact he hired me spoke to his commitment.

From the beginning I knew Art was going to be successful. It’s my job to see the potential in people and that is not always easy. With Art however, his wealth of potential was plainly evident. He worked with a quiet determination in line with his modest nature, coming in every week for new challenges. The first stage is usually the biggest obstacle because exercise is NOT particularly enjoyable when you are first starting out. It’s even less enjoyable when you’re carrying an extra 120 pounds around. Getting my clients past the initial pains of starting something new is always our first hurdle in the training process. This is something I’ve learned to do effectively by starting out nice and easy and advancing slowly. With Art, “nice and easy” fell by the wayside as we advanced far quicker than normal. Within 6 weeks, Art was showing strength gains most people don’t see until the 6 month mark when I typically start a strength-focused training cycle.

I pride myself on my ability to pick up on my clients’ physiological and psychological limit but, again, Art’s quiet demeanor made this more difficult. In the midst of training, he kept the fire on the inside and didn’t reveal much in the way of pain or discomfort. When I needed verbal feedback, “fine” was his most common response. Impressed with what I saw, I advanced his program at a rate that far outpaced protocol. Meanwhile, Art’s work ethic and dedication was not going unnoticed. Just a few weeks in, members started coming up to me asking, “Who’s the big guy I see working his ass off every day?” They commented in amazement of his dedication and visible improvement. Art’s humble nature doesn’t invite recognition or complements but none the less I know he appreciated them. The gym, which was briefly a foreign place, became a getaway he used not only to change his body but his sense of well-being. It gave him another identity and provided a community where he would later make lifelong friendships.

Prior to joining the gym in 2009, Art spent a lot of time to himself. His vast array of interests (from theology, engineering, technology, philosophy and literature to superhero movies and D&D) kept him occupied, frequently past 2am. It was easy for him to stay in his own mind. As an introvert myself, I understand the difficulty of breaking this pattern. He wasn’t meeting or engaging with people and his health was suffering from it. It doesn’t matter how self-reliant a person you are; a healthy social life is a must for general health. The gym filled this vital gap and in time, he became a pillar of our fitness community.

We trained together every Wednesday at 7pm for almost 4 years. In that time I witnessed a once badly out of shape 340 pound mild mannered 37 year old nerdy computer software engineer transform into a well-conditioned solid hulk of a man with the strength to squat 400 pounds and the stamina to run a marathon under 4 hours. He’s still my nerdy friend that can talk strength and conditioning, X-Men and string theory in practically the same conversation. He just resembles more the Terminator than what you’d think of for a genius, proving brains and bronze are not mutually exclusive powers. I used to love working out with Art because I admired how hard he worked to keep up with me. I had a physical advantage that comes from years of consistent training verses a few months. What I could do with moderate exertion, Art could match with maximum effort. However, my fitness advantage was short lived. He gained on me fast and to my surprise it wasn’t just his strength but his endurance as well. Art’s linebacker-like frame would have you shaking your head to hear his 5K time is less than 20 minutes (that’s exceptional for anyone). Today I still enjoy working out with Art, but any feeling of fitness supremacy on my part would be an illusion.

I told him from the beginning he was going to achieve his goals and encouraged him to question his limits. I think Art fed off of the faith I had him and gradually I gained more trust as the results started to compound. His confidence and self-belief really started taking off about 3 months deep when the scale dipped below 300 for the first time in many years. By that point, Art’s balk at the challenges I was presenting was no more than a brief “oh boy” followed up by “let’s do it”. As the attitude of “I can” sunk deeper and deeper I really started taking advantage with more seemingly outrageous goals. 10 months in, Art dropped over 100 pounds and we shifted our attention to other areas aside from weight loss. We started gaining muscle and then it became endurance focused, running a ½ marathon to running a full marathon. A supreme work ethic and a growing self-confidence is what made these lofty goals a reality.

Initially it was me who challenged Art’s idea of what was possible but later, it was Art who inspired me to push my own limits and forced me to reevaluate the possibilities. I have to admit, he exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. “Holy shit, I didn’t think that was possible” became a common thought of mine during the course of our training. A few months into our training, I took Art outside for a hill run. The hill was a steep ¼ mile incline difficult for even experienced runners. The exercise was intended to be an easy pace, a jog/walk. I just wanted him to conquer the hill. As we began our ascent, I let Art dictate the pace with no intention of pushing him any faster. Ambitiously, we began the climb lead by Art, at a full run. 100 meters up the hill, a rare grimace appeared on his face as he struggled to keep stride. I expected we’d walk the rest. I was wrong. He dug in deep and actually began running faster. It became apparent he viewed the hill as a direct challenge and would not accept victory by any other means than running to the very top. One quarter mile doesn’t sound too bad but on a sharp grade at a fast pace, you sure gain a new appreciation for the distance. Each stride put greater demand on Art’s heart and lungs to supply his then 285 pound body with oxygen. His breathing was out of control. I almost stopped him but thought better of it. It obviously meant a great deal to reach the top without having to walk, so I wasn’t going to deny him that. In my opinion, this was another pivotal moment in his transformation. Besting the hill was a significant victory; a simple parallel to overcoming life’s many obstacles.

Arts victory over the hill illustrates his ‘never quit’ attitude, which was one of many great qualities forced to surface during his training. A lot of character emerges when we step outside our comfort zone. It may not be immediately apparent but great character is within all of us. Accessing it takes effort. For Art, all it took was someone believing in him and the direction to stay on track.

Before

Art Before

After

Art After