When I met 52-year-old Kelly Liebhart at the YMCA, I thought he was a light-complected Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock.

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Had Kelly told me he was the captain of his high school football team and that he later went on to play Division 1 ball before turning pro, I wouldn’t have doubted him. However, Kelly didn’t play football. In fact, until recently, he did not look like the chiseled hardbody I met. As you’ll learn below, he struggled with obesity from 1992 until 2012, plateauing at over 300 pounds.

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(Kelly and I are the same height, 6’0″, so the idea of adding an additional 130-140 pounds to my frame resounds quite formidably). Kelly lost 123 pounds in just over a year, and he did it naturally. No magic. No surgery. No pill.

His story inspires me, and I hope it inspires you as well.

JM: If I understand things correctly, you weighed 305 pounds one year ago. And now you weigh 185 pounds?

KL: I weighed 308 pounds on July 6, 2013. My current weight is 193 pounds (post-race weight). I now fluctuate between 185 pounds and 195 pounds depending on where I am in training.

JM: Were you obese as a child?

KL: No. I was a very active child. I participated in all types of activities. As a teenager I concentrated on baseball and basketball. I tore my rotator cuff at 13 and in those days they didn’t fix it except for professional athletes so my baseball playing ended. I played basketball in high school and was competitive.

JM: When did you first notice that your weight might be unhealthy?

KL: In 1992 at age 30 I broke my back. It is not as bad as it sounds. I was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver and ended up with 30% compression fractures of T12, L1, and L2. I opted for bed rest for 8 weeks instead of surgery. During that time I gained 30 pounds. I had two young boys at the time and spent my spare time with them. So my basketball nights were gone. Over the next 22 years my weight crept up slowly each year. I have been on every fad diet and diet program around. But each time the weight came back.

JM: You lost over 100 pounds in just over a year. Did you have surgery or take some sort of miracle diet pill?

KL: I had told my wife if I ever weighed over 300 pounds I would have surgery because she was getting scared. I have a bicuspid aortic heart valve with a slight aortic aneurysm. My cardiologist kept warning me that if I didn’t do something it could end badly for me. Of course I went right by 300 pounds but had no desire for surgery.

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I had seen too many people do surgery and gain the weight back. I was trying to convince myself that being 300+ pounds was no big deal.

JM: So how, specifically, did you lose the weight?

KL: In the fall of 2012 I had some issues at work and I was going to have to sell my company. I knew the negotiations would be tough. So I started riding a bike around a lake to pray and ask for help with my negotiations. I was on a beach cruiser to start, and then I moved to a hybrid. By the end of June 2013 I decided I was going to need to be in shape for a confrontation. So I started with something very simple, but it made a huge difference for me. I made my lunch. I started bringing my lunch and taking control of what I ate. It does take planning and discipline. I then started making my rides dual purpose. I still needed the prayer time but also started using it as a workout. The weight started to come off. I then took the time to speak with a nutritionist and worked with my primary doctors for blood work. I learned how food combinations work as well as timing of my eating. I now know calories aren’t everything but they do count early in your journey to good health.

At the end of January 2014 I had lost around 70 pounds. I was watching a sports channel and saw a triathlon. I signed up for one in April of 2014 (Sprint Distance). I needed a goal. I was fortunate to have a couple of friends that had seen the weight I had already lost and decided to let me help them. They signed up for the triathlon as well.

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In June of 2014 I began using a bike coach and started doing Pilates at the YMCA. My original goal was to weigh 215 pounds. I blew past that goal. I ended up getting down to 183 pounds. I am not so concerned about my weight because as I continue my journey it is about being healthy. I am putting on some muscle, so my weight will increase a little bit.

JM: A lot of times these stories are motivational at first, but then the person gains much of the weight back. What plans do you have in place to keep from gaining weight again?

KL: I am fortunate to have a wife that supports my effort. She allows me the time to workout. I also have made friends with people that encourage me to continue. I have changed my lifestyle in that as a foodie I have to make good choices. I plan ahead before I get to the restaurant. I know what I will eat and how much. I have made working out a priority over watching TV. My new lifestyle is now my habit. As a goal-oriented person I always have the next challenge on the books. I still use an app to track all the food and exercise I do. I do this to make sure I am getting the right nutrients more than tracking calories. Because I am eating right and exercising, I am now able to be an eating machine. The amount of food I have to eat would make most people sick. I know this is hard to believe but ask my wife and friends. I now control my food, and it doesn’t control me.

JM: How has your life changed now that you are so much lighter and so much more fit?

KL: I am able to do things that for the past 20 years I had to skip. I can’t wait to go zip-lining in Hawaii. I have completed 6 triathlons.

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Anyone that knew me when I was heavier would say I was confident. I will tell you now I feel unstoppable. But at my age I know that is not true, but I will try to convince myself of that anyway everyday. I now look forward to being a fun grandpa if I am blessed to get grandchildren.

JM: What are your current athletic goals?

KL: I want to continue with triathlons. Maybe 4 or 5 per year. I would like to complete a half-Ironman. I want to increase my bike riding and will do my first century ride in the coming months. I hiked Mount Wilson and now want to hike the 6 peaks of southern California and ultimately hike Mount Whitney.

JM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

KL: I just want to encourage everyone to start. That is the hardest part. If I can do it so can you. Small steps make big changes over time. It will not be all smooth sailing, but that is what makes the journey worth taking. We are all worth the effort. I have met some great people along the way. Hope to see everyone in the water, on the road, or on a trail soon. It is your life! Take it back!

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Kelly Liebhart tries to workout 4 days/week, 1-2 hours/day. He eats 2,400-3,000 calories/day, 95% planned in advance. He loves fly fishing and golfing. And while he is now a triathlete, he does not like to run. He’s been married for 32 years, and he has two sons, ages 25 and 28. Kelly can be reached via email at kelly.liebhart@verizon.net.

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