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Mike Cullen dropped about 170 pounds through boxing and running. (John Woods for The Globe and Mail)
Mike Cullen dropped about 170 pounds through boxing and running. (John Woods for The Globe and Mail)

How I lost 170 pounds: I was ashamed I couldn't walk to the end of my block Add to ...

Michael Cullen

35, Winnipeg

POUNDS DROPPED: 170

My turning point: I was a very active, fit basketball player in my 20s until a knee injury had me sidelined. A doctor told me there was nothing that could be done to repair it: I was devastated. I gained weight quickly, eating fast food, chips and soda while sitting on the couch lamenting my misfortune. At my heaviest I weighed 370 pounds.

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Four years later, I was referred to a doctor who fixed my knee – and renewed my life. But the damage I had done to my body in the years between the injury and the surgery had taken its toll. During the initial stages of rehabilitating my leg, I started with walks to the end of my block and back. There was a time that I had to stop to rest as my cardio was so poor: I was wheezing, sweating and in tremendous pain just performing a daily task. I was ashamed – this was my lowest moment, but also when I resolved to get healthy again.

My method: I started slow. On an elliptical machine in a nearby gym, I worked up very gradually in five-minute increments. In about two months, I had dropped 30 pounds. That same gym had a heavy bag hanging in the corner. With brand-new boxing gloves, and nothing but the Rocky movies as a reference point, I started hitting that bag. My knuckles bled, my wrists hurt and I never felt better.

There was nothing more cathartic than taking out my frustrations for all my past transgressions on this helpless bag. For onlookers, however, it was not a pretty sight. Thankfully, Gordon MacFarlane – a boxing enthusiast and trainer – was one of those observers. He offered to show me how to throw a punch properly. After the first session of working the bag and learning some technique, I was hooked. We met regularly at the gym for sessions and I started noticing my hard work was paying off. I also noticed the weight started to come off. I loved the sport so much that I turned my basement into a boxing gym with bags, a sectioned off space for a “ring,” a treadmill and a bike.

Gordon and I still meet every Saturday morning at 10 to train; I have participated in boxing meets and sparred with some fantastic fighters in the city. What’s more, I’ve developed a new found confidence in a game that scares most people away.

I also returned to basketball, but my confidence was almost gone. Concerned about re-injuring my knee, I hovered at centre court for most of the games, scared to run, defend and score from the inside. After a season, I decided I needed a new fitness goal – I had to run.

At 280 pounds, I thought my body was ready. Having never run before, (outside of the Canada Fitness Tests in elementary school and the occasional sprint for the bus), I didn’t know what to expect. Though it nearly killed me, I successfully completed the Manitoba half-marathon in June and have a time to improve on for next year. It took everything I had to make it to the finish, but rounding the corner of the last stretch and hearing my dad cheering pushed me over the top.

Today I’m 197 pounds: I run 10 kilometres at least three times a week, play basketball once a week, box and train twice a week and practice yoga twice weekly. I feel better than I ever have and glow with pride every time I put on a loose-fitting large T-shirt. I keep one pair of size 48 jeans around to remind me how good it feels to put on a size 34 fresh out of the dryer without sucking in my gut and testing the physics of the button.

My kryptonite: Without question, it’s salt. I’m a huge chip guy and just knowing that there’s a bag of something in the pantry drives me nuts. It usually doesn’t reside there long. I’ve tried alternatives but there’s really nothing better than a giant bag of ketchup chips.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Tell us how you lost it: tgam.ca/weightloss

 

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