Do you get as excited as I do reading about a person’s fitness journey? I enjoy watching the complete transformation of people on shows like The Biggest Loser. I can appreciate the intense emotion and difficulty these individuals went through to achieve such a momentous personal feat.
Having run a marathon, five half marathons, and several 10Ks and 5Ks, I understand the training and mindset it takes to power through when you want to give up. So, I support anyone trying to craft their own fitness journey and change their lives for good.
Enter Jay Cunningham. I had the pleasure of meeting Jay not too long ago on Twitter. Social media really can be used for great things and connecting with awesome people like Jay is the best.
Jay is a guy who was overweight for a large part of his life. However, one day, he decided enough was enough and committed to his own personal fitness journey. He even started a blog about his experience called Jogger’s Journey, so be sure to check that out.
I asked Jay to share his story because I know it will hit home with so many people. We are a country that is obsessed with looks and appearance. Being overweight is a huge epidemic in America.
So, if I can help anybody by sharing the story of a great weight loss and fitness journey like Jay’s, then I am doing my job as a blogger. Thank you, Jay, for being an inspiration to all of us.
Now, without further ado, here’s Jay’s fitness journey.
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Before we begin with your fitness journey, Jay, give us a little background about yourself.
First of all, thanks for taking the time and interest to follow my fitness journey, get to know me, and share it with your followers.
Growing up my family moved around quite a bit because of my dad’s job. By the time I was 14, I had lived in Illinois, Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. After high school in Wisconsin, I moved back down to Texas to attend Texas A&M university, where I earned my degree in Economics.
Now, I live back in Wisconsin where I am happily married to my wife, Melissa. We have our first child on the way, due in August. I work as a Financial Advisor for PNC Investments.
I’ve really found a strong love for running and blogging about my running efforts and weight loss, but I also enjoy hiking, golfing, kayaking, and shooting sporting clays.
I read about your fitness journey on your blog. You can’t help but the feel the emotion about how being overweight made you feel. Can you give us a brief insight into what you felt in those grade school, high school and college years? I know all too well that our classmates can be mean.
Growing up with parents from the south meant there was always good, hearty food around. And that good ol’ southern cooking will sure stick to your bones. So when I was young I was pretty overweight for my age. As I mentioned before, my family moved around a lot so every couple of years I was always the new kid at school.
Grade school age kids, not known for their tact, can poke fun and be pretty harsh. With the last name Cunningham, it wouldn’t take them long to latch on to the “ham” part, and start calling me piggy, or oinking when I walked by.
“I couldn’t fit in the smaller [desks].”
I specifically remember the first day of sixth grade, walking into the classroom and as usual, eyeing up which desk I was going to sit in. The desks with the chairs attached came in different sizes, and I couldn’t fit in the smaller ones.
Problem was the entire classroom was full of small desks. So, as the other students found seats, the teacher had to accommodate me by letting me sit at her desk until they could get a larger desk from another classroom. The kids joked, until we moved again, that they had to custom build me a big enough desk.
Always being the new kid made it tough to make meaningful friends, which adds a layer of low self-esteem. I’ll be the first to admit that through those years, and even now, I didn’t do a great job with handling those emotions. I would often turn to food for comfort, which inevitably just made the problems worse.
However, choosing to not really face my emotions also allowed me to keep in good spirits most of the time. So, growing up I was a pretty happy kid.
High school was much of the same. I moved to a new town for 9th grade, made a couple of decent friends, focused on my grades, and did my best to get through.
What did the being overweight prevent you from doing?
I’ve always been really active. Playing sports and other activities as much as possible. But being overweight, even as a kid, took its tool on my feet, knees, and hips. So, by high school I focused on lower impact, non running sports like shot-put, discus, bowling, etc.
Other issues I’ve ran into are not unique to me, but rather the plight of most obese people. Clothes that don’t fit right, buttons that break, being really uncomfortable in plane seats, having to be careful what chairs you sit on. I even got kicked off a roller coaster once because the bar wouldn’t go down.
But I think the biggest thing being overweight kept me from doing was being comfortable in my own skin. As long as I can remember I was always extremely self conscious about my body. I would never take my shirt off in front of people and would purposefully avoid things like pool parties, shirts and skins basketball games, and family time at the beach. If I did have to swim in gym class or with family, it was always with a shirt on.
This even really plagued me as an adult in relationships. That is until I met my wife Melissa. For some reason I was instantly comfortable with who I was and my body around her. Even after gaining quite a bit of weight after we got married, she has never made me feel bad about being overweight.
Because of that, it’s given me enough confidence that I will take my shirt off in front of both strangers and family at the beach or pool, without much thought. I’ll always be grateful to her for that.
Take us to the moment you decided to change your life and really supercharge your fitness journey. You decided you would get fit and you signed up for, not a 5K, but a 10K. What was that like? How did you feel after you finished?
I had yo-yo dieted for several years on every diet or weight loss scheme known to man. I would go through fits and spurts of motivation to workout, but nothing seamed to last for me. My wife and I just purchased a house, and per our plans, we wanted to start trying to have kids. This was the seed that said, “you’ve got a long way to go, and you’ve got to do something.”
I have a great support system in my wife, but God love her, she’s been a fit, thin girl her whole life. So, sweets and ice cream are not her nemesis like they are mine. I needed more than a diet, I knew I needed to do something that was going to hold me accountable.
