“The First Step is the Hardest”

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A local father of four shares his journey
of losing more than
200 pounds

Name: David Soward
Age: 50
Be Well Lynchburg Editor Shelley Basinger: Has maintaining a healthy weight always been a struggle for you?

David Soward: I’ve been kind of overweight my whole life. Growing up, I played football so I had some exercise. But as I got older, had kids, then ended up in a sit-down job at age 34, things started to get bad. I started to gain weight so fast—I felt like there was nothing I could do to stop it.

SB: When was your “wake up” moment?

DS: Well, one day I literally woke up and didn’t feel right. I went to the doctor and I was in AFib. (Editor’s note: AFib is short for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure or other complications.) At the time, I was 41 years old and weighed 520 pounds. The doctor had a very frank conversation with me: “The track you are on right now, you aren’t going to live long. AFib is just the start. Even if you had a heart attack right now, we couldn’t even put you on the table to fix you.” That scared me, because at the time I had four young children.

SB: Did you jump into a diet and exercise routine right then?

DS: I started to lose weight on my own, going back and forth on starvation diets. I was about 460 pounds two years later. But I felt terrible—I could barely walk. My wife noticed that Jerry Falwell, Jr. and some other staff members at Liberty University had lost a bunch of weight. I know Jerry so I asked him what he had done. He told me, “I met Ben Crosswhite (owner of Crosswhite Fitness) and everything changed.” My wife said, “You better email that man (Ben) right now!” So I emailed Ben and told him I didn’t know what to do about my weight. He invited me into his gym to talk to one of their trainers, which ended up being Lauren Wooldridge (now Lauren Morris)..

SB: What was her approach?

DS: When I met Lauren, she didn’t judge me and from that day forward in 2013, my life was transformed. First, she changed my diet—I cut out dairy, grain and ate only whole foods. I was as sick as a dog as I detoxed. All I can say is that if it means your life to you, you do it. I had faith in what she was telling me.

SB: When did you add in exercise?

DS: After two weeks of my diet change, I came in for a training session—that was one of the hardest days of my life. I would almost pass out. She would say, “Stop, just walk back and forth until your heart rate comes back down.” This type of training went on for four or five months.

During that time, the weight was coming off so fast. In a year, I went from not being able to walk to doing a strenuous workout. I started going one day a week, then two days, and now I go three days. So far, I’ve lost a total of right at 200 pounds. I’m more physically fit today than I was in my late 20s.

SB: How did you feel walking into the gym for the first time?

DS: To say I was self-conscious was an understatement. But what I liked about Crosswhite Fitness—and what my current gym, New London Athletics, has become to me now—is no one judges you.

Everybody is on a journey of some kind. When I met Lauren, there was a certain amount of kindness she showed. Lauren smiled at me and said, “Don’t stress, there are so many people making the same journey that you are making.” During my first couple of weeks training with her, there were a couple of guys I met who told me that they were in my shoes just six months before. One of the things I’m enjoying now… is now I’m one of those guys, encouraging people and telling them, “I used to be right where you are. I feel your pain. Hang in there and you will make it.”

SB: What does your diet look like now?

DS: I don’t call it a diet, I call it a lifestyle. I started out not eating dairy or grains, but I do introduce a little bit of dairy now, from time to time. It’s more of a Whole 30 diet. I’m very careful to not eat preservatives and that still works for me. But it can’t be considered a diet. It has to be a lifestyle change.

SB: What does a typical day at the gym look like for you?

DS: I start out with a warm up such as 500 meters on a skier and 500 meters on rowing machine—very cardio-focused. Once that’s over, Lauren will put me on several super sets, meaning I will go through a super set of a chest press, then a TRX band squat, then a bench fly. The way she stacks my exercises are designed to focus on a set of muscles and keep your heart rate up. During that one hour, you are sweating and building muscle while burning calories.

SB: You mentioned your kids and wife earlier. What has this transformation done to improve life at home?

DS: I used to sit and watch my son play baseball or my kids would go on a hike and I couldn’t really do it. That tormented me. Now, I go hiking with them, we ride bikes. I don’t have to sit and watch.

It’s been life-changing. That’s the main reason I did this. I want to see my grandkids, I want to see my grandkids’ kids.

SB: Has your passion for exercise rubbed off on your family?

DS: When I started to lose the weight, my second oldest daughter and my wife started running and eating a similar, clean diet. Now they have done half marathons, 10Ks. It’s had an impact on my entire family in some way.

SB: Looking forward, what is your ultimate goal?

DS: I still want to lose about 80 more pounds, which would put me around 250. I’m 6 foot 4 and I’m not a small guy so that would be a good weight for me. So, I still have a ways to go. I had hip surgery in February 2017 and gained about 30 pounds during that recovery time. Those 30 pounds have been very difficult to drop but I’m working on it every day.

But putting all numbers on the scale aside, my ultimate goal is just to be well. And if I don’t feel well, I want to get back in the gym.

SB: What’s your final advice for anyone who is reading this who wants to change their life, too?

DS: The first step is the hardest. Once you have the first step behind you the journey gains momentum, it becomes easier. Also, you are going to fail on occasion. But you can’t give up. Just get up and take another step. It’s way too easy just to give up, but you have to remember why you started. The hardest battle you face is the one you have with yourself.

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