“I’ve been fat since I was a little boy,” admits William. We’ve all heard the references that William endured: solid, stocky, slightly portly, pleasantly plump, a little chubby. At 310 pounds, he used his imposing size to play offensive and defensive guard and tackle for his junior high school football team. Even as a “bigger” kid, he managed to run the football field, climb trees, and dance, just like the others. “I was actually the best dancer,” he jokes.
William assures us he still danced and “tore up the clubs” as a well-dressed young adult in his 20s, carrying about 350 pounds, and succeeded as an adult choral director in his 30s and 40s at over 400 pounds (mimicking James Brown and Michael Jackson to gospel church music). However, by his mid 40s, he concedes noticing a decline in agility and stamina at 588 pounds. To look good, dress well, feel pretty good (at least on the outside), and be light on his feet provided a false sense of well-being for William. He was lulled into a faulty illusion of health and physical stability.
Some would consider William’s story incredible. At approximately 600 pounds, he did not endure the serious health issues often linked to obesity. He managed to avoid diabetes, heart problems, and high blood pressure—the typical culprits. Arthritis in his knee from a teenage injury was his main concern, along with sleep apnea. “Perhaps I have strong genes from a family that carried big bodies and still lived and worked, or positive residual effects from previous diets and exercise. Maybe it is simply divine providence,” suggests the devout reverend.
William’s motivation to survive has been driven by his desire to be present for his wife, children, and extended family. “They have always loved me, regardless of my size,” he comments. “As a religious man who writes, sings, and preaches on the holy gospels, I strive to share my ministry gifts of music, teaching, and counseling. I live to serve as an example and inspiration to those enduring life’s struggles,” he attests. “And, I endeavor to break the cycle of morbid obesity that has long burdened my family,” pledges this educationally accomplished man who earned two master’s degrees at the Princeton Seminary.
Although William managed to lose weight at various stages in life, his most successful attempt occurred after he became a member at the Center. At age 52, he lost 125 pounds through his work at the Center combined with a sleeve gastrectomy. Less than two weeks after his surgery, William was back in the Aquatic Center, exercising in the therapy pool. These water workouts alone accomplished a 65-pound weight loss prior to his surgery.
“I’m a huge advocate of aquatic exercise,” shares William. The Center’s pool has allowed him to build muscle and cardiovascular capacity without stressing his joints, and despite his weight. One’s body becomes “weightless” in a sense. It evens the playing field, providing an ideal situation for those who are overweight, arthritic, or recovering from an injury.
At the Center, William believes he has connected with two “angels” in the form of Group Fitness instructors and personal trainers. “Instructor Katrine guided me through the therapeutic passage of my journey. She instilled hope in me through her encouragement,” says William. William, whose physician advised he must “do something or else die,” obtained medical consent to work out in the water. He progressed from the therapy pool to the Junior Olympic pool at the Center, taking his workout to the next level. Then, he encountered Instructor and Personal Trainer Corina, who continues to propel William forward.
“I’m in the process of getting medical authorization to exercise on land again,” he informs. His goal is to continue advancing himself. Five years ago, he had to use a cane to stand for a mere five minutes. Obviously, the treadmill was off-limits for his burdened heart. Corina pegged him “William the Conqueror.” Her goal is to help him reach his ideal weight. “He’s accomplished so much in life. Weight remains his biggest obstacle. I want to see him conquer it,” says Corina. “I want his inner and outer beauty to come together for him so he can enjoy a long, happy, healthy life in his new body,” she continues.
Though it may sound overzealous, William is determined to meet celebrity Oprah Winfrey. He resolved to share his story with Oprah and her audience, convinced he can inspire weight-loss through his example. William has farther to go in order to reach his goal weight of 277 pounds at 5’10”. Two hours at the Center, five days per week, will surely help get him there.
“If The Oprah Winfrey Show is William’s destination, I plan to use this as motivation,” says Corina, who has no trouble shouting “Oprah!” whenever William feels discouraged. “William is an inspiration, to me and those around him. He’s always positive. He keeps the faith, in himself and others,” Corina attests.
William talks of a holistic approach to weight loss. He believes in recognizing the psychological perspective on the road to healthy living. “I built myself up big to protect myself from pain I encountered during my life,” he reveals. For him, losing weight requires connecting with people, listening and being heard, and experiencing a sense of community. The Center provides this.
“Allow yourself to enjoy the sense of community available through this fitness family. Staff and members alike want to join you on your journey. Become energized from the faith and belief they have in you and share it,” William advises. He tells a story of an elderly Catholic Italian woman who, upon seeing him after his brief post-surgical absence, exclaimed, “We were all thinking of you and praying for you!” As an African American Baptist minister, William feels that exchange exemplifies what the Center accomplishes. “We are people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, working to accomplish the same goal.”
The Center goes beyond a venue for physical fitness with its encouraging social environment. “The Center counters discouragement. It builds hope,” says the minister with reverence.
William embarks on a daily journey toward whole health. “I am proud to be the ‘little fat boy’ who grew to be a big man with an even bigger heart. I’m enjoying a dance with life as it should be – from the inside out!”