A Note for Womanly Austinites: Janeen “Noodle” McCrae may be the most awesome Friend of Fatty in the entire universe — last year she rode 4400 miles across America to raise money for the Austin LiveStrong Challenge. On April 26, from 6:30 – 8:00pm, Janeen will be talking about her incredible trip at the Mellow Johnny’s monthly “Ladies Bike Maintenance Class.” Click here for details and then be sure to attend.
A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: I’m headed into a very intense workweek — lotsa early mornings and late nights — and I know from experience that it’s going to take pretty much every thing I’ve got. So, for the next few days, plan on guest posts. I think you’re going to like the batch I’ve got lined up, starting with this one from Gary Brennan, aka: The Amazing Shrinking Gaz, The 39-Stone Cyclist, or just “the fat lad on a bike.”
In January 2008 I weighed in at a mind- (and waist-) busting 39 stone and 13 pounds, (That’s 559 Pounds for our American readers). A few months before my Doctor had suggested to me that I consider a gastric by-pass.
I was shocked – I thought to myself “but they are for really fat people”.
I was visiting my Doctor that day for many health-related, obesity-caused issues and realising my dire situation, he thought he would make the suggestion to help me. I left and thought nothing of his words. It was around three days later that, while struggling to walk from my living room to my kitchen that I decided “Actually I am really fat” and with that, my ‘light-bulb moment’, my life would never be the same again.
I was approved for the surgery in April 2008 , however as I had a Holiday booked at the end of September they told me that it would not be done until at least October 2008, I decided that I needed to change and attempt to get a little stronger for the operation. I purchased a Giant Yukon 2008 MTB, I decided that I wanted to cycle to work, it was 6.5 miles away from where I live, and there is also a nasty hill that I had to ride on both journeys, there was no way I would be able to do that, it was something I was going to have to build up to.
From January to April I had lost around four-and-a-half stone (65 Pounds) and while I was impressed with my efforts it did mean that I was going to attempt to cycle weighing-in at over 34 stone (476 Pounds).
It was June 2008, 6pm; I had finished work, the sun was shining, my time was now, I got my bike and headed outside. I looked and felt like a total idiot, but nothing was going to stop me.
I had been watching NBC’s The Biggest Loser just a few days before, seeing people weighing up to 400 pounds doing punishing exercise. I was inspired by Mark Kruger and Roger Schultz who were both finalists, and who’d shown me in each episode how you not only need to change physically but also mentally.
The reality, however, was that both Mark and Roger were 200 pounds lighter than me – shouldn’t it have been me that was on the show?
The Biggest Loser is something I will always credit for helping save my life. If I hadn’t seen with my own eyes what could be done, then I’m not sure I would have even attempted it.
I cycled the half-mile to my local train station. I was wheezing, my arms hurt holding up my weight, my legs hurt pushing my weight along. I was soaking in sweat, like someone who had just run over 30 miles – but I had done it! I had made it to the half-way point.
I took in an energy gel, about 500ml of water and had a ten-minute sit-down. I was then ready to set off again and get home. Boy was it hard. By the time I was home I thought to myself “I can’t do this” – I couldn’t breathe, I was coughing and wheezing, tired and sore but I had cycled one mile. This was a real wake-up call for me; I had done well in losing over four stone but the reality that it was just a fraction of what I needed to do to survive this. With that I had a much needed half-hour sleep on the sofa.
Ramping It Up
I woke up the next day and I wanted to do it all over again, despite being sore, tired and embarrassed, I wanted to get out there and really go for it, so I did.
Over the coming days I forced myself to up my mileage and I was at the stage after a week that I could cycle to the train station, and then cycle from the train station near work to my office, every day.
I was doing two-and-a-half miles a day and starting to gain confidence. Within six weeks I was getting on and off the train two stops before I needed to, and then on August Bank Holiday 2008 I decided I was going to cycle to work, the whole way. It was a Bank Holiday, I was off work that day. I didn’t need to cycle to my office, but I was ready…
I made the 6.5 miles in 43 minutes, I felt fresh, strong and ready to do more, I decided to take the train home and save myself for the “Real” Commute the next day.
