"I left for the Biggest Loser Resort with an initial weight of 326 pounds and I am happy to say that I left part of myself in California, actually 60 pounds of myself."
Before I start to tell you guys how my life has changed, I think that I need to do a “previously on” for those of you who are new to the life of Sean.
Previously on the “Life of Sean”
About six years ago I was crossing the street in New York City when suddenly I was hit by a BMW SUV going 40 miles per hour. Fast forward 3 years and it is discovered that I have four herniated discs in my back, they fixed one of them, and left the other ones to fend for themselves. About a year later I go to the doctor with what I thought was a cold, but instead I’m diagnosed with heart failure.
That day I learned my heart functions at 15% of that of a healthy heart. Over 100 pounds later and there I was, devoid of hope and had long ago given up on life. That’s when I got the notion in my head to go to the Biggest Loser Resort in Malibu, CA, and after being there for eleven weeks my entire lease on life has been renewed.
I have told my story to different guests over 100 times and that “previously on” is the 1 minute version, I have gotten very good at telling it.
As the date of my departure to California grew closer I became more and more apprehensive about taking the trip. The more research that I had done the more indication I had that I was getting myself into something way more intense than I had done in years. Lack of responsibility and accountability is very detrimental to the entire bodies health. So in preparation for leaving and beginning this new lifestyle; my family and I made a very ‘healthy’ decision together, since I was planning to be gone for Thanksgiving, we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner in September, and that is the last normal traditional Thanksgiving dinner I will ever celebrate. When I say traditional I mean about four full plates of food and of course plenty of refills on drinks. That is the last meal that I will ever have eaten ‘unconsciously’, because the next day when I went to the airport my life changed forever.
The flight out was pretty uneventful, besides the fact that Terell Owens was on my plane. I had never been to California and I was very excited for the perfect weather I had heard so much about. I tried my hardest to put everything from my mind and come to terms with the fact that I was going to be stuck in a torture factory with very little food to eat.
Arriving at LAX was cool and it was the first time that I have ever had a driver waiting for me with a sign that had my name on it.
The resort was in Malibu, so the drive was about an hour long,
I spent most of the ride trying to see where the Hollywood sign was, which I never did see during my stay in California.
Finally, I arrive at the resort. Where I am immediately greeted by smiling people, scrambling to get me settled in and as comfortable as possible because the secret is, they knew what was in store for me and were being very careful not to scare me away.
They said that I had to go upstairs to weigh in and get my measurements done; nobody likes to get on a scale, let alone in front of a complete strangers. Mimi and John were the first trainers that I met and right off the bat we were joking around and I was starting to feel very comfortable. We did a little photo shoot, and I get to show the camera some love, that was the first time ever that weighing in was fun. I was taken to my room by Joel, who at the time he was just a hiking guide, and Joel was a bit more frank with me about what I was going to experience, at the same time I was super excited for what was to come, and a little more scared than I was before.
It was awesome to have a friend around my age right off the bat. The first thing I did when I got to my room was set up my technology, I had brought my Apple TV, which lets me have access to pretty much any movie or TV show I wanted. Throughout my ordeal I had been able to find solace in television shows, they allowed me to connect and live vicariously through other people, they brought me out of my own reality to a reality where I wasn’t myself, and that was a good thing at the time. After watching TV for a while I realized that I was in Malibu, California and it was gorgeous outside, so I made myself go outside and get some fresh air, something that had become unfamiliar. That’s when I met the first guest I had seen since my arrival. Her name was Amy, and she was going to be at the resort for a total of 16 weeks, which I thought was crazy, because I was planning on being there for 8 weeks and that seemed like a lot to me, so 16 weeks sounded like an eternity. We determined that she was my neighbor and that we didn’t really have much in common, so I went off to go find someone I could relate to better. Little did I know that she would become one of my best friends at The Biggest Loser Resort and that our mutual support for each other would push us to work harder than either of us felt we were capable of doing.
At orientation, I got to meet so many new people and made friends with people that I would never have met under any other circumstances and many of them would soon become my friends that I hope to have forever. Everybody was pretty nervous about our immediate future, but everyone was so nice that I couldn’t wait to be tortured (trained) with them.
Every morning we would start the day off with a nice little hike. Previously, anytime I had gone on a hike it was just a leisurely stroll through nature, something very relaxing and not much effort for like a half an hour, no problem. Everything I thought I knew about hiking ‘Sean style’ was about to get turned on its head. The person that was in charge of the hiking part of the program was a woman named T.J. and she came in so full of energy that first morning, you couldn’t help absorbing a little bit of it, especially because there is NO CAFFEINE at the Biggest Loser Resort, so we could use every ounce of energy we could get. T.J. seemed very nice and possibly someone I could go to if I had any concerns about hiking. Every Monday there would be an assessment hike to gauge everybody’s ‘hiking kung-fu’. My first experience with my new relationship with hiking was a trail called Backbone Encinal, a hike that I will never forget.