I ran across a few articles on running for weight loss, and I had a kind of ah-ha moment. So, I just decided I was going to sign up for a race, pay the registration fee, so I’d have some skin in the game. I also chose to do a longer distance, a 10k, so I’d really have to push myself. I figured I could somewhat “wing it” through a 5k with some basic training.
“A 10k [took] more dedication …”
A 10k, however, was going to take more dedication and real training. I also invited a good friend to sign up for the run, and thank God he did. We would text back and forth after our training runs with our run stats, and really pushed each other.
While training for two months for that run, I lost about 7 pounds, had more energy, and felt like I was really working towards something. After the run, something really clicked. I don’t know if it was because of the weight loss, the camaraderie with the other runners, or the endorphins, but I knew what I was going to do. I was going to sign up for a 5k or 10k every month, and keep the momentum going. To this day, it’s been 10 months, and I’ve done 10 races.I was going to sign up for a 5k or 10k every month ... it's been 10 months, and I've done 10 races. - Jay CunninghamClick To Tweet
What clicked in you when you found out you and your wife were expecting your first child? How did it change your perspective?
My initial motivation was based on the concept of my wife and I trying to start a family. But when we found out in November of 2016, that we were indeed pregnant, that put a firm timeline in place. Now I had only 9 months to lose as much weight as I could.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with becoming a Dad while overweight. I just made the personal decision to use that deadline as fuel or motivation. When it comes to being a Dad, I want to be able to be as active as possible. I want to be able to play with them and show them a healthy and active lifestyle. Beyond just that, I want to see them grow up, go to school, get married, and start a family of their own one day. I don’t want them to have to go through that without a father, and I don’t want my wife to experience that without her husband. These thoughts fuel my fire everyday.
Now, you went to a medical check-up and your doctor said to you it’s time to get healthier because you’re pre-diabetic. What did that feel like? Was it less or more of a blow now that you already committed to it before?
If I didn’t have enough motivation already, my wife and I decided that I should have a full lab workup to check my levels and make sure everything was ok. In short, everything was not ok. My fasting glucose levels were way too high, which meant I was pre-diabetic. Also, my cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure were alarmingly high. Lastly, I had increased liver enzymes from a damaged liver due to what is referred to as a “fatty liver”. My decreased liver function was leading to my lack of energy, and a fog that seamed to cloud my mind.
Although, my doctor was glad I was running. He said it wasn’t enough. He said if I didn’t change my diet, drastically, I was going to do real damage to my body and I would likely be on a slew of medications for the rest of my life.
This was just more fuel to the flames that running and a baby on the way had already ignited. He “prescribed” me a low-carb diet, along with my running. Besides a few holidays, I have really stuck to his recommendations.
So, with your healthier outlook and new lease on life, what’s next for Jay?
Since August of 2016, following a consistent running schedule and lower carb diet, I have lost right at 50 pounds. I have gone from 331 to 281. So I still have a long way to go, but I’m on my way.
As I mentioned above, I have ran 10 races in the last 10 months. I’ve been able to cut my 10k time from 1:18:33 down to 1:03:09. I hope to break that 1 hour barrier this summer.
Another recent accomplishment is that back in February I signed up for a 6 hour “ultra” marathon. It was a 1 mile loop, and the goal was to do as many loops as you can in 6 hours. I ran that race last weekend and I’m proud to have completed 23 miles. My longest run prior to that had only been 10 miles. It may have been a bit misguided to push my body that far, but I really wanted to push myself to the brink and really see what I was capable of. In that process I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I’m stronger than I thought and with enough mental toughness, your mind can carry you farther than you ever thought your body could go.
I have several races lined up for the rest of the year, including 5ks, 10ks, road and trail races, a Tough Mudder, and at least one half marathon. I’m determined to get my weight and health under control. I’m doing it for me first. For the kid in me that got picked on, that couldn’t always play sports or do what other kids could do. But I also want to be the best version of myself for my wife and baby too.
How are you trying to help others with your blog, Jogger’s Journey? How can readers contact you?
I am blogging about my fitness journey for two reasons. The first is a bit selfish in that I really need the accountability. Losing weight is really difficult. Being motivated to get out of a warm bed to run on a 10° morning in Wisconsin is difficult. The more I publicly share with the world what I’m going through, the more support and encouragement I get. I feel a sense of responsibility to those supporters. That I owe them my best. If they can be proactive and reach out to me with words of encouragement, the least I can do is be encouraged. If nothing more than a thank you for being there for me.
The second reason is with the hopes that if I make my story, my successes, my failures public, maybe I can help inspire others to get started on their own weight loss or fitness journey. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step… I hope I can inspire that first step for someone out there.
One more question. What do you want to say to the other “Jays” out there who are struggling with their health and weight? What encouragement can you give them for their own fitness journey?
I would tell them that whether they believe it or not, they are capable of achieving whatever their goals are. But they have to take some step, with real accountability first. See their doctor and get the cold hard truth about their situation. Make a fitness and diet plan with a follow-up date for three months with the doctor to review progress.
I’d say pick a race two months out and pay for it. Just get started even if you can’t run more than 20 feet, just start. If you stick with it, it gets easier. I promise. The feeling of accomplishment you get from seeing that improvement can be enough to fuel you moving forward.
I’d also say, do a little soul searching and find your “why”. At your core, what is the reason you want to lose weight? That “why” can give you a little, or a lot, of extra motivation when you need it.
If you have any questions, need advice, or an accountability partner, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just like so many people have been there for me, I’m here for you. You can do it.
How about Jay’s fitness journey? Can that be more inspiring? Got your own fitness journey? Please share it with us below.