Over the next 3 weeks I cycled to work every day, but took the train home, the homeward leg was harder as it’s a gradual uphill with a kicker of a hill at the very end.
But every single day from then, to today, I have upped my mileage, going longer, harder and faster than before.
After my holiday I received the news I was expecting and yet dreading at the same time: I no longer qualified for the gastric by-pass, due to losing so much weight. I was thrilled, yet at the same time scared.
I had lost 115 Pounds from April to October – I had shown that I could do it.
The next day was a freezing cold and wet morning, one I am never going to forget. I thought to myself “I am on my own now, it’s all me.” Then from nowhere a good friend drove past. It was Christy, the one was pushed me to cycle in the first place. He waved and encouraged me on, and with that, the rain, the wind and the freezing temperature no longer mattered.
Two weeks later and I was cycling to and from work, doing 13 miles each day. Before long it was January again, and I decided to think about doing the Manchester to Blackpool ride. My target was 2010, but I had already come so far – and while I was training some new starters at work one of them said “Gaz, you can do it mate, I’ll do it with you” – and with that the seed was planted. I started increasing my mileage, getting to as much as 17 miles per day, and before I knew it, it was July. I was still weighing-in at over 350 Pounds.
I wasn’t ready for this, but I was going to do it anyway.
Gaz In The Media
Before the Blackpool ride I made a conscious effort to make my story public. I was interviewed by Granada Reports, BBC Radio, BBC Online and a host of local papers.
You might ask why someone who was still classed as morbidly obese would want to seek such publicity. Well, in my mind it was simple, to pile the pressure on me.
I had been cycling for around a year, yet I was still only around a quarter of the way though my journey. I had lost more weight than an average woman weighs, cycled more miles than 80% of the cyclists in my building at work and yet, I was still fatter than the majority of people who realise they need to lose weight. In fact, I was 12 months away from where most people START – shocking!
So I knew I needed to do something to keep me focused. The first year had been enjoyable, but I was nearing the point where cycling wasn’t as hard, but wasn’t easy, and I knew I was in for a rough ride.
So I started to write my blog, went public and signed up to a few cycling forums, all providing me with the motivation, drive and support I would need in the coming months.
Manchester To Blackpool
The night before the ride I couldn’t sleep – not to put too fine a point on it, I was on the toilet most of the night. When I got on the start line I was already knackered and my tummy would still not settle down. In the blink of an eye we were off – two colleagues and I were rolling.
I had to hold myself back from sprinting, I was so full of adrenalin. The first 15 miles flew by – our pace was good, and while not being record-setting, we were all in our stride and them boom – disaster. My colleague and I had a ‘coming together’; I held it together, he didn’t. The ensuing wait for medical help and then a stop for paramedics 10 miles later put us all off our stride. I struggled to get going again after being stopped for around 90 minutes in total.
In the end we made it to Blackpool. We were around four to five miles away and my cycle computer showed four hours and 50 minutes. I got a second wind and cycled harder than ever before – there was a nasty head-wind but I was going to push as hard as I could to get there in under five hours. The miles flew by, and before long we were on the sea front.
Around half-a-mile from the finish line, I said to Paul “Sorry mate, the adrenalin has kicked in, I’m going to sprint this,” and with that I watched my speed go from 14 mph to 18 mph, to 22 mph. Paul was still with me at this point, I then kicked into the big ring and stood up – I gave it hell, crossing the line, still sprinting at 29 mph. I was going a little too fast – the announcer told me to slow down, and my supporters said that they weren’t able to get any pictures due to my speed. What a result! I had finished, a year early, managed a sprint AND been told off for going too fast!
This will be the third year I have done this ride, I ride in memory and honour of some amazing people that touched my life who are no longer with us, but I also ride for the future, I have saved my future by losing 26 stone but so many out there, who are touched by cancer might not be as lucky as I am, for that reason, to give something back to those less fortunate than I am, I ride to help beat cancer once and for all.
If Gary’s story has inspired you, you can sponsor him via his ‘Just Giving’ page.