Every hiking group would have at least 3 hiking guides and I need to take this time to give them a real big shout out. Biggest Loser Resort people hear this. The hiking guides, whatever they are getting paid, it isn’t enough. These people are not only protecting us from the wildlife in Southern California, but they also act as therapists, motivational speakers, and push us to make it through the hardest part of the day at BLR. These people are all amazing at their jobs and helped me more than they know.
My nerves were put to rest after getting assigned to my van and seeing that Joel was going to be one of my hiking guides. Did I mention that it was about 100 degrees outside? It is different in California though, it’s not a Delaware 100 degrees where you have to wade through the humidity which can be extremely miserable. A California 100 degree day is still hot but it is very dry and I was actually able to function in that kind of heat. Joel kept pace with me the entire time, and we stopped just about every 5 minutes so that I could snap a picture, which was actually a technique that I used as an excuse to stop and breathe for a second. My survival on that hike is owed to Joel, half way up I felt like I was gonna die, but Joel told me that I wasn’t gonna die, that this was something I would have to get used to if I was going to be successful. We really bonded on that hike and it was great to make a good friend like that on my first day.
Hiking had its ups and downs, no pun intended, but mainly ups, uphill that is. A lot of the hills seemed like they went on and on forever. After going through a severe blister phase, I finally bought a new pair of socks and my problems were solved.
The morning hikes became a favorite part of my day, I would get amazing advice from the wonderful hiking guides and destroy the calories in my body at the same time. There were days that I did not want to wake up. But after going on a hike, I would feel mentally and physically prepared to conquer the rest of the day.
My favorite part was what awaited me at the top, being in Malibu the views were continuously breath-taking. From ocean vistas to caves, I was able to see Malibu in a way not many people ever get an opportunity to do.
After my third week, is when I really saw a major difference in my hiking kung-fu. I had the opportunity to go back and hike Backbone Encinal again, and I utterly destroyed that hike, all the way to the top only stopping once or twice on the way up compared to my first hike where I was stopping every few steps. More importantly than what numbers you see on the scale is how you feel when you do what you have to do. The hikes started feeling different, I started looking forward to that next hill that would make me feel like I was dying, because it is things like that, that make you stronger. A trainer at the resort said to me words that almost became my mantra, “you have to learn how to be comfortable, being uncomfortable.” those words forced me to push myself harder, if I wasn’t sore and aching everywhere by the end of the day I was doing something wrong. My feeling uncomfortable became a better gauge of my health than any number could be. Note there is a difference between being good healthy sore and just being in pain, pain is not something you want to strive for.
After my accident and my surgery I had become extremely reliant on pain killers. I would take some in anticipation of any activity, even just going out to a restaurant in the past would cause so much mental and physical pain it was easier to pop a few pills than to suffer through it. With hiking my back was constantly in pain and the anticipation of the hike would cause me pain before I could even set foot on the trail. After weeks of training and conditioning I had significantly cut down on the amount of pain killers I would take on a daily basis. Everyday I was breaking down barriers and pushing myself harder than the day before.
Over the weeks I moved up in hiking groups and by the end I was in the highest ‘advanced’ hiking group. The main difference between the hiking groups is that when your in the highest group, you don’t stop until your at the top. In my time hiking I also learned that you should not tell TJ that something is too hard, or that there is a hike that is too hard that you really don’t want to do again, because TJ is there for a very important reason: to make sure every morning you are getting your ass kicked and changing your definition of hard. So many times I went to TJ saying, “this hike is too hard” or “I need something easier today” and she would make sure I was on a hike that was right above my comfort level. And as frustrating as it was sometimes I am so grateful that she showed very little mercy on my comfort level because the results have been incredible.
There was a private hike that the resort offered to the highest point in the Santa Monica mountain range. At first when I heard about it, I was scared of it. I think I pictured it as Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings series, it was called Sandstone peak, not nearly as menacing as Mt. Doom, but still pretty daunting. Throughout my 11 weeks I did deal with some injuries, the only people that exercise for 6 hours a day are professional athletes, and I was no athlete. There were multiple occasions where I tried to schedule trips to Sandstone, but it would seem in anticipation of it I would inevitably hurt myself and not be able to go. Time started to fly by and it was my last week, I had stayed injury free, but I was starting to get sick. Nevertheless, Sandstone was finally conquered and it was a lot easier than I imagined and more beautiful than any hike I had been on. The only thing that made it hard was the fever that I had, but by this time I had learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
My love of hiking is something that I will carry with me forever thanks to the Biggest Loser Resort. I ended up having a lot more to say about my amazing transformational journey, so we are going to be spreading my final thoughts out for a few more issues, so that I am able to express my love for everyone and everything that I experienced at the Biggest Loser Resort. In the next issue I will be talking about the trainers and the classes offered at the resort and how pool class is not just for floating